Born on May 6, 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Academy Award-winning filmmaker (George) Orson Welles’ childhood was a Hollywood story of its own.
His father, Richard Head Welles, was a successful inventor and businessman who made a fortune inventing a carbide bicycle lamp. His mother, Beatrice Ives, was an accomplished pianist and spoken word performer. By the age of six, his parents were separated and Welles moved back to Chicago with Beatrice where she had family. Not long after they arrived in Chicago, however, his beloved mother would die of jaundice when Welles was just nine years old. His father, losing his battle with alcohol, would die when Welles was only 15.
In the wake of Ives’ death, Dudley Crafts Watson (1885-1972), a native of Wisconsin and a cousin of Beatrice Ives, became Welles’ guardian in Chicago. Watson, a vocal advocate for the arts, was the very first director of the Milwaukee Art Institute–which was renamed from the Milwaukee Art Society shortly after Watson’s arrival, and is known today as the Milwaukee Art Museum.
During Watson’s tenure (1913-1924), the Institute played host to a variety of cultural events from lectures, plays and spoken word performances, to symphonies and more. To raise money to care for her family, Ives was a frequent performer at the Milwaukee Art Institute, both to accompany Watson and his widely popular lectures and to perform interpretive concerts of her own. Ives garnered positive reviews and praise for her performances at the Institute and beyond. Unfortunately, though, by early 1924, the beautiful and talented Ms. Beatrice Ives had passed.
We still wonder: How did such exposure to the arts, and particularly the art of performance, influence the young Orson Welles? Did he attend lectures where his mother played for Watson or view her performances? Did he attend Mr. Watson’s lectures? What was the relationship between Welles and Watson?
Whatever the case may be, the rebellious young Welles (who reportedly at the age of 10 ran away from Watson’s home with Watson’s third daughter, Marjorie, also 10, and was found a week later, singing and dancing for money on a Milwaukee street corner) was set on his artistic path early on, becoming a tour de force in the art of twentieth-century filmmaking.
Needless to say, our curiosity is piqued. If you can share anything about Beatrice Ives or the young Mr. Watson, we would be pleased to hear from you. We look forward to your thoughts.