Sunday, April 21, 2024

Blog #199: Joseph Cotten


"I didn't care about the movies really.  I was tall.  I could talk.  It was easy to do."

Joseph Cotten, Jr. was born in Petersburg, Virginia on May 15, 1905. He was son of the local postmaster and the oldest of three children.  From an early age, he showed great interest in acting and was often described as "an expert storyteller."

After high school, Cotten attended the Hickman School of Expression in Washington, DC.  He paid for his tuition by playing professional football on Sundays in a time before the NFL.  After graduation, he moved to Miami and became an advertising salesman with The Miami Herald.  He simultaneously began his acting career at the Miami Civic Theatre, later reviewing those shows for the Herald.

In 1932, Cotten moved to New York City and the Broadway stage.  It was here where he met Orson Welles, beginning a friendship that would last for the next fifty years.  Welles regarded Cotten as a brilliant actor, and ultimately cast him in the role for which he is most famously remembered, that of Jedediah Leland in Citizen Kane (1941).  It is widely regarded as Welles' best work.  For Cotten, it spawned a career that would last four decades. 

By the early 1980s, Cotten's health was in decline.  He suffered both a heart attack and a stroke, which impacted his ability to speak.  He eventually regained his voice after years of physical therapy.  By the 1990s however, he would be stricken with cancer, eventually losing his larynx to the disease.  He ultimately died of pneumonia on February 6, 1994.  He was 88 years old.  

Cotten was returned to his native Virginia.  He was buried in the family plot at Petersburg's Blandford Cemetery.

Rest in peace.

  • In 2012, Cotten's wife, actress Patricia Medina, passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 92.  She was also brought to Virginia and buried next to her husband of 34 years.

  • In 1987, Cotten penned his autobiography Vanity Will Get You Somewhere.  You can pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Like many people from his generation, Cotten served his country during World War II.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit, which produced training films for new recruits.

  • Despite his impressive acting resume, Cotten was never nominated for an Oscar Award.

  • Hat tip to vlogger Jordan the Lion for sharing the location of Cotten's grave in a recent YouTube video.  Check it out.

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