When Orson Welles was recommended to Cornell College
Today. May 6, 2015, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of film legend Orson Welles. He never attended college, but he has a tangential connection to Cornell College.
Welles’ mentor, Roger Hill, wrote to legendary Cornell College English Professor Clyde “Toppy” Tull in September 1931, and suggested that Welles, who had a full scholarship to Harvard’s drama school, might be better served at Cornell. Hill taught Welles at the Todd School for Boys, a private school in Woodstock, Illinois. He wrote that he was anxious to have Welles’ best interests looked after, and suggested that though Welles’ primary interest had been drama, he was considering art, instead.
Hill’s letter is full of praise for the then 17-year-old Welles. calling him “talented to the point of genius,” and saying “his education in all cultural subjects is beyond that of the ordinary college graduate.”
Hill mentions that Welles is on a trip to Ireland, is due to return shortly, and that he hoped Welles could be enrolled in Cornell College immediately thereafter. That never came to pass. In the end, Welles attended neither Harvard nor Cornell College.
He would make his stage debut in Dublin on Oct. 13, 1931, write what would become “The Mercury Shakespeare,” start a theatre troupe in New York City and be hailed as a prodigy for his work with the Federal Theatre Project, rise to national prominence with his broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds,” and then produce, direct, and star in “Citizen Kane”—all within a decade of Hill’s letter.