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Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys are pondering the reasons why Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane was snubbed as best picture of 1941 at the Academy Awards. (John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley won the Oscar that year.)
In our Aug. 1 blog, Awesome! — Top Ten Classic Movies, we noted that the Kane snub was a point of embarrassment ever since for the Academy. Here’s what regular reader-contributor Patricia Nolan-Hall (Caftan Woman) had to say:
While I agree that “Citizen Kane” is a monumental achievement, in no way should the Academy be embarrassed by the Best Picture award given to “How Green Was My Valley”. Both films deserve to live forever.
While we wholeheartedly agree with that second sentence, Patricia, we are not in accord with the first. The Academy should have been embarrassed about skipping over Citizen Kane. Here’s why. The omission was carried out in a spirit of revenge.
The late critic Pauline Kael’s 1971 book Raising Kane (Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd.) sets the scene:
(“Citizen Kane”) had taken the New York Film Critics Award with ease, but in early 1942, when the 1941 Academy Awards were given, the picture had the aroma of a box-office failure — an aroma that frightens off awards in Hollywood.
The picture had been nominated in nine categories, and at the ceremony, each time the title or Orson Welles’ name was read, there were hisses and loud boos.
The prize for Original Screenplay (shared by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz) was perhaps partly a love gesture to Mankiewicz, one of their own; the film community had closed ranks against Orson Welles.
The reasons for this are plentiful and part of Hollywood lore. The West Coast film community didn’t take kindly to this arrogant boy genius (he was 25 when he made Citizen Kane) from back East (although Welles was born in Wisconsin), who bamboozled his way to a rich RKO contract with a much-treasured final cut clause.
What’s more, his first movie enraged William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate and an inspiration of the Charles Foster Kane character, who was certainly a powerful pillar of the Hollywood establishment of the time. The Academy not only wanted to deny Citizen Kane a best picture victory that night but to rub Welles’ nose in the official snub. For that, it richly deserved to have been embarrassed.
While on the subject of Welles and Citizen Kane, reader Vincent writes in with this:
Regarding “Kane,” I think of Welles’ comments at the end of his famed Oct. 30, 1938 Mercury Theater radio adaptation of “War Of The Worlds,” that it was the equivalent of someone coming up from behind you and yelling “boo” (remember, it was Halloween eve).
If legend is to be believed, the very premise of “Kane” (“Rosebud”) rides on an inside joke about the mistress of one of the titans of industry Charles Foster Kane’s character was based upon.
Yes, that is the legend — that “Rosebud” was the affectionate name supposedly shared by Hearst and mistress Marion Davies. The reference was supposedly anatomical, something to do with a sensitive area below her belt. (By the way, that’s Charles Foster Kane’s mistress, played by Dorothy Comingore, in a less than cheerful mood; see above.)