CULVER CITY, Calif. (AP) _ Orson Welles pleaded to a friend just before his death to preserve his 1941 classic ''Citizen Kane,'' saying: ''Don't let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons.''

Turner isn't listening. His Turner Entertainment Co. said Monday it is seeking to tint the black-and-white account of a newspaper publisher, which many film critics consider the best American movie ever made.

''Orson said to me at lunch, about two weeks before he died - I remember this vividly: 'Please do this for me. Don't let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons,''' said film director Henry Jaglom.

At the age of 25, Welles starred in, wrote and directed the movie, his first feature film. He shared an Oscar for the script and was nominated for best director and actor. The film also starred Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorhead and Everett Sloane.

Two companies are coloring test scenes of ''Citizen Kane'' to see if the process will work on the celebrated saga, a Turner spokeswoman said.

''The tests ... are to determine whether coloring is feasible at all - whether we have the elements required to do a top-quality job,'' spokeswoman Alison Hill said.

Ted Turner, head of the Turner broadcasting empire, has said previously that he wants to color ''Citizen Kane'' but he has been slowed by technical hurdles. No original 35mm print could be found, he said. Such prints are essential in making first-rate video copies employed in the computerized colorization process.

Turner obtained the rights to ''Citizen Kane'' when he acquired the 3,650- title film library of MGM in 1986.

Film purists already had been outraged by Turner's tinting of such black- and-white classics as ''It's a Wonderful Life,'' ''Casablanca'' and ''A Christmas Carol,'' but Turner has said he is free to do what he wants with the films.

''This is sickening, just sickening, that people would take the finest products of the film world and treat them so casually, so contemptuously, '' said Elliot Silverstein, chairman of the Directors Guild of America's presidents committee and a critic of coloring.

Welles, who died in October 1985, directed a number of films but was best remembered for ''Citizen Kane,'' a staple of film history classes. In his book ''Filmgoer's Companion,'' the late film expert Leslie Halliwell said of the movie, ''there isn't a dull scene in the film's 119 minutes.''