20 facts you might not know about 'Citizen Kane'
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20 facts you might not know about 'Citizen Kane'

You know a movie is special when it can have a legacy that lasts for nearly a century. “Citizen Kane” has been called one of the best – if not the best – film ever made for decades at this point. Orson Welles guaranteed himself immortality with his story of Charles Foster Kane. He directed, he starred, and he co-wrote the movie that changed movies forever. Want to learn more about “Citizen Kane?” Hey, it’s the framing device of this gallery, so that only makes sense. We’ve got some facts for you about “Kane,” and we’re going to assume that you know what Rosebud is, since it’s maybe the quintessential movie spoiler.

 
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Orson Welles was a true wunderkind

Orson Welles was a true wunderkind
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Welles did it all for “Citizen Kane.” As we said, he played Charles Foster Kane while also directing and co-writing the screenplay. He also directed for good measure. Oh, and he did this all when he was all of 25 years old. He was a true comet in the early days of film.

 
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It was Welles’ first feature film as well

It was Welles’ first feature film as well
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To make things even more impressive, Welles’ film experience prior to “Citizen Kane” consisted of a couple of shorts and an abandoned silent movie. He had made his name on Broadway and, memorably, with his “War of the Worlds” broadcast. This is what got RKO excited, which is why they gave Welles such an open canvas for his first movie.

 
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Welles’ co-writer, though, was an old Hollywood hand

Welles’ co-writer, though, was an old Hollywood hand
Wikipedia/Public Domain

Even Welles couldn’t necessarily do everything by himself. For his film, he brought in Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had been working in Hollywood since way back in 1926. Mankiewicz had worked with the Marx Brothers and was one of the many uncredited writers to work on “The Wizard of Oz,” but he was also an alcoholic who was difficult to work with at times. In fact, he would die in 1953 – only 12 years after “Citizen Kane” was released – at the age of 55.

 
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There is controversy about the script

There is controversy about the script
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Welles was never shy about tooting his own horn, and the deal Mankiewicz had signed originally said that Welles would get sole screenwriting credit. However, the screenwriter eventually came to want credit, and RKO would reward him with it. This was not the end of the controversy, though. Contrarian film critic Pauline Kael wrote an essay calling “Raising Kane” in the 1970s that effectively tried to discredit any claim Welles had to the script of his film. It has been refuted repeatedly in the ensuing years by more levelheaded film historians, but some still believe Kael’s assertions.

 
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Welles wouldn’t say who inspired Charles Foster Kane

Welles wouldn’t say who inspired Charles Foster Kane
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Who was the model for Kane? Many have said he is based on William Randolph Hearst, the publishing magnate. There are many reasons for that, particularly his affair with the actress Marion Davies. One person who doesn’t make this claim? That would be Welles himself, who said that several different figures of note all were influences for Kane and other characters in the movie.

 
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You know who did believe Kane was based on Hearst? That would be Hearst

You know who did believe Kane was based on Hearst? That would be Hearst
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Heart himself was pretty certain that he, and Davies, were the inspiration for “Citizen Kane” and he was furious about it. He went so far as to ban the mentioning of the movie in any of his papers. Hearst also reportedly tried to facilitate a deal to get RKO to destroy all prints of the film before it was released.

 
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Most of the actors were new to film

Most of the actors were new to film
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Granted, it was 1941, so the film industry itself was relatively new. Nevertheless, there were established movie stars by then. None of them were in “Citizen Kane,” though. For the film, Welles basically took his principal actors from his Mercury Theater and used them for the movie. It was the debut film of many actors, and they can thank Welles for that.

 
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A couple notable actors were among the cast

A couple notable actors were among the cast
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Two of the Mercury Theater players in “Citizen Kane?” They would be Agnes Moorhead and Joseph Cotten. Moorhead had a lengthy career, but is probably best known for playing Endora, Samantha Stephens’ mother, on “Bewitched.” Cotten, meanwhile, would go on to star in cinematic classics such as “Shadow of a Doubt” and “The Third Man.”

 
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Kane was dead, to begin with

Kane was dead, to begin with
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“Citizen Kane” wasn’t the first movie to star with the protagonist dead, but it’s definitely notable that it is the case. The film begins with a newsreel about the life of Kane in the wake of his death. After that, the framing of the film is a journalist interviewing people from Kane’s life to try and figure out the meeting of his reported last word, “Rosebud.” All the flashbacks are from people’s memories.

 
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Welles gave himself a crash course in film

Welles gave himself a crash course in film
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Since Welles had never directed a movie of this scope before, he felt the need to teach himself filmmaking prior to starting work on “Citizen Kane.” He used “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” as a visual cue, and reportedly watched the John Ford movie “Stagecoach” a whopping 40 times in preparation.

 
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Welles started shooting the film before RKO gave him the go ahead

Welles started shooting the film before RKO gave him the go ahead
RKO

Originally, Welles had been planning to make an adaptation of “Heart of Darkness” for RKO, but the plans well through. Disappointed, and not wanting that to happen again, Welles cheated a bit with “Citizen Kane.” He told RKO he was merely shooting some camera tests, but in reality, he was actually beginning filming on the movie. His logic was that if he was already into it, RKO would just have to let him go ahead and finish.

 
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The director suffered a serious injury on the movie

The director suffered a serious injury on the movie
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Welles really gave it his all on the movie. While shooting the scene where Kane yells at his rival Jim W. Gettys from the top of a stairway he fell 10 feet and chipped two bones in his ankle. He actually had to direct from a wheelchair for two weeks.

 
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Some call “Citizen Kane” inventive, others just innovative

Some call “Citizen Kane” inventive, others just innovative
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There is some debate over just how much “Citizen Kane” changed film. If you studied film in school you may have heard talk about it being the first movie to show ceilings or to have basically invented deep focus. A deeper dive would indicate that nothing was really done for the first time in “Citizen Kane.” The general assessment now is that Welles was just perhaps the first director to bring all these tricks and innovations together in one film, and did them particularly well.

 
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“Citizen Kane” was also the introduction to an iconic composer

“Citizen Kane” was also the introduction to an iconic composer
BMI/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

So many actors made their debuts in the movie, and Welles of course debuted as a director. Then, there’s also the composer. Welles used his Mercury Theater composer, a man by the name of Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann made his movie debut in “Citizen Kane,” although interestingly he won an Oscar for another 1941 film, “All That Money Can Buy.” However, he’s best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock, including the iconic score for “Psycho.”

 
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Montage editing helped Welles tells the story of Kane’s life

Montage editing helped Welles tells the story of Kane’s life
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One of the iconic segments of the movie is the breakfast montage. Thanks to the use of clever editing, Welles is able to effectively tell the story of Kane’s first marriage in a matter of two minutes. Five segments tell the story of 16 years of marriage. The visual storytelling is quite strong as well. Notice how much further physically Kane and his wife get from each other from segment to segment.

 
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It only won one Oscar

It only won one Oscar
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“Citizen Kane” was well-received by critics – at least the ones not at Hearst papers – and it got a whopping nine Oscar nominations. However, it only ended up winning one of them. That would be the screenplay award, which went to Kane and Mankiewicz.

 
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These days the assessments are kinder

These days the assessments are kinder
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Some might be surprised to find out that “Citizen Kane” didn’t win Best Picture. That went to “How Green Was My Valley.” In time, though, “Citizen Kane” came to be considered an all-time classic. It topped AFI’s top 100 movies list. Roger Ebert called it his favorite movie. For years it topped the famed “Sight & Sound” poll as the best movie ever, until “Vertigo” beat it in 2012.

 
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It has influenced so much pop culture

It has influenced so much pop culture
FOX

“The Simpsons” loves “Citizen Kane.” It has parodied the iconic movie so many times, usually through the character of Mr. Burns. In fact, there is even an episode of “The Simpsons” called “Rosebud.” It has also inspired some more serious fare. David Fincher made a film called “Mank” about Herman Mankiewicz’s work on the script, though its screenplay was influenced quite a bit by “Raising Kane.”

 
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Spielberg bought the sled

Spielberg bought the sled
Universal

“Rosebud” is Kane’s childhood sled. We all know that at this point. When making the movie, they reportedly made three prop sleds, of which only one wasn’t burnt. In 1982, that sled was bought by none other than Steven Spielberg.

 
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Welles was never nominated for another Oscar

Welles was never nominated for another Oscar
Planfilm

Welles was a 25-year-old on the rise when he made “Citizen Kane.” He made a film many consider the best ever. It was also the peak of his career. So many of his projects were never finished or were compromised. He did make some successful films, like “The Magnificent Ambersons” or “Touch of Evil.” However, he would never be nominated for another Oscar, and his only (non-honorary) Academy Award is his one for Best Screenplay.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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