Played by Orson Welles
Wealthy newspaper publisher whose life is the subject of the movie. When Kane’s mother comes into a seemingly limitless fortune, she sends Kane away to be raised by her banker, Thatcher. Kane resents being taken from his home and the security he felt there and never reconciles himself to that separation. As a result, Kane grows up to be an arrogant and callous man. Ultimately, his attitude alienates him from everyone who cares about him, and he loses his newspaper, his fortune, and his friends.
Played by Joseph Cotten
Kane’s college friend and the first reporter on Kane’s paper. Leland admires Kane's idealism about the newspaper business when they start working together. However, their principles quickly diverge, and Leland becomes more ethical as Kane becomes more unscrupulous. Over time, Kane’s questionable morals and paternalistic attitude disturb Leland to such an extent that Leland eventually requests a transfer to Chicago to escape Kane. Kane ultimately fires him for writing a negative review of Susan Alexander’s disastrous operatic debut.
Played by Dorothy Comingore
Kane’s mistress, who becomes his second wife. When they meet, Susan seems soft and sweet to him, but her true nature turns out to be whiny and demanding. Kane never sees her for what she is. He pushes her to sing opera because her success would justify his interest in her, even though she’s not a particularly talented singer. The more he manipulates her, the further their relationship deteriorates, and she finally leaves him. She’s the original owner of the snow globe.
Played by Agnes Moorehead
Kane’s mother. Mary gives her son away when she comes into a fortune. Trim and carefully controlled, she shows little emotion when turning Kane over to Thatcher. She’s also emotionless toward her husband, Jim, and she suspects he will hurt the young Kane, although Jim seems quite kind to him. We see so little of Mary that we never fully understand why she abandons Kane.
Played by Everett Sloane
Kane’s friend and employee. Bernstein, a bespectacled Jewish man, is the only character who loves Kane unconditionally. He completely overlooks Kane’s faults and is loyal to him regardless of the circumstances. He wants only for Kane to be happy. He’s also the only character who understands that underneath Kane’s arrogant façade is a lost, lonely boy. He may seem to be the quintessential yes-man, but he behaves that way out of loyalty, not out of a search for personal gain.
Played by George Coulouris
The banker who becomes Kane’s legal guardian. Although Thatcher seems to have a genuine affection for Kane, Kane never overcomes his resentment of Thatcher for taking him from his childhood home. A big reason Kane goes into the newspaper business is to harass Thatcher with front-page attacks on banking trusts, which are Thatcher’s business. Thatcher appears to be doing his best, but he never manages to forge a bond with Kane.
Played by Ruth Warrick
Kane’s first wife and the niece of President Monroe. While Kane ostensibly marries Emily because of her connection to the presidency, he does seem to love her genuinely. Later, she wearies of his devotion to his paper and his friends. In one of the most effective sequences in the movie, a montage of breakfast table scenes traces the breakdown of their marriage over a period of years. She and Kane separate after she finds out about his mistress, and a few years later she is killed in a car accident along with their only child, a son.
Played by Harry Shannon
Kane’s father. Jim provides a contrast to Mary’s precise, emotionless actions. Rumpled and common, he vacillates between wanting to raise his own son and wanting the money he’ll get for staying away from him. Mary’s contempt for Jim is mirrored in Kane’s contemptuous treatment of virtually everyone he comes in contact with as he grows up.
Played by William Alland
The reporter in charge of finding out the meaning of Kane’s last word. Thompson's investigation of “Rosebud” is the catalyst for everyone’s recollections in the movie, and his presence in the flashbacks provides the continuity that ties the disparate perspectives together. We see him only in shadow or with his back turned to the camera.