Joseph Cotten Poster


Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trade Mark (3)  | Trivia (20)  | Personal Quotes (11)  | Salary (1)

Overview (5)

Born in Petersburg, Virginia, USA
Died in Westwood, Los Angeles, California, USA  (pneumonia)
Birth NameJoseph Cheshire Cotten
Nickname Jo
Height 6' 2" (1.88 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Jr. was born in Petersburg, Virginia, into a well-to-do Southern family. He was the eldest of three sons born to Sally Whitworth (Willson) and Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Sr., an assistant postmaster.

Jo (as he was known) and his brothers Whit and Sam spent their summers at their aunt and uncle's home at Virginia Beach. And there and at an early age he discovered a passion for story-telling, reciting, and performing acts for his family. Cotten studied acting at the Hickman School of Expression in Washington, D.C. and worked as an advertising agent afterward. But by 1924 tried to enter acting in New York. His money opportunities were limited to shipping clerk, and after a year of attempting stage work, he left with friends, heading for Miami. There he found a variety of jobs: lifeguard, salesman, a stint as entrepreneur -- making and selling 'Tip Top Potato Salad' - but more significantly, drama critic for the Miami Herald. That evidently led to appearance in plays at the Miami Civic Theater. Through a connection at the Miami Herald he managed to land an assistant stage manager job in New York. In 1929 he was engaged for a season at the Copley Theatre in Boston, and there he was able to expand his acting experience, appearing in 30 plays in a wide variety of parts. By 1930 he made his Broadway debut. In 1931 Cotten married Lenore LaMont (usually known as Kipp), a pianist, divorced with a four-year-old daughter.

To augment his income as an actor in the mid-30s, Cotten took on radio shows in addition to his theatre work. At one audition he met an ambitious, budding actor/writer/director/producer with a mission to make his name-Orson Welles. Cotten was 10 years his senior, but the two found a kindred spirit in one another. For Cotten, Welles association would completely redirect his serious acting life. Their early co-acting attempts boded ill for employment in formal acting vehicles. At a rehearsal for CBS radio the two destroyed a scene taking place on a rubber tree plantation. One or the other was supposed to say the line: "Barrels and barrels of pith...." They could not overcome uncontrolled laughter at each attempt. The director berated them as acting like 'school-children' and 'unprofessional', and thereafter both were considered unreliable. Welles's ambition put that quickly behind them when he formed The Mercury Theatre Players. Coming on board were later Hollywood stalwarts: Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, and Ray Collins. In 1937, Cotten starred in Welles's Mercury productions of "Julius Caesar" and "Shoemaker's Holiday". And he made his film debut in the Welles-directed short Too Much Johnson (1938), 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". The uproar over Welles's "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, was rewarded with an impressive contract from RKO Pictures. The two-picture deal promised full creative control for the young director, and Welles brought his Mercury players on-board in feature roles in what he chose to bring to the screen. But after a year, nothing had germinated until Welles met with writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, resulting in the Citizen Kane (1941) idea - early 1940. The story of a slightly veiled William Randolph Hearst with Welles as Kane and Cotten, in his Hollywood debut, as his college friend turned confidant and theater critic, Jed Leland, would become film history, but at the time it caused little more than a ripple. 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 following year Cotten and Welles collaborated again in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), acclaimed but again ignored at Oscar time, and the next year's Nazi thriller Journey Into Fear (1943). Cotten, along with some Welles ideas, wrote the screenplay. Welles with his notorious overrunning of budgeting was duly dropped by RKO thereafter. Later in 1943 Cotten's exposure and acquaintance with young producer David O. Selznick resulted in a movie contract and the launching of his mainstream and very successful movie career as a romantic leading man. Thereafter he appeared with some of the most leading of Hollywood leading ladies - a favorite being Jennifer Jones, Selznick's wife with the two of them being his most intimate friends. Cotten got the opportunity to play a good range of roles through the 1940s - the darkest being the blue beard-like killer in Alfred Hitchcock thriller Shadow of a Doubt (1943) with Teresa Wright. Perhaps the most fun was The Farmer's Daughter (1947) with a vivacious Loretta Young. Cotten starred with Jennifer Jones in four films: the wartime domestic drama Since You Went Away (1944), the romantic drama Love Letters (1945), the western Duel in the Sun (1946), and later in the critically acclaimed Portrait of Jennie (1948), from the haunting Robert Nathan book. Cotten is thoroughly convincing as a second-rate, unmotivated artist who finds inspiration from a chance acquaintance budding into love with an incarnation of a girl who died years before. Welles and Cotten did not work again until The Third Man (1949), directed by Carol Reed. For Cotten, the role as the hapless boyhood friend and second-rate novel writer Holly Martins would be a defining moment in a part both comedic and bittersweet, its range making it one of his best performances. Unfortunately, he was again overlooked for an Oscar.

Cotten was kept in relative demand into his mature acting years. Into the 1950s, he reunited with "Shadow Of A Doubt" co star Thereas Wright, to do the memorable bank caper "The Steel Trap"(1952).He co stared with Jean Peters in "Blueprint For A Murder"(1953). For the most part, the movie roles were becoming more B than A. He had a brief role as a member of the Roman Senate, reuniting with lifelong friend Welles in his Othello (1951). There were a few film-noir outings along with the usual fare of the older actor with fewer roles. However, he was much more successful in returning to theater roles in the new television playhouse format. He also did some episodic TV and some series ventures, as with On Trial, which was later called The Joseph Cotten Show. He had a memorable role in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Breakdown", where he was a man in a lone and isolated car accident, trapped and unable to speak. He voices over and shows his great acting skill simply through facial expressions. His one last stint with Welles was uncredited and sort of Jed Leland-revisited as the hokey coroner early in Welles's over-the-top Touch of Evil (1958). Of his association with Welles, Cotten said: "Exasperating, yes. Sometimes eruptive, unreasonable, ferocious, yes. Eloquent, penetrating, exciting, and always - never failingly even at the sacrifice of accuracy and at times his own vanity - witty. Never, never, never dull."

With the passing of his first wife in 1960 Cotten met and married British actress Patricia Medina. The 1960s found him equally busy in TV and film. He made the circuit of the most popular detective and cowboy series of the period. By 1964 he returned to film with the money making old-Hollywood-dame- horror-movie genre hit Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) with other vintage Hollywood legends Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, and Agnes Moorehead. His other films of that decade were of the quick entertainment variety along with some foreign productions, and TV movies. There were also more TV series and guests appearances, especially The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular stop during its long run. In the 1970s Cotten was still in demand-for even more of the curiosity-appeal of the populace for an older star. Along with the new assortment of TV series, he anchored himself at Universal with small parts in forgettable movies, the sluggish Universal epic dud Tora! Tora! Tora! for instance, and the steady diet of TV series being cranked out there. Though older actors have laughed in public about their descent into cheap horror movies, one can only wonder at the impetus to do them -- by such greats, as Claude Rains -- besides a can't-pass-up alluring salary.

Cotten did the campy The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) with Vincent Price and about that time two second rate Italian horror outings where he was Baron Blood and Baron Frankenstein. Then again there was better exposure in the Universal minor sci-fi classic Soylent Green (1973). And in yet another Universal sequel, where the profit-logic was to gather a cast of veterans from the Hollywood spectrum in any situation spelling disaster and watch the ticket sales skyrocket, Cotten joined the all-star cast of Airport '77 (1977). He rounded out the decade with the ever faddish Fantasy Island and more Universal TV rounds. This contributor met and worked with Joseph Cotten during this latter evolution of one of Hollywood's greats. He wore his own double-breasted blue blazer and tan slacks in several roles - no need for wardrobe. His pride and joy was a blue 1939 Jaguar SS, something of a fixture on the Universal lot.

Cotten was not ready to turn his back on Hollywood until the beginning of the 1980s when he managed to appear in the epic flop Heaven's Gate (1980). After a Love Boat episode (1981), Cotten joined his wife and his love of gardening and entertaining friends in retirement. He also had the time to write an engaging autobiography Vanity Will Get You Somewhere (1987). Cotten's somewhat matter-of-fact and seemingly gruff acting voice served him well. Certainly his command of varied roles deserved more than the snub of never being nominated for an Academy Award. He was not the only actor to suffer being underrated, but that is largely forgotten in those memorable roles that speak for him. And for what it is worth, the Europeans had the very good sense to award him the Venice Film Festival Award for Best Actor for Portrait of Jennie, one of his favorite roles.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Volker Boehm & MO and William McPeak

Spouse (2)

Patricia Medina (20 October 1960 - 6 February 1994) ( his death)
Lenore Kipp (18 October 1931 - 7 January 1960) ( her death)

Trade Mark (3)

Wavy hair, tall frame, cleft chin.
Distinctive, almost raspy, deep voice.
Often worked with Orson Welles

Trivia (20)

Retired from acting in the early 1980s after a stroke and a laryngectomy.
Had a step-daughter from first marriage.
Like Orson Welles, he has appeared in the top films of both the American Film Institute and the British Film Institute; for AFI it was Citizen Kane (1941) as Jedediah Leland and for BFI, its The Third Man (1949) as Holly Martins.
Despite their mercurial relationship, he and Orson Welles remained friends until Welles' death.
Was cast as C.K. Dexter Haven in the original 1939 Broadway production of Philip Barry's play Philadelphia StoryZ with Katharine Hepburn. When Hepburn, who owned the rights, sold the story to MGM, Cary Grant was cast in the part.
Before his celebrated appearance as Charles Foster Kane's best friend, Jed Leland, in Citizen Kane (1941), he appears as one of the reporters in the March of Time parody sequence early in the film. He is seated in the back of the projection room, in the last row at the far left, and is only clearly visible in one shot, but his voice along with that of Everett Sloane's (who plays Bernstein) can often be heard in the darkness on the soundtrack.
Served as best man at Orson Welles's wedding to Rita Hayworth.
Uncle of Joseph Cotten.
His brother, Sam, passed away on February 27, 2010 in Winchester, Virginia, at the age of 90.
His first film appearance is in 1937 in "Seeing the World, Part One: A Visit to New York", a 10-minute silent film directed & photographed by Rudy Burkhardt, in which he is credited as "Joseph Cotton", acting briefly in a bar scene.
He was a lifelong Republican and conservative who was a solid supporter of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.
Grew up in Petersburg, Virginia, the oldest of three brothers.
Worked with Alfred Hitchcock in one of his finest films, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). They worked again in Under Capricorn (1949) but the film flopped with Hitch disowned it. Cotton never was asked to appear in any subsequent Hitchcock film.
While Citizen Kane (1941) is officially Cotton's debut film, MGM actually filmed the Broadway stage production of "The Philadelphia Story" with Cotton, Katharine Hepburn, Van Heflin, Shirley Booth, et al. as prep for the 1940 movie version with Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ruth Hussey and James Stewart.
Was a Boy Scout.
Cotten had suffered a debilitating stroke and heart attack in 1981, and fought for years to regain use of his baritone voice. Troubled intermittently by throat nodules, he had his larynx removed in 1990 because of cancer.
He died of pneumonia at his home in Westwood, Los Angeles.
Co-starred with Jennifer Jones in 4 movies: Since You Went Away (1944), Love Letters (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946), and Portrait of Jennie (1948). Cotten also narrated The Wild Heart (1952), in which Jones played the lead.
Appeared in four Best Picture nominees in the 1940s alone: Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Gaslight (1944) and Since You Went Away (1944).
He was portrayed by Matthew Glave in the FX series, "Feud: Bette and Joan" (2017).

Personal Quotes (11)

I didn't care about the movies really. I was tall. I could talk. It was easy to do.
Orson Welles lists Citizen Kane (1941) as his best film, Alfred Hitchcock opts for Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Sir Carol Reed chose The Third Man (1949) - and I'm in all of them.
[on Orson Welles] I know a little about Orson's childhood and seriously doubt if he ever was a child.
My wife told me one of the sweetest things one could hear: "I am not jealous. But I am truly sad for all the actresses who embrace you and kiss you while acting, for with them, you are only pretending."
I was a so-called star because of my limitations and that was always the case. I couldn't do any accents. So I had to pretend. Luckily I was tall, had curly hair and a good voice. I only had to stamp my foot and I'd play the lead -- because I couldn't play character parts.
[on making Citizen Kane (1941) with Orson Welles] Orson must have been about 22 then and I still think he's one of the greatest directors in the world. I don't know why people regard him as a difficult man. He was the easiest, most inspiring man I've ever worked with. He was the only one who seemed to know what he was doing because we were all virgins on that picture.
[on Bette Davis] I loved working with her.
[on Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)] Bette [Davis] is determined to make her mark on this picture, and Joan [Crawford] is determined to do the same and not be, how shall I put it, gobbled up by Bette, but for heaven's sake, don't quote me.
[on Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)] I think we all wanted it to be a different picture than it was, especially Joan [Crawford]. She felt Bette [Davis] wasn't trying enough to lift the script up to their level instead of simply playing down to it. She never came right out and said it to me but I could see it on her face. Joan wanted it to be a 'quality' picture. I think the movie works well enough for what it is, but it's no Gone with the Wind (1939) or anything resembling a true 'quality' picture.
In Hollywood, those stars who have been around a long while and seem to grow better with time are the ones who regard "stardom" merely as an opportunity to grow.
[on Everett Sloane] You know how he was so ugly there was a certain beauty about him. But he had his nose altered, wore contact lenses instead of his thick glasses, had his hair straightened, and no one wanted him. He became so morose that he walked out into the middle of the road and killed himself.

Salary (1)

Citizen Kane (1941) $1,200 /week

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