Joseph Cheshire Cotten (May 15, 1905 – February 6, 1994) was an American actor of stage and film. He was perhaps best known for his collaborations with Orson Welles, which included Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Magnificent Ambersons and Journey into Fear, which Cotten wrote, and for his work with Alfred Hitchcock. He received his start on Broadway, starring in the original productions of The Philadelphia Story and Sabrina Fair, and became a recognizable Hollywood star in his own right with films such as Shadow of a Doubt and Portrait of Jennie.
Cotten made his film debut in the Welles-directed short Too Much Johnson, a comedy based on William Gillette's 1890 play. The short was occasionally screened before or after Mercury productions, but never received an official release. Cotten returned to Broadway in 1939, starring as C.K. Dexter Haven in the original production of Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story as well as the 1953 production of Sabrina Fair.
After the success of Welles' infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, Welles got an impressive contract with RKO Pictures. The two-picture deal promised full creative control for the young director, and Welles made sure to feature his Mercury players in whatever production he chose to bring to screen. However, after a year, production hadn't yet started on any of Welles' prospective projects. It took a meeting with writer Herman J. Mankiewicz for Welles to find a story to bring to the screen.
In mid-1940 filming began on Citizen Kane, which portrayed the life of a brilliant media mogul (played by Welles) who starts out as an idealist but eventually turns into a corrupt, lonely old man. The film featured Cotten prominently in the role of Kane's best friend, a drama critic for his print empire.
When released on May 1, 1941, Citizen Kane (based in part on the life of William Randolph Hearst) found little attention at theaters; Hearst owned the majority of the country's press outlets, and so forbade advertisements for the film. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards in 1942, but was largely ignored by the Academy, only winning for Best Screenplay, for Welles and Mankiewicz. The film helped launch the careers of many other Mercury players, such as Agnes Moorehead (who played Kane's mother), Ruth Warrick (Kane's first wife), and Ray Collins (Kane's political opponent). However, Cotten was the only one of the four to find major success in Hollywood outside of Citizen Kane.
Despite Welles' reputation of being difficult to get along with, he and Cotten remained good friends. Cotten starred a year later in Welles' adaptation and production of The Magnificent Ambersons, supported by Moorehead. After the commercial disappointment of Citizen Kane, RKO was apprehensive about the new film, and cut nearly an hour off the running time before releasing it. Though at points the film appeared disjointed, it was well received by critics. Despite the critical accolades Cotten received for his performance, he was again snubbed by the Academy (Moorehead was nominated for Best Supporting Actress).
In 1943, Cotten took control of the Nazi-related thriller Journey Into Fear. He wrote the screenplay with the help of Welles (who produced the film), and starred in the film. By the time production wrapped, Welles had been dropped from RKO, and, as part of the settlement, was required to edit the film to suitable length. The film was a minor hit, but separated the friends from professional collaboration for six years.
The last collaboration with Welles is widely considered as Cotten's best performance. In The Third Man, Cotten portrays a writer of pulp fiction who travels to post-war Vienna to meet his friend Harry Lime (Welles). When he arrives, he discovers that Lime has died, and is determined to prove to the police that it was murder, but uncovers an even darker secret. The film proved to be another technical achievement.
Cotten's career cooled in the 1950s with a string of less high-profile roles in films such as the dark Civil War epic Two Flags West, the Joan Fontaine romance September Affair, and the Marilyn Monroe vehicle, Niagara. His last theatrical releases in the '50s were mostly film-noir outings and unsuccessful character studies. In 1956, Cotten left film for several years in exchange for a string of successful television ventures, such as the series On Trial, which was later called The Joseph Cotten Show. He was also featured in the successful series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the General Electric Theater. He finished the decade with a cameo appearance in the Welles production Touch of Evil and a starring role in the 1958 film adaptation of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.
In the early 1970s, Cotten followed a supporting role in Tora! Tora! Tora!, with several horror features such as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, opposite Vincent Price, and the classic Soylent Green (1973). Later in the decade, Cotten was featured in several all-star disaster films, including Airport '77 opposite James Stewart and again with Olivia de Havilland and the nuclear thriller Twilight's Last Gleaming. On TV, he did a guest spot opposite James Garner on the 70's TV detective drama The Rockford Files.
Shortly after, the 75-year-old actor retired with his wife to their home in Westwood, California. Cotten published a popular autobiography, Vanity Will Get You Somewhere, in 1987. He died on February 6, 1994, of pneumonia, a complication of terminal (or metastasized) throat cancer at the age of 88, leaving behind his wife and stepdaughter. He was buried in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.
Orson Welles lists Citizen Kane as his best film, Alfred Hitchcock opts for Shadow of a Doubt and Sir Carol Reed chose The Third Man - and I'm in all of them.
REDSHIRTS SHINE IN SCRIMMAGE; Belford, Bergstrom among those who make most of opportunity after sitting out last season;
May 01, 2005; The waiting is over and the nerves have been erased. Eastern Washington University football players who had the difficult task of...
Analysis: Reports say Spanish police have identified 20 Moroccans who they say planned and carried out last week's commuter train bombings
Mar 17, 2004; RENEE MONTAGNE Morning Edition (NPR) 03-17-2004 Analysis: Reports say Spanish police have identified 20 Moroccans who they say...
Analysis: British police announce they have identified four men they suspect of carrying out last week's bombings in London
Jul 12, 2005; ROBERT SIEGEL All Things Considered (NPR) 07-12-2005 Analysis: British police announce they have identified four men they suspect...