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What the Mank Ending Leaves Out About Orson Welles and Citizen Kane


Regarding authorship, Lederer said, “Manky was always complaining and sighing about Orson’s changes. And I heard from Benny [Hecht] too, that Manky was terribly upset. But you see, Manky was a great paragrapher—he wasn’t really a picture writer. I read his script of the film—the long one called American—before Orson really got to changing it and making his vision of it—and I thought it was pretty dull.” He would go on to add, “Orson vivified the material, changed it a lot, transcended it with his direction.”

As early as ’72, Bogdanovich picked apart Kael’s essay, from finding a 1941 affidavit by Richard Barr, executive assistant on the film, where he stated Welles made revisions that included dialogue, changing sequences and characterizations, and creating new scenes, to also citing Lederer’s claim that Kane never had its writing credits arbitrated by the Screen Writers Guild. This contradicts Kael’s assertion that the guild forced Welles to accept Mankiewicz’s name on the screenplay—and first above his own.

However, it has since been confirmed that Mankiewicz did lodge a protest with the Screen Writers Guild in 1940 before withdrawing it. He clearly worried about receiving credit because he had genuinely agreed to go uncredited on the script. The primary reason for this arrangement was because RKO’s contract stipulated that wunderkind Welles was to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movies. The studio didn’t want the mystique impugned by a co-writer. Whether Welles personally orchestrated this is unknown, but after Mank made noises and RKO decided (without the guild’s intervention) to give Mank credit, it was Welles’ decision to give Mankiewicz first credit. Assistant Richard Wilson recalled Welles circling Mankiewicz’s name and drawing an arrow to move it in front of his own for the end credits.

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Beginning in 1978, film professor Robert L. Carringer offered the definitive rebuttal to Kael, and therefore Mank’s, story. First with “The Scripts of Citizen Kane” and then The Making of Citizen Kane, Carringer analyzed all seven drafts of the script, from the original 266-page behemoth Mankiewicz turned in from Victorville to the 156-page shooting script, with Welles being held chiefly responsible for most or all of the changes after the third draft.

Among Carringer’s discoveries, significant lines like “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a great man” are attributed to Welles, as are several of the film’s most significant sequences, such as Kane’s loveless first marriage being conveyed through a series of dissolves at the couple’s breakfast table over the decades.



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