In the early ’80s, Andy Kaufman was all set to star in Orson Welles’ re-make of “Citizen Kane”

By and on April 1, 2018

In the early ’80s, Andy Kaufman met the famous film director Orson Welles, a meeting which was to lead to a very interesting film project collaboration: a re-make of Citizen Kane.

On June 25, 1982, Orson Welles was guest-hosting on “The Merv Griffin Show” when one of the scheduled guests was comedian Andy Kaufman, still wearing his neck brace from his famed wrestling match with Jerry Lawler in April of that year.

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As you can see in this clip of their interview, Welles was effusive in his praise for Kaufman’s “Latka Gravas” character on the ABC sitcom “Taxi.”

It turns out that “Taxi” was one of Orson Welles’ favorite TV shows, telling Griffin’s studio audience that it was one of the only TV shows on the air that wasn’t a “criminal felony.”

What many of Kaufman’s fans do not know even today — or, for that matter, Welles’ fans don’t know this either — was that immediately following the taping at the Hollywood Palace Theater on Vine Street in Hollywood, Welles invited Kaufman out for cocktails at nearby Formosa Café to continue the conversation they’d started backstage.

It turns out that they were discussing Welles’ next film project, one that seems almost too impossible to believe: Welles was going to direct a modern-day ’80s re-make of his very first film, Citizen Kane.

Orson Welles talks about Citizen Kane in this 1960 interview from the BBC “Monitor” series

For decades since its theatrical release in 1941, Welles had distanced himself from his original Citizen Kane film because he felt it had been over-analyzed and over-praised by film critics.

He felt that every film he’d directed afterwards was held to such a high standard that all of the films he directed afterwards were ultimately considered failures to a certain degree.

Over the ensuing years, Welles had great difficulty finding financing for virtually all of his projects as a director.

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So, towards what turned out to be the end of his life, Welles had decided to re-make his most famous film, but he’d been forced to put the project on hold because he could find the right actor to star in his new Citizen Kane.

Finally, in the summer of ’82, Welles had found his leading man: he wanted Andy Kaufman to star in the film as the new Charles Foster Kane!

It was to be Kaufman’s first-ever dramatic film role.

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Night Flight contributor Michael Dare — who was the head writer on Andy Kaufman’s last TV show, 1984’s ‘The Top,’ which we told you about here — tells us about the Welles/Kaufman Citizen Kane film, which he hoped to have a hand in writing and producing.

“It’s not like we spent a LOT of time together but it was enough. We were backstage at “The Top” and he was stuck in the make-up chair, a perfect time to annoy him with stupid questions.

I asked if he had a favorite project that he was having a hard time getting made and he astonished me with his answer. He wanted to star in the remake Citizen Kane, which Orson Welles was going to direct.

I’m looking at Andy Kaufman saying this to me so I know it’s got to be a joke.

At first I thought it was a really bad idea but then I realized it had serious Young Frankenstein-type potential so I pressed him further. You’d play Kane? Nope. He wanted to play Rosebud.

What he really wanted to do was pull something like Woody Allen’s first film, What’s up, Tiger Lily, re-dub an already existing film, but doing nothing other than replacing the word ‘Rosebud’ with the words ‘Andy Kaufman’ every time it appeared in the picture, from Kane’s dying words, through the reporters searching for him until, in the end, they find him and throw him in a fire.

I can only say to you what I said to him at the time: Good idea.”

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Unfortunately, the Citizen Kane re-make project never moved forward and because both men died before the end of the decade, they were never able to fulfill their shared dream.

We’ll just have to imagine what an ’80s remake of Citizen Kane with Andy Kaufman as “Rosebud” would look like (thanks for the mock-up movie poster, Steve).

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Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 16, 1984.

Orson Welles died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Hollywood on October 10, 1985, the day after recording his final interview on “The Merv Griffin Show.”

Oh, by the way, we made this up… Happy April Fools Day! If you like April Fools Day stories, check out some of our previous attempts to fool our faithful Night Flight readers, like this post, this post and this one.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.