BW – EP79: The Boy Wonder—Orson Welles’ Early Career (1931-1941)

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In Breaking Walls Episode 79, we present a detailed look at Orson Welles’ radio career through the end of 1941.

• Beginnings in Illinois and China — How they helped shape Orson
• The Todd Seminary School — His first exposure to theater and Radio
• Connections and Early Breaks — How his mentor Roger Hill, Thornton Wilder, Alexander Woollcott, and Katharine Cornell helped Orson get to Broadway
• Orson meets John Houseman and Archibald MacLeish, and first appears on the March of Time
• 1935-1937 — From the March of Time to the Columbia Workshop, and how Irvin Reis taught Orson how to create for radio
• How the US Government shaped the opportunity for Orson to write, direct, and star in Les Misérables on the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1937
• The Shadow Knows! — Agnes Moorehead and Orson Welles’ one season on The Shadow
• The birth of the Mercury Theater on the Air as First Person singular.
• How it’s success led to the most infamous night in radio in October of 1938
• Mainstream success with Campbell’s Soups
• Orson goes to Hollywood, and signs the greatest autonomous film contract in history at 24
• Citizen Kane — How William Randolph Hearst and RKO shaped the film
• Lady Esther Presents — Orson comes back to radio in the autumn of 1941
• Pearl Harbor Day and collaborating with Norman Corwin
• Joseph Cotton introduces Orson to Rita Hayworth

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Special thanks to our Sponsors:
• The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society

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• The Fireside Mystery Theare

The reading material used in today’s episode was:
• Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles by Frank Brady
• This is Orson Welles by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich
• The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning
• Discovering Orson Welles by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Other materials included:
• – an incredibly comprehensive website on Orson’s career
• Orson Welles on the Air, 1938-1946 at
• The Radio Preservation Task Force also has a great Facebook group headed by Josh Shepperd

Selected Interviews in this episode were:
• Orson Welles with Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, and Huw Wheldon,

• Agnes Moorehead and Alan Reed were with radio Hall of Fame Member Chuck Schaden, who interviewed over 200 members of the radio community during his 39 year career. Chuck’s interviews can be streamed for free at

• William Robson was with Dick Bertel and Ed Corcoran for WTIC’s The Golden Age of Radio in January of 1976 and Kenny Delmare was with John Dunning in 1983. Those interviews can be found at the Old Time Radio Researcher’s Group at

• William Herz was with Walden Hughes and John and Larry Gassman in 2013 for their program on the Yesterday USA Radio Network, which you can visit at

A Special Thank you to:
Christian Neuhaus
Rebecca Shield

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