Carole Lombard's two years at RKO produced a few good films and several notable friendships. One was with Lucille Ball, who for the rest of her life cited Carole as a comedic influence...and perhaps she had something to do with Lucy's business sense as well. Another was with a multimedia genius several years Lombard's junior.
His name? Orson Welles.
It was 77 years ago tonight that Welles -- five days away from turning 26 and already renowned for his work as a writer, director and actor in theater and on radio -- made his debut in motion pictures with "Citizen Kane," a revolutionary film that remains controversial to this day. For decades, it regularly topped global critics' list of the greatest movies ever made until it was dethroned by Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." (Hitch was yet another legend who crossed paths with Carole at RKO, directing her in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith.")
It was shown at the Palace Theater in New York, friendly territory for Welles due to his stage and radio work (including "The Shadow" and broadcasts with the Mercury Players):
But the road to the Palace waa anything but smooth. "Kane" cleared many hurdles during the first few months of 1941, many put up by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the most prominent of the industrial titans who inspired Welles' Charles Foster Kane character.
For the film's 75th anniversary in 2016, Variety examined its struggles to reach theaters: http://variety.com/2016/film/awards/citizen-kane-75th-anniversary-orson-welles-history-hearst-1201750801/
On May 1, 1941, "Kane" was unveiled to the world. What was its initial reaction? We get an answer from the archives of New York's top-selling newspaper at the time -- but it wasn't the Times. Rather, it's the tabloid New York Daily News, whose review, written by Kate Cameron, ran on May 2:
(Note that Radio City Music Hall, which normally ran "prestige" pictures in midtown Manhattan and frequently showed RKO product, didn't want to run afoul of Hearst and instead ran "That Uncertain Feeling," a lesser Ernst Lubitsch title.)
Cameron briefly examines the film's tumultuous backstory and mentions Hearst (but not his paramour, Marion Davies). She referred to "Kane" as "one of the most interesting and technically superior films that has ever come out of a Hollywood studio" and gave it four stars.
She predicted that "Some day, and the time won't be long in arriving, Welles will be the greatest director in Hollywood." His inability to play the studio game, not to mention rubbing many in the industry the wrong way, ultimately conspired against him in that category. However, Cameron added, Welles also excelled as an actor, and compared his work as Kane to what Charles Chaplin had done with "The Great Dictator" the year before.
The review is at http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/citizen-kane-premieres-1941-article-1.2202132?cid=bitly&utm_content=bufferb2a6e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer. Note that the Daily News' tabloid archrival, the New York Mirror, ran nothing on the premiere; it was, after all, a Hearst paper.
After its New York opening, "Kane" premiered in Chicago on May 6 (Welles' 26th birthday), then debuted in Los Angeles two days later at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Variety ran a full page of pictures:
Welles invited Lombard to the premiere, but Carole -- who didn't want to embarrass her good pal Davies -- decided not to go and gave her tickets to her mother. Lombard saw "Kane" later that year at a private screening Welles arranged. She liked the film, but husband Clark Gable fell asleep.