All articles and pages may contain affiliate links. You can read our disclosure policy here.

Joseph Cotten

Best known for is roles as a police inspector in Gaslight, Kane’s best friend in Citizen Kane, and a serial killer in Shadow of a Doubt

Filmography

1938      

Too Much Johnson

 

1941      

Citizen Kane

Lydia

 

1942      

The Magnificent Ambersons

 

1943      

Shadow of a Doubt

Journey into Fear

Hers to Hold

 

1944      

Gaslight

Since You Went Away

 

1945      

I’ll Be Seeing You

Love Letters

 

1946      

Duel in the Sun

 

1947      

The Farmer’s Daughter

 

1948      

Portrait of Jennie

 

1949      

The Third Man

Under Capricorn

Beyond the Forest

 

1950      

September Affair

Two Flags West

Walk Softly, Stranger

 

1951      

Half Angel

Peking Express

The Man with a Cloak

Othello

 

1952      

The Wild Heart

Untamed Frontier

The Steel Trap

 

1953      

Niagara

A Blueprint for Murder

 

1955      

Special Delivery

 

1956      

The Bottom of the Bottle

The Killer Is Loose

 

1957      

The Halliday Brand

 

1958      

Touch of Evil

From the Earth to the Moon

 

1960      

The Angel Wore Red

 

1961      

The Last Sunset

 

1964      

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

 

1965      

The Great Sioux Massacre

The Money Trap

The Tramplers

 

1966      

The Oscar

The Hellbenders

 

1967      

Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Jack of Diamonds

Some May Live

 

1968      

Days of Fire

Petulia

White Comanche

 

1969      

Latitude Zero

Keene

 

1970      

The Grasshopper

Tora! Tora! Tora!

 

1971      

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Lady Frankenstein

 

1972      

Doomsday Voyage

Baron Blood

The Scientific Cardplayer

 

1973      

Soylent Green

A Delicate Balance

F for Fake

 

1975      

Syndicate Sadists

Timber Tramps

 

1976      

A Whisper in the Dark

 

1977      

Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Airport ’77

 

1978      

Last In, First Out

Caravans

The Perfect Crime

 

1979      

Island of the Fishmen

The Concorde Affair

Guyana: Crime of the Century

 

1980      

The Hearse

Heaven’s Gate

Delusion

 

1981      

The Survivor

Awards

Joseph Cotton was never nominated for an Academy Award.

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. ~ Joseph Cotten

Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Jr. was born in 1905 in Petersburg, Virginia, the first of three sons born to Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Sr., an assistant postmaster, and Sally Willson Cotten. He grew up in the Tidewater region and showed an aptitude for drama and a gift for storytelling. In 1923, when Cotten was 18, his family arranged for him to receive private lessons at the Hickman School of Expression in Washington, D.C., and underwrote his expenses. He earned spending money playing professional football on Sundays, for $25 a quarter. After graduation, he earned enough money as a lifeguard at Wilcox Lake to pay back his family’s loan, with interest.

He worked as an advertising agent, and his work as a theatre critic inspired him to become involved in theatre productions, first in Virginia, then in New York City. Cotten made his Broadway debut in 1930.

In 1934, Joseph Cotten met and became friends with Orson Welles, a fellow cast member on CBS Radio’s The American School of the Air. Welles regarded Cotten as a brilliant comic actor, and gave him the starring role in his Federal Theatre Project farce, Horse Eats Hat. Cotten was sure that Horse Eats Hat won him the notice of his future Broadway co-star, Katharine Hepburn.

In 1937, Cotten became an inaugural member of Welles’s Mercury Theatre company, starring in its Broadway productions Caesar, The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Danton’s Death, and in radio dramas presented on The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The Campbell Playhouse.

Cotten made his film debut in the Welles-directed short, Too Much Johnson, a comedy that was intended to complement the aborted 1938 Mercury stage production of William Gillette’s 1890 play. The film was never screened in public and was lost until 2013.

Cotten returned to Broadway in 1939, creating the role of C. K. Dexter Haven opposite Katharine Hepburn‘s Tracy Lord in the original production of Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story. The play ran for a year at the Shubert Theatre, and in the months before its extensive national tour a film version was to be made by MGM. Cotten went to Hollywood, but discovered there that his stage success in The Philadelphia Story translated to, in the words of his agent Leland Hayward, “spending a solid year creating the Cary Grant role.” Hayward suggested that they call Cotten’s good pal, Orson Welles. “He’s been making big waves out here,” Hayward said. “Maybe nobody in Hollywood ever heard of the Shubert Theatre in New York, but everybody certainly knows about the Mercury Theatre in New York.

After the success of Welles’s War of the Worlds 1938 Halloween radio broadcast, Welles gained a unique contract with RKO Pictures. The two-picture deal promised full creative control for the young director below an agreed budget limit, and Welles’s intention was to feature the Mercury Players in his productions. Shooting had still not begun on a Welles film after a year, but after a meeting with writer Herman J. Mankiewicz Welles had a suitable project.

In mid-1940, filming began on Citizen Kane, portraying the life of a press magnate (played by Welles) who starts out as an idealist but eventually turns into a corrupt, lonely old man. The film featured Cotten prominently in the role of Kane’s best friend Jedediah Leland, eventually a drama critic for one of Kane’s papers.

When released on May 1, 1941, Citizen Kane — based in part on the life of William Randolph Hearst — did not do much business at theaters; Hearst owned numerous major newspapers, and forbade them to carry advertisements for the film. Nominated for nine Academy Awards in 1942, the film won only for Best Screenplay, for Mankiewicz and Welles. Citizen Kane launched the film careers of the Mercury Players, including Agnes Moorehead (who played Kane’s mother), Ruth Warrick (Kane’s first wife), and Ray Collins (Kane’s political opponent). However, Cotten was the only one of the four to find major success as a lead in Hollywood outside of Citizen Kane; Moorehead and Collins became successful character film actors and Warrick spent decades in a career in television as Aunt Phoebe on the daytime soap opera, All My Children.

Cotten starred a year later in Welles’s adaptation and production of The Magnificent Ambersons. After the commercial disappointment of Citizen Kane, RKO was apprehensive about the new film, and after poor preview responses, cut it by nearly an hour before its release. Though at points the film appeared disjointed, it was well received by critics. Despite the critical accolades Cotten received for his performance, the Academy again snubbed him.