A Lot to Love: Orson Welles’s Draft Script for Citizen Kane

Orson Welles, Herman Mankiewicz, and John Houseman, Working draft script for Citizen Kane

It might not look like much, but this folio is pure cinephile gold. Orson Welles’s own working copy of the script for Citizen Kane (still bearing its provisional title The American),  it is presumed to be the one from which the legendary filmmaker read aloud to George Schaefer, the president of the production company RKO, when he first presented the script.

The writing of Citizen Kane was almost as eventful as the scenario itself. Having enjoyed great success in radio and theater, the young Welles started to work on his first film in 1939. Inspired by media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the famous rags-to-riches story was something of a personal vendetta for Welles’ collaborator, scriptwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, a former friend of Hearst who had fallen out of favor.

Mankiewicz was a notorious drunk, and he was sent to a remote location in the Californian desert to work on the script with another of Welles’s collaborators, John Houseman. Welles himself really started working on the script from 16 April 1940, only a couple of weeks before this version was typed out (the copy is dated 30 April–9 May 1940). He removed many of the most obvious references to Hearst, but it was RKO president Schaefer who suggested the title Citizen Kane.

Not only is this copy particularly rare—only one other of Welles’ scripts for Citizen Kane is recorded—but it also comes with a prestigious provenance. It was purchased at Christie’s New York, East on 16 December 1991 by  Stanley J. Seeger, who collected modern masters and curios with the same unbridled enthusiasm. This copy will go under the hammer as part of the 1000 Ways of Seeing sale, which also features fossilized dinosaur eggs (lot 1), a silver teapot that once belonged to Admiral Nelson (lot 465), and Al Capone’s cocktail shaker (lot 685).

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