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(Credit: RKO Radio Pictures, still photographer Alexander Kahle)

Film

The iconic American filmmaker who owns the 'Citizen Kane' Rosebud sledge

@Russellisation

The world of movie memorabilia is one hidden from public sight, reserved for secretive auctions and exclusive deals between rich cinephiles, with classic props from such films as Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Goldfinger garnering furious bidding wars. In addition to Obi Wan’s lightsaber, Indiana Jones’ whip and James Bond’s iconic Walther LP53, one of the most famous items of movie memorabilia is the ‘Rosebud’ sledge from Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane.

Often cited as the greatest film of all time, Welles’ film follows the death of a rich publishing tycoon whose final words have the media of America scrambling for answers. Featuring Welles in the starring role alongside co-stars Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Dorothy Comingore, the film dabbles with the systemic issue of capitalism, with the meaning of his final word ‘Rosebud’ referring back to the childhood sledge he so yearns for. 

The 34-inch prop was created out of red balsa wood with a rosebud stencilled onto its surface, with three being made for the production of the film. Whilst one of the sledges was burned during the climax of the film itself, the second was gifted to Tom Mankiewicz, the son of Welles’ co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Understandably, the third sledge gathered much interest when it was sold at Sotheby’s 71st Street auction gallery in 1982, with the prop being sold for $55,000 to the highest bidder.

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Calculating to around $160,000 when adjusted for inflation, the individual who forked out such a hefty amount was none other than the influential filmmaker and director of Jaws, Jurassic Park and West Side Story, Steven Spielberg. Speaking about his successful bid for the item, Spielberg told the press at the time, “One thing I want to say is that this is a symbolic medallion of quality in movies. When you look at Rosebud, you don’t think of fast dollars, fast sequels and remakes. This to me says that movies of my generation had better be good”. 

Watching the film when he was just 18-years-old, Orson Welles’ movie had a significant impact on the filmmaker, inspired by Citizen Kane, “In its exuberance, in its innovation, in its use of lighting, time forwarding, film editing, makeup, docudramatic performance, it was the milestone movie of the last two generations”. 

Describing the movie as, “the most audacious, purely American movie we have,” Spielberg’s love for the Orson Welles classic is enduring, naming the film on the list of his favourite movies of all time. As well as Citizen Kane, Spielberg’s list of favourites also includes 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, The 400 Blows by François Truffaut and Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. 

Take a look at the trailer for the film Steven Spielberg calls the most “purely American movie we have,” below where you can see the iconic sledge ‘Rosebud’ in action.