His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist. Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Dr Maurice Bernstein. In 1931 he graduated from the Todd School in Woodstock Illinois, he turned down college offers for a sketching tour of Ireland. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the London and Broadway stages, traveling some more in Morocco and Spain (where he fought in the bullring). Recommendations by Thornton Wilder and Alexander Woollcott got him in to Katherine Cornell's road company, with which he made his New York debut as Tybalt in 1934. The same year he married, directed his first short, and appeared on radio for the first time. He began working with John Houseman and formed the Mercury Theatre with him in 1937. In 1938 they produced 'The Mercury Theatre on the Air', famous for its broadcast version of 'The War of the Worlds' (intended as a Halloween prank). His first film to be seen by the public was Citizen Kane (1941), a commercial failure losing RKO $150,000, but regarded by many as the best film ever made. Many of his next films were commercial failures and he exiled himself to Europe in 1948. In 1956 he directed 'Touch of Evil' (1958); it failed in the U.S. but won a prize at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. In 1975, in spite of all his box-office failures, he received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1984 the Directors Guild of America awarded him it's highest honour, the D W Griffith award. His reputation as a film-maker climbed steadily thereafter.
Welles was married three times, Virginia Nicholson (1934-1940), Rita Hayworth (1943-1948) and Paola Mori (1955-1985). His first two marriages ended in divorce: and he had three children, one with each wife.
Welles was one of the most recognizable deep voices in all of film, radio and television. Films that he wrote/directed often revolve around the rise and fall of main characters (Kane, Quinlan, Arkardin) who, in classic Shakespearean style, are unmade by their own devices.
Known for his use of 'tracking shots' (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil), elaborate crane shots and low camera angles.
Welles dated Eartha Kit, calling her, "the most exciting woman in the world."
He once ate 18 hot dogs in one sitting at Pink's, a Los Angeles hot dog stand.