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At 16, Orson set out on a painting tour of Ireland with $500, ended up in Dublin with nothing. Going backstage at the Gate Theatre one night, he announced he was a Theatre Guild star. On the strength of this whopper he was respectfully handed the part of the Duke in Jew Süss ("an actor's dream," says Welles, "what with a seduction scene, a murder scene, and a deathbed scene"). He spent that season in Dublin, acting at the Gate, the Peacock the famed Abbey Theatre.
Followed two short bumps. Moving on to London, Welles could not repeat his Dublin fireworks because the Labor Ministry refused him a working permit. Back in Manhattan, he spent a day in the Shubert casting office, hourly scaling down his ambitions from lead to secondary role to walk-onuntil, unnoticed, he finally walked off. sailed for Morocco where he wrote a school text, Everybody's Shakespeare.
Back in the U. S. again, Welles met Thornton Wilder, who gave him a letter to Alexander Woollcott, who got him to Katharine Cornell, who took him on tour to play such roles as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Marchbanks in Candida. Following the tour, he played Tybalt in the Cornell Romeo and Juliet in Manhattan. In the audience one night sat John Houseman, who at 29 had got out of the grain business, had staged the Gertrude Stein Four Saints in Three Acts, was about to produce Archibald MacLeish's Panic. Impressed by Welles's acting, Houseman went backstage after the performance, signed him up to play the lead in Panic. The play ran only its scheduled three nights but proved another milestone for the actor, the beginning of a close association between Houseman and Welles.
Shadow and Sustenance. That same year, Welles got started in radio, until this year his financial mainstay. An audition with MARCH OF TIME landed him a job there. Others followed. His best-known radio role, which he still plays, is The Shadow. Since March 1937, Welles has been Lamont Cranston, a millionaire playboy who foils evildoers by night, murmurs sepulchrally: "The Shadow Knows. Ha-ha-ha." Radio has averaged Welles $1,000 a week; last summer for two or three weeks he hit a high of $1,700.
Meanwhile Welles & Houseman took over the WPA's Negro unit in Harlem, decided to do Macbeth as jungle melo drama. Strapped down to a WPA budget, Perfectionist Welles used his own money to buy just the right tom-toms, beat Mac beth into a noisy success. Then Welles & Houseman marched down to Broadway, put on other WPA shows, culminating in the smashing Welles production of Dr. Faustus.
It was The Cradle Will Rock that ended the WPA career of two young men aching to set up for themselves. With a scared Federal Theatre on the mat for putting on too many labor plays, the day The Cradle was to open came a fiat that it was not to open. Welles & Houseman borrowed a theatre, and (since Equity for bade the actors to use the stage) inaugurated a new type of entertainment with an impromptu performance in the aisles.