Joseph Cotten did a variety of jobs to support himself like functioning as a lifeguard at Wilcox Lake, working in a paint warehouse in New York, making and selling potato salad in Miami and as an advertising salesman for ‘The Miami Herald’.
He got associated with Miami Civic Theatre by performing for them and also reviewing their shows for the ‘Herald’.
In 1930, he moved back to New York and started working for David Belasco as an assistant stage manager.
The same year, he became the understudy of Melvyn Douglas in Belasco’s stage production ‘Tonight or Never’. He assumed the role of Douglas for the Copley Theatre, Boston for the 1931 and 1932 season.
The year 1932 saw him making his Broadway debut with ‘Absent Friends’. During this time, he also began modeling, acting in industrial films and working for radio to earn some extra income.
In 1934, while working for CBS Radio's ‘The American School of the Air’, he met and made friends with Orson Welles. The friendship continued till the latter’s death in 1985.
In 1936, he starred in the Welles directed farce ‘Horse Eats Hat’.
In 1937, he joined Welles’s Mercury Theatre as one its initial members and featured in its first Broadway production ‘Caesar’. The play was much appreciated and had 157 performances.
In 1938, the duo came back with two other plays, ‘The Shoemaker’s Holiday’ and ‘Danton's Death’.
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From 1938 to 1940, he also worked for Welles’s radio drama series ‘The Mercury Theatre on the Air’ and ‘The Campbell Playhouse’.
Joseph Cotten made his film debut came in 1938 with Welles directed unreleased short film ‘Too Much Johnson’.
In 1939, he marked a return to Broadway theatre with ‘The Philadelphia Story’ working alongside Katharine Hepburn. The play was an astounding success and ran for 417 performances at the Shubert Theatre. Unfortunately, he did not feature in the movie version.
In 1941, he appeared in one of the most significant roles of his career, ‘Citizen Kane’. In the movie, he played the role of Kane’s best friend, Jedediah Leland, a drama critic. The movie established his film career and he got many lead roles later.
The 1940s further saw him appearing in more critically acclaimed roles. His collaboration with Welles resulted in movies like ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ (1942) and ‘Journey into Fear’ (1943).
He became a contract artist for David O. Selznick and worked in films like ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (1943), ‘Since You Went Away’, ‘Gaslight’ (both in 1944), ‘I'll Be Seeing You’, ‘Love Letters’ (both in 1945), ‘Duel in the Sun’ (1946), ‘The Farmer's Daughter’ (1947), ‘Portrait of Jennie’ (1948) and ‘The Third Man’ (1949).
While the 1940s gave him his best work in films, the 1950s and 1960s were not particularly the same. Some of the movies that he appeared in the 1950s include ‘September Affair’ (1950), ‘Peking Express’ (1951), ‘Niagara’ (1953) and ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ (1958).
In 1953-1954, he worked in a Broadway comedy ‘Sabrina Fair’ which opened in National Theatre and ran for 318 performances.
In the mid-1950s, he presented two television anthology series – ‘20th Century—Fox Hour’ (1955-1956) and ‘The Joseph Cotten Show’ (1956-1959). The latter was initially called ‘On Trial’.
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At the same time, he featured in few episodes of on shows like ‘Celebrity Playhouse’, ‘The Ford Television Theatre’, ‘Star Stage’ and ‘General Electric Theater’. For ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, a television anthology series, he made numerous appearances.
In the latter half of the 1950s, he also made guest appearance in television anthology series like ‘Telephone Time’, ‘Playhouse 90’, ‘Suspicion’ and ‘Zane Grey Theater’.
From 1958 to 1960, he tasted success with yet another Broadway production ‘Once More, With Feeling’ which completed 263 shows.
Another of the Broadway production - ‘Calculated Risk’ - that he worked for ran for 221 performances between 1962 and 1963.
From 1963 to 1964, he narrated the television documentary series ‘Hollywood and the Stars’.
In the following years, he appeared in movies like ‘Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte’ (1964), (6) ‘Petulia’ (1968), ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ (1970) and ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ (1971). His last movie was ‘The Survivor’ (1981).
His television appearances (single or few episodes) continued with ‘It Takes a Thief’ (1968-1970), ‘Fantasy Island’ (1979) and ‘Love Boat’ (1981).
In 1987, he released his autobiography ‘Vanity Will Get You Somewhere’.
Family & Personal Life
On 18 October 1931, Joseph Cotten married Lenore Kipp La Mont, a pianist and divorcée from West Virginia who had a daughter. Kipp expired because of leukaemia in January 1960.
In October 1960, he wedded English actress, Patricia Medina, who was a divorcee. The couple had no children.
In 1981, he suffered from heart attack and stroke which consequently affected his speaking abilities. He received therapy and gradually improved.
In 1990, because of cancer, he had to get his larynx removed.
He died of pneumonia on 6 February 1994, at Westwood, California.