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We’ll Never Know If Rosebud Was Red

February 15, 1989 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Orson Welles’ black-and-white film classic ″Citizen Kane″ will not be put in color after all because the late director’s estate may have the right to prohibit it, Turner Entertainment Co. announced Tuesday.

A storm of criticism blew up in January when Turner revealed it was coloring test scenes. Film director Henry Jaglom said Welles specifically asked him to protect the movie from coloring two weeks before he died.

Turner Entertainment, which is part of Ted Turner’s broadcasting empire, obtained certain rights to ″Citizen Kane″ with the 1986 acquisition of MGM’s 3,650-title film library, including RKO films. Additional rights were purchased in 1987.

Turner President Roger Mayer’s announcement that preparations to color the film had stopped indicated it was a legal decision rather than a bow to those who claim coloring artistically spoils a black-and-white film.

″Our attorneys looked at the contract between RKO Pictures Inc. and Orson Welles and his production company, Mercury Productions Inc., and, on the basis of their review, we have decided not to proceed with colorization of the movie,″ Mayer said.

″While a court test might uphold our legal right to colorize the film, provisions of the contract could be read to prohibit colorization without permission of the Welles estate. We have completed restoration of a printing negative which now enables us to show first-rate black and white prints of this masterpiece.″

″Citizen Kane″ is considered one of the finest American movies ever made. Welles starred in and directed the 1941 saga of a wealthy and reclusive newspaper publisher, often considered to have been loosely based on the life of publisher William Randolph Hearst.

The film’s plot centers on a reporter’s efforts to determine the meaning of the dying Kane’s final word, ″Rosebud,″ which was the name of his sled.

Last month, Jaglom recounted that shortly before Welles’ death in October 1985, the director was adamant about not letting his film be tinted.

″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,‴ Jaglom said. Although Turner did not at that point own the film, a Turner spokeswoman in Los Angeles said discussions of the MGM purchase dated at least to the summer of 1985.


Movie purists have previously lamented the coloring of such classics as ″It’s a Wonderful Life,″ ″Casablanca″ and ″A Christmas Carol.″

Directors Guild of America spokesman Chuck Warn said Turner Entertainment’s decision would not cause the union to let up its campaign against coloring and other ″mutilation″ of motion pictures.

″Obviously we’re pleased that ‘Citizen Kane’ has been spared from Ted Turner’s computer, but this represents only a victory for Orson Welles’ contract rights,″ Warn said. The color-enhancement process is done by computer. Critics have long argued the process often destroys the original work of art, changing mood and intent.

Jaglom credited the outcry with stopping the coloring of ″Citizen Kane.″ and said the raising of legal issues was simply ″an elegant way out.″

″I feel it’s a great victory for art and good taste and I feel a tremendous relief,″ he said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

″I’m a little sorry about the emphasis about contractual rights. The emphasis should be that there’s a moral victory here,″ Jaglom said.