'Citizen Kane' actor Joseph Cotten dies

February 07, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Joseph Cotten, the polished Virginian who became a star with "Citizen Kane" and went on to play opposite Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and others, died of pneumonia yesterday at his Los Angeles home. He was 88.

Mr. Cotten's smooth, low-key personality made him an ideal leading man for Hollywood's most famous actresses, and his versatility allowed him to play both villains ("Shadow of a Doubt") and heroes ("The Third Man").

He came to films via Orson Welles' Mercury Theater and appeared in Mr. Welles' first three movies: "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Journey into Fear."

Born in Petersburg, Va., Mr. Cotten was raised in a tight-knit family and heard stories about daring deeds during the Civil War and the sorrow that came with the Reconstruction.

Young Joe knew in high school that he wanted to be an actor. His father disapproved, but paid for studies at a drama school in Washington. The experience rid him of his southern accent and strengthened his desire to become an actor.

Failing to find acting jobs in New York, Mr. Cotten became an advertising salesman for the Miami Herald, organized an acting troupe at the University of Miami, and returned to New York in 1930.

He worked as assistant stage manager and understudy, then played leads in Boston and on Broadway.

Mr. Cotten appeared in such plays as "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Accent on Youth." He joined Mr. Welles' Mercury Theater for "Julius Caesar," then played opposite Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story."

Mr. Cotten played the cynical reporter to Mr. Welles' publisher Charles Foster Kane in the 1941 sensation "Citizen Kane."

When the Mercury Theater broke up, Mr. Cotten signed a contract with David O. Selznick, then riding the success of "Gone With the Wind."

Mr. Selznick cast Mr. Cotten in "Since You Went Away" (Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones), "I'll Be Seeing You" (Ginger Rogers), "Duel in the Sun" (Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones) and "The Third Man" (Mr. Welles).

The producer also profited by lending Mr. Cotten to other studios. Among the films: "Gaslight" (Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award), "Love Letters" (Joan Fontaine), "The Farmer's Daughter" (Loretta Young, who won an Academy Award), "Beyond the Forest" (Bette Davis), "Niagara" (Marilyn Monroe).

He appeared in many television dramas, including a 1956 series, "The Joseph Cotten Theater." His last feature film was the 1980 flop, "Heaven's Gate."

Mr. Cotten suffered a massive stroke in 1981. After his partial recovery, he continued to receive acting offers. His reply: "I was a good actor, but I'm not now. And I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me."

The actor was married in 1960 to actress Patricia Medina after the death of his first wife, Lenore Kip. He credited Ms. Medina with his survival after the stroke, and she was at his bedside at the end.

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