Published On: Sat, Dec 21st, 2019

Joseph Cotten, a Versatile Star of 40s Classics

Of course, Joseph Cotten probably is best remembered for his film debut. In Citizen Kane, he played theatre critic Jed Leland, best friend to the self-aggrandizing title character played by Cotten’s close friend and Mercury Theatre boss, the ten-years-younger Orson Welles.

The role of a theatre critic was close to Cotten for another reason: in real life, it was among the many early jobs he held before turning full-time to acting.

Joseph Cotten a Native of Virginia

Joseph Cheshire Cotten was born in Petersburg, Virginia in the spring of 1905. Jo, as he was known, was named for his father. He trained as an actor at the Hickman School of Speech and Expression in Washington, D.C. After graduation, Cotten bounced around, working in advertising, as a shipping clerk, lifeguard and even as the entrepreneur salesman of “Tip Top Potato Salad.”

He landed a gig as the drama critic for the Miami Herald. This, in turn, led to stage roles at the Miami Civic Theatre, and later, a position as an assistant stage manager on Broadway. Eventually, Cotten performed in Boston before making his Broadway debut in 1930.

Cotten Meets Orson Welles

When Jo Cotten met Welles at a radio audition, a lifelong friendship was born — along with a rich professional relationship. In 1937, Cotten starred in two productions of Welles’ Mercury Theatre — Julius Caesar and Shoemaker’s Holiday.

On film, Cotten’s deep, sonorous voice, handsome features and somewhat bland, patrician bearing usually led him to be cast as inoffensive good guys. He had his share of romantic leads, but Cotten had the kind of best friend appeal that often translated into second leads.

Still, he acquitted himself well in the thankless part of Eugene Morgan, Dolores Costello’s patient, frustrated lover in Welles’ follow-up to Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons.

Joseph Cotten Plays Evil Murderer in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt

Joseph Cotten, a Versatile Star of 40s Classics

But Jo Cotten was capable of much more, as he demonstrated in his fifth film. As the outwardly charming Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Cotten displays enormous subtlety and menace. The tension rises inexorably when Charlie’s adoring niece, played by Teresa Wright: watches in horror as the manipulative, murderous side of Charlie creeps slowly into view.

Through the 1940s, Cotten was fortunate to co-star in many films now considered classics. Besides the brilliant Kane and the studio-mangled Ambersons, he starred in and co-wrote (with help from Welles and others) the Nazi thriller Journey into Fear.

Cotten’s Career Peaked in 1940s

The political comedy-drama The Farmer’s Daughter in 1947 cast him opposite a vivacious Loretta Young. Cotten made four films with Jennifer Jones, including the wartime drama Since You Went Away, the romantic thriller Love Letters, the surreal western Duel in the Sun and the acclaimed 1948 romantic fantasy, Portrait of Jennie. In the latter, both Cotten and Jones are too old for their parts. But the script and direction are so strong that it’s easy to overlook the age issue.

Offscreen, Cotten and Welles remained close, although the friendship was stormy at times. Cotten was the best man when Welles married Rita Hayworth.

Cotten closed out the 1940s reunited with Welles in Sir Carol Reed’s masterpiece thriller set in Vienna, The Third Man, about a hapless hack author (Cotten) and his friendship with a devious black marketeer (Welles).

Cotten Comes to Television

From the 1950s onward, the aging star began to find meaty roles more difficult to land. In September Affair, he and Joan Fontaine display a relaxed maturity and sensuality indicating Cotten deserved more romantic roles.

Instead, Cotten began turning up frequently on television. By doing so, he seemed to suggest he’d rather work often in the fledgling medium than infrequently on film. There were occasional leading roles on the big screen, but more often than not, the courtly Cotten seemed increasingly old fashioned in a changing world.

Still, there were character parts in campy popcorn films (Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Oscar, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Soylent Green) and roles in major features (Petulia, Tora! Tora! Tora! and the infamous Heaven’s Gate).

Joseph Cotten Modest About Acting Career

Joseph Cotten retired quietly in the early 1980s after a stroke and an operation on his larynx. He was always modest about his acting. “I didn’t care about the movies, really,” he once remarked. “I was tall. I could talk. It was easy to do.”

Cotten enjoyed a long marriage to Lenore Kipp, whom he met early in his stage career. He helped raise her daughter from a previous marriage.

After her death in 1960, Cotten married exotic British actress Patricia Medina. They were together until his death in 1994 from throat cancer.

Joseph Cotten is buried in his hometown of Petersburg, Virginia.

About the Author

- I am an internet marketing expert with an experience of 8 years.My hobbies are SEO,Content services and reading ebooks.I am founder of SRJ News,Tech Preview and Daily Posts.

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