Special Lecture Series: Orson Welles & The Golden Age of Hollywood

By Administrator RSS Thu, October 12, 2023

Beginning Wednesday, April 12, 2023, the Free Library of Philadelphia launches a unique seven-part series of live evening events exploring the life and career of George Orson Welles, one of the most remarkable producer/director/actors to come out of Hollywood.

The Free Library invites you to listen to, question, and possibly meet some of the most admired critics, commentators, and cultural historians working in America today. The lecture series will be held at the Parkway Central library location and is free to attend. Registration for this series is suggested, but not required.


Past Events


Mr. Lucky: The Life of Orson Welles Before Hollywood

Speaker: David Nasaw, Graduate Center, City University of New York (Ret.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2023: 7:30 PM

David Nasaw, one of the nation’s most respected historians/biographers, explores the charmed life of Orson Welles from his boyhood through his incredible successes as a theater director and the founder of his own radio acting company (which scared America as never before with Welles' production of War of the Worlds). Nasaw’s latest book is The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons From World War to Cold War. He previously published the definitive biographies of Joseph P. Kennedy and William Randolph Hearst.

The City of Nets and Traps: The Hollywood That Orson Welles Discovered

Speaker: Peter Decherney, University of Pennsylvania

Wednesday, May 17, 2023: 7:30 PM

Peter Decherney is a Professor of Cinema Studies and English at the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the Director of the Cinema Studies Program and the Faculty Director of Penn’s Online Learning Initiative. His presentation will focus on the way that the Hollywood dream factory functioned at the time that Welles arrived. He will also discuss the personality and style of the major Hollywood studios at this time. Among his six published books is Hollywood: A Very Short Introduction.

The Struggle to Make Citizen Kane

Speaker: Michael Phillips, Film Critic for the Chicago Tribune

**Rescheduled: Wednesday, June 28, 2023: 7:30 PM**

Michael Phillips is the Film Critic for the Chicago Tribune. In recent years, Phillips introduced more than 100 films on Turner Classic Movies — including Citizen Kane — and has hosted a special retrospective showing of the greatest films of Orson Welles. This talk will highlight the intense struggle to make Citizen Kane against long odds. We now know that some of the executives at RKO hoped Welles would fail — and that the film crew included at least one spy who reported every mistake Welles made to the front office.

This program is made possible through the support of The Lydia Eloise Seïbert Fund through the Free Library Foundation.

The Genius Who Couldn't Do Anything Right

Speaker: Ray Kelly, Wellesnet

Wednesday, July 19, 2023: 7:30 PM

Ray Kelly was a journalist for nearly 40 years and ended his first career as the managing editor of the Springfield Republican. He is currently the owner and administrator of “Wellesnet,” the leading online source for information about the life and career of Orson Welles. Kelly picks up the story during the worst period in the life of this remarkable man. With the twin failures of The Magnificent Ambersons and his South American documentary, It’s All True, the career of the "Boy Genius" was in ruins. Welles struggled desperately to rebuild his reputation and reclaim his place in Hollywood.

The Genius Who Made Legendary Films on a Shoestring

Speaker: Meta Mazaj, Department of Cinema and Media Studies at Penn

Wednesday, September 6, 2023: 7:30 PM

This program will be presented by Meta Mazaj, a senior lecturer in Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published several books about World and Eastern European Cinema. She will evaluate some of the most important films of Welles’s middle period, like Touch of Evil and Chimes of Midnight.

The Crusader for Social Justice

Speaker: Zuhairah McGill, Actress and Director

Wednesday, October 11, 2023: 7:30 PM

The noted actress and director Zuhairah McGill explores the commitment of Orson Welles to hiring gifted African-American actors for psychologically complex, multi-dimensional roles at a time when Hollywood was offering Black performers comic roles that were both insulting and humiliating. Welles also campaigned against hate speech and participated in an effort to bring law enforcement officials guilty of racist and criminal conduct to justice.

The Legacy of Orson Welles

Speaker: Bob Mondello, National Public Radio

Wednesday, October 18, 2023: 7:30 PM

As a film critic for National Public Radio, Bob Mondello sees and comments on 300 films a year. Mondello was a new NPR employee at the time that Orson Welles died. Preparing an on-air obituary for Welles was one of Mondello’s first assignments for the network.

Those wishing to register for this series can contact Dick Levinson at levinsonr@freelibrary.org or register on EventBrite.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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Is this lecture series available virtually? I do not wish to visit center city.
Roland Ott - Parkway Central
Friday, March 17, 2023

Will this be available online? Not everyone (especially seniors) can travel to center city at night.
Richard - Philadelphia
Thursday, March 23, 2023

Thanks for reaching out concerning this question. While COVID has not disappeared, the most challenging days of this plague are behind us. This series is partly about recapturing the pleasure and excitement of live programing where speakers and audiences have the opportunity to react to one another in real time. To those uncomfortable about attending in person, we hope, but can't guarantee, that these programs will be posted to the Free Library YouTube Channel eventually.
Dick L. - Parkway Central Library
Thursday, March 23, 2023

Regarding Dick L's note of 3/23: It would be a horrible loss indeed were you to *not* record the audio of these sure-to-be-brilliant discussions for posting to the FLP Podcasts page.
My name is Harry Lime - Grover's Mill, NJ
Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Andre Wilson
Thursday, March 30, 2023

Dr. Nasaw's opening talk was delightful, and much credit to host Murray S. Levin for an assist when he deftly smoothed over the forgivable slips wherein Dr. N lent Joseph Cotten's first name to John Houseman. (One hopes that the MP3 can be gently edited to remove, or at least footnote somehow, an audience question that distorted history and would serve to further confuse.)
Harry Lime - Grovers Mill, NJ
Thursday, April 13, 2023

Looking forward to it
Evelyn Schwartz
Friday, April 21, 2023

The cancelled discussion from the 21st is now today, June 28th, correct? I was told by the librarian. Can you confirm, please? thanks, V.
valerie - 19130
Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Hi Valerie, this program has been rescheduled for tonight at 7:30 in Montgomery Auditorium. Doors will open at 6:45 P.M. Thank you!
Bridget - Parkway Central Library
Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Hi, Are all of the "Orson Wells: Golden Age" lectures available on your Website or YouTube? Thank you,
J.P. Slavin - Orson Wells
Saturday, August 5, 2023