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Orson Welles Took a Ferry to Hong Kong but His Nose Went AWOL

Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor

Imagine being one of the world’s best-known movie stars but not liking your nose. This dilemma was experienced by none other than Orson Welles. He was a dramatic titan, revered filmmaker and, as it turned out, a man paranoid about his hooter.

Read on to find out why he disliked his nose and how it led to a bizarre incident on the set of one of his pictures.

A tissue of lies

Often when you see Welles onscreen, you aren’t looking at his actual nose. He may not have felt badly enough to go under the knife. But his talents as a performer gave him a flair for hiding his facial feature under a falsie.

Welles in two movie images
Welles in Citizen Kane, left, and Touch of Evil, right (Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures & Universal-International & MovieStillsDB)

When it came to his crowning cinematic achievement Citizen Kane (1941), which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, Welles decided to use a prosthetic. You’ll also witness another case of nasal deception in Touch Of Evil (1958), the film noir he made with Charlton Heston.

This mercurial figure lived the Hollywood life, at one point marrying screen goddess Rita Hayworth. But it still wasn’t enough to quell unease about his appearance. Why was Orson Welles so disappointed with what Mother Nature gave him?

Small and not so perfectly formed

Apparently, Welles had size issues. Surprisingly, this much-recognized individual believed his nose wasn’t up to scratch.

Citizen Kane behind-the-scenes shot
Citizen Kane behind-the-scenes shot (Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures & MovieStillsDB)

As various sources note, he thought the nose was not only too small but lacking in character! If there was ever a major motion picture about nostrils, he certainly wouldn’t recommend his for the role. As for whose nose he regarded as worthy of screen time, we don’t know. What’s clear, however, is that Orson didn’t want to blow it, so resorted to fictional conks to cover his shame.

Hong Kong hooey

In the late 1950s, Welles signed up to make Ferry to Hong Kong. This British adventure flick saw him share the screen with Curt Jurgens and Sylvia Syms.

Directing was Lewis Gilbert, whose long career saw him work on everything from Bond movies to Educating Rita with Michael Caine and Julie Walters.

The plot focused on a dodgy playboy (Jurgens) who is forcibly shipped out of the title city on the vessel of sea captain Welles. Action and intrigue await. Though it was maybe overshadowed by what was going on behind the camera.

For starters, the cinema great had been given the role originally earmarked for Jurgens. The producers at Rank Organisation reportedly saw Welles more as an ocean-goer than a land-lubber. When the two stars did perform together, it wasn’t a happy experience. Sparks appear to have flown, and no amount of water could extinguish this fire.

Lewis Gilbert also had no idea that asking Welles to do a makeup test would lead to a frantic search for an unexpected item.

The hunt for Orson’s nose

In 2010, Gilbert published his autobiography Sixty Years a Film Director. Here he recounted how, when asking Welles to fulfill what he thought was a simple enough request, the star refused.

Explaining how his nose was too small, Welles apparently said: “I always fix that myself.” Furthermore, the captain’s beak was being delivered to the location as they spoke. There was however one problem – it went AWOL.

Welles, Orson - Director, USA / id film 'Ferry to Hong Kong'
Welles, Orson (Photo Credit: ullstein bild via Getty Images)

“On this big picture with all its huge logistical problems,” Gilbert wrote, “top of the agenda was the search for Orson’s nose.” This reportedly took up two days of valuable filming time.

Needless to say, shooting Ferry to Hong Kong was far from a sneeze. Sorry, breeze. Adding to Gilbert’s woes was Welles’ desire to apply the nose himself. This led to all manner of continuity issues, with the captain’s nose changing angle and even size within the same movie!

More from us: Recently Found Review Sinks Citizen Kane’s Rating On Rotten Tomatoes

Orson Welles frequently followed his creative instincts. Yet one thing you’d never find him following was his nose.