The late Orson Welles famously directed the movie that often features at the top of those greatest ever polls. We’re talking, of course, about Citizen Kane. But you might not know that the youngest of his three daughters has followed in his film industry footsteps. And that’s not the only thing that she’s inherited from the bona fide Hollywood legend, either.
Welles first became a dad in 1938, when he and his first spouse Virginia Nicolson welcomed a baby girl named Christopher into the world. But within two years, Welles’ mistress Geraldine Fitzgerald had fallen pregnant. Rumors continue to circulate today that her son Michael is the offspring of the celebrated filmmaker.
By the time Welles officially became a father for a second time, he’d moved on to wife number two. The glamorous Rita Hayworth was just as famous as he was, having appeared in several box office hits including Only Angels Have Wings. The actress dubbed “The Love Goddess” gave birth just before Christmas 1944 to daughter Rebecca.
But Welles wasn’t done changing diapers, if he ever did so. More than a decade later, he discovered that he was going to be a dad again. Born in 1955, daughter Beatrice was the product of his third marriage to Paola Mori. But according to his children, Welles was never a contender for father of the year.
In her 2010 autobiography In My Father’s Shadow, Christopher revealed that her relationship with the Hollywood great was strained. Welles’ oldest daughter claims that he often put work over his family life. She wrote, “It was increasingly difficult for him to find the money for his creative projects and it left him almost no time for personal relationships. He was just going to pursue his art.”
Nowhere was that more apparent than on the shoot of Macbeth. Welles had cast Christopher – then just 10 years old – as the son of Macduff. But before filming the second take of a fight scene, the director asked his daughter’s on-screen enemy, “Now, hit Christopher hard this time.” Welles offered little comfort to his eldest when the actor duly obliged.
A more private person, Welles’ second daughter Rebecca was much less inclined to discuss her famous father. However, in 1972 she did give a revealing interview to Roto magazine about her early life as the offspring of two Hollywood legends. And once again, Welles wasn’t exactly painted as the warmest of father figures.
Rebecca said, “I never spent enough time with Father to get to know him well. He’s very quiet and very moody. Very, very moody. When I was a little girl, I remember how you had to wait for him to talk first. No one would dare talk because you didn’t know if he was busy thinking about something, so you would sit and wait to see if he was ready to talk.”
But Welles did have a softer side, too. Rebecca continued, “Once he sent me a scrapbook two inches thick, full of ink drawings and watercolors all done by himself especially for me, telling me all about St. Tropez and with ‘For Rebecca’ on the cover. That was Christmas 1957 and it was the best present I ever got. I still carry it around everywhere.”
Sadly, Rebecca passed away in October 2004 at the age of 59. Although it wasn’t officially declared in the press, the cause of death was later revealed by her half-sister in an interview with Wellesnet. Christopher claimed that Rebecca “had this terribly aggressive cancer that carried her off very quickly.”
It seems fair to say that Welles wasn’t exactly ideal husband material, either. The Hollywood star first walked down the aisle in 1934 with Virginia Nicolson. But far from doting on his wife when she fell pregnant, Welles instead embarked on affairs with not just one, but two other actresses.
Yes, Welles somehow found the time to fool around with both Latin American star Dolores del Rio and Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald as he waited to become a father. Fed up with his womanizing ways, Nicolson filed for divorce in 1940. She later claimed, “Orson doesn’t have time to be married.”
Welles said “I do” for a second time in 1943, on this occasion to Rita Hayworth. But once again he let his wandering eye get the better of him, and within five years The Love Goddess had decided that enough was enough. “I can’t take his genius anymore,” Hayworth told the press in what could be interpreted as either a compliment or sarcastic bit of shade.
But it was Welles’ third marriage that proved to be his most curious one. He tied the knot with aristocratic actress Paola Mori in 1955, after she fell pregnant with his third daughter. But the writing appeared to be on the wall when Welles embarked on an affair with Oja Kodar, an actress from Croatia who was more than a quarter of a century younger than him.
Welles remained Kodar’s lover until his death from cardiac failure at his Hollywood home in 1985. He’d been 70 years of age. Before his passing, the filmmaker never actually got around to officially divorcing Mori. Not only that, but he often alternated between the homes of the two women in his later years.
So, what actually happened to the daughter that Welles shared with his on-off third wife? Well, unlike her half-siblings, Beatrice Welles followed in her parents’ showbiz footsteps. Perhaps the fact that she also had none other than Frank Sinatra himself for a godfather meant that she was always destined to.
In fact, Beatrice first took to the stage when she was just five years old in a staging of the play Chimes at Midnight. Before she reached her teens she’d also landed a role in the film adaptation of the period dramedy. Her father taking the director’s chair for the movie no doubt helped, of course.
Beatrice also got the opportunity to share the screen with both her mother and father in a travel documentary. Her parents fronted a series titled Nella terra di Don Chisciotte, which translates in English as In the Land of Don Quixote. Beatrice appeared in all nine episodes of the show which first aired in 1964, and then again in 1986.
Despite her early brushes with showbiz, Beatrice initially wanted to pursue a career in equestrianism. Unfortunately, a serious injury put pay to her ambitions in her teens. However, as one door closes, another one opens. And after switching her attention to modeling, Beatrice graced the pages of Vogue and runways across the world.
Yet Beatrice still kept one foot in the family business. In 1972 she was cast in Don Quixote, an ambitious historical drama directed by her famous dad. Sadly for Welles himself, he never got to see it on the big screen. In fact, the filmmaker was still working on the project at the time of his death 13 years later. It only arrived in cinemas thanks to some outside help in 1992.
Since then, Beatrice has become synonymous with Courtesy Oldsmobile-Isuzu-Kia, a car dealership based in the city of Las Vegas. The famous offspring showed up in a whole host of television advertisements for the firm throughout the 1990s. According to reports, Beatrice was also involved with the dealership in a financial sense.
This wasn’t the first time that Beatrice had gone into business. In fact, she seems to be quite the entrepreneur. Not only has the famous name designed her own jewelry and handbag range, but she’s also launched her own cosmetics firm. Beatrice has done her best to keep her father’s legacy intact as the administrator of his vast estate, too.
But not everyone has appreciated Beatrice’s administrative efforts. In the summer of 1998 she forced Universal to pull the Cannes premiere of its Touch of Evil restoration, after issuing them with a lawsuit. The ex-model also took legal action against the National Film Theatre in London in 2003, claiming it didn’t have the rights to screen her father’s masterpiece Citizen Kane.
The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum told The Guardian that same year, “There is nothing that [Beatrice] has done to my knowledge that has improved the appreciation of Welles. Unless you count the re-release of Othello… [The result of] everything else she has done has been to prevent people from seeing his work, or from reading his work, or from even writing about his work.”
Beatrice also drew criticism for her attempts to sell off Orson’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Citizen Kane. The Academy prevented her from putting up the statuette for auction at Christie’s as the practice goes against its rules. Beatrice was previously gifted a replacement Oscar after the original was wrongly assumed to have been lost.
Then in 2018 Beatrice was forced to fight for her father following a row between Netflix and the Cannes Film Festival. The streaming giant pulled out of screening Welles’ posthumous work The Other Side of the Wind at the annual event because of the dispute. But Beatrice begged Netflix executives to renege on their decision.
In an email to Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, Beatrice wrote, “I was very upset and troubled to read in the trade papers about the conflict with the Cannes Film Festival. I have to speak out for my father. I saw how the big production companies destroyed his life, his work and in so doing a little bit of the man I loved so much.”
Beatrice continued, “I would so hate to see Netflix be yet another one of these companies. Please reconsider and let my father’s work be the movie that bridges the gap between Netflix and Cannes.” Unfortunately, Beatrice’s pleas fell on deaf ears and her father’s long-awaited film ended up premiering at the Venice Film Festival instead.
This unexpected return to the spotlight allowed the general public to see just how much Beatrice still resembles her famous father. The former runway model has always shared a notable similarity with the celebrated director of Citizen Kane. And this was perhaps first recognized during her appearance in Chimes at Midnight.
While attending the American Film Institute tribute to her father in 1975, Beatrice showed that she also took after her other parent, too. The jewelry designer sat on the same row as Welles and Mori at the star-studded event. And it was clear to everyone that she was the couple’s daughter.
Beatrice once again proved her likeness to her father at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992. Seven years after his death, the former child actress celebrated an exclusive screening of Welles’ classic Shakespeare adaptation Othello by posing for the press alongside one of its stars Suzanne Cloutier. Thankfully, on this occasion the late filmmaker’s work did actually get screened.
Unfortunately for Beatrice, she also appears to have inherited her father’s patterns when it comes to marriage. She first tied the knot with Christopher Smith in 1987, but eight years later the pair divorced. Jonathan O’Donoghue became husband number two in 1997, but within seven years the couple had gone their separate ways.
In a candid 2018 interview with British newspaper The Times, Beatrice admits that she still speaks to her famous father on a regular basis. So, what words of wisdom does the legendary filmmaker impart to his daughter from beyond the grave? According to Beatrice, “He says, ‘Get your s*** together.’”
Beatrice also revealed in the same interview that her parents weren’t particularly interested in giving her an education. She recalled, “They never sent me to school. People say, ‘You must have had private tutors,’ but I don’t remember any. I know somebody must have taught me to read and write and add… but that’s it.”
This wasn’t the first time that Beatrice had opened up about life as Orson Welles’ daughter. In a 2014 chat with Wellesnet, the former child star backed up her siblings’ claims that he was a workaholic. She said, “Doors were closed and there was no other world. It was us. He was very anti-social, if you want to put it that way. I guess that is where I get my reclusiveness from.”
Beatrice continued, “He never stopped working and that was the honest-to-God truth. That typewriter, I don’t think I ever saw him not working on that typewriter. He had the most insane schedule. He would be up all night. Have lunch or something, work a bit and crash for two hours and work again. It was bizarre. Growing up, I thought it was normal.”
And Beatrice was also more than happy to discuss her father for a book about his lesser-known artistic talents. The Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate delved deep into the Hollywood legend’s archives to showcase previously unpublished illustrations. “He was so much more than a great filmmaker… He was a great artist as well,” commented the ex-model.
Beatrice continued, “When you look at his art, you realize why… so many of the images he achieved onscreen look like paintings. It takes your breath away, what he did with light and shadow.” However, the former model admits that her father wasn’t the tidiest of artists. She said, “He was a very messy painter… the paint and the colors were everywhere.”
Beatrice also plans to extend her father’s general legacy with a new behind-the-scenes documentary. Life with Orson Welles: The Man Behind the Legend will see the jewelry designer reflect on the filmmaker on both a personal and professional level. And each new episode will invite a different name to share their memories, too.
In a statement published by The Hollywood Reporter, Beatrice explained the thought process behind the show. She said, “Much is known about my father as this legendary Renaissance man. But very little is known about what he was really like in private and the extraordinary gypsy life we lived off the set. I plan to dispel a few old rumors and spread some new ones.”