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William Randolph Hearst stops 'Citizen Kane' ads

William Randolph Hearst stops 'Citizen Kane' ads

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One of Hollywood’s most famous clashes of the titans–an upstart “boy genius” filmmaker versus a furious 76-year-old newspaper tycoon–heats up on January 8, 1941, when William Randolph Hearst forbids any of his newspapers to run advertisements for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Though Welles was only 24 years old when he began working in Hollywood, he had already made a name for himself on the New York theater scene and particularly with his controversial radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds in 1938. After scoring a lucrative contract with the struggling RKO studio, he was searching for an appropriately incendiary topic for his first film when his friend, the writer Herman Mankiewicz, suggested basing it on the life of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a notoriously innovative, often tyrannical businessman who had built his own nationwide newspaper empire and owned eight homes, the most notable of which was San Simeon, his sprawling castle on a hill on the Central California coast.

After catching a preview screening of the unfinished Citizen Kane on January 3, 1941, the influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wasted no time in passing along the news to Hearst and his associates. Her rival and Hearst’s chief movie columnist, Louella Parsons, was incensed about the film and its portrait of Charles Foster Kane, the Hearst-like character embodied in typically grandiose style by Welles himself. Even more loathsome to Hearst and his allies was the portrayal of Kane’s second wife, a young alcoholic singer with strong parallels to Hearst’s mistress, the showgirl-turned-actress Marion Davies. Hearst was said to have reacted to this aspect of the film more strongly than any other, and Welles himself later called the Davies-based character a “dirty trick” that he expected would provoke the mogul’s anger.

Only a few days after the screening, Hearst sent the word out to all his publications not to run advertisements for the film. Far from stopping there, he also threatened to make war against the Hollywood studio system in general, publicly condemning the number of “immigrants” and “refugees” working in the film industry instead of Americans, a none-too-subtle reference to the many Jewish members of the Hollywood establishment. Hearst’s newspapers also went after Welles, accusing him of Communist sympathies and questioning his patriotism.

Hollywood’s heavyweights, who were already resentful of Welles for his youth and his open contempt for Hollywood, soon rallied around Hearst. Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer even offered to pay RKO $842,000 in cash if the studio’s president, George Schaefer, would destroy the negative and all prints of Citizen Kane. Schaefer refused and in retaliation threatened to sue the Fox, Paramount and Loews theater chains for conspiracy after they refused to distribute the film. After Time and other publications protested, the theater chains relented slightly and permitted a few showings; in the end, the film barely broke even.

Nominated for nine Oscars, Citizen Kane won only one (a shared Best Screenplay award for Mankiewicz and Welles) and Welles and the film were actually booed at the 1942 Academy Awards ceremony. Schaefer was later pushed out at RKO, along with Welles, and the film was returned to the RKO archives. It would be 25 more years before Citizen Kane received its rightful share of attention, but it has since been heralded as one of the best movies of all time.

A Brief History of Some Films

This is it. The one the American Film Institute calls the “greatest movie of all time,” sitting pretty at #1 on the list of 100 films. Yep, you guessed it: Citizen Kane. I never thought I’d actually get around to watching this classic, but I suppose that’s the benefit of being in a film class. At any rate, this is probably the beginning (and possibly the end) of Orson Welles’s Hollywood brilliance, a drama that attempts to paint a balanced portrait of an unbalanced man.

That man is Charles Foster Kane: newspaper tycoon, enigmatic and charismatic politician, troubled husband and eccentric billionaire. Welles portrays all aspects of his protagonist with legitimacy and poignancy The character was clearly based on William Randolph Hearst just about every scrap of information on the Internet seems to point that way, not to mention the story of the film.

In fact, Hearst apparently ordered his reporters to libel Welles the film had such a charged atmosphere that it only won a single Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay). Had the Best Makeup Academy Award existed at that time, I feel confident that Citizen Kane would have taken that one as well. The non-linear storyline was revolutionary at the time this film was released, and Welles slips seamlessly from crotchety, old, overweight mogul to young, attractive entrepreneur (and vice versa).

The film begins with an ominous sign outside the veritable palace of Xanadu: “NO TRESPASSING.” That sign could be the emblem of Kane’s multi-layered personality, as no one ever seems to get his full story. Even Kane, himself, occasionally lapses into moments of extreme depression and rage (particularly toward the end of the film). The opening scene–the last, chronologically–involves the infamous word, “Rosebud.”

Naturally, Kane being the extremely wealthy enigma that he is, reporters across the country are eager to interpret that word for themselves. After a very clever prologue, complete with bombastic newsreel narration, a reporter called Thompson is sent out to uncover the real “Citizen” Kane (I think the title recalls a Roman hero, and it also refers to Kane’s momentary popularity as a leader of the “people” against a rival gubernatorial candidate).

Thompson’s first stop is a nightclub, haunt of eternally-drunk Susan Alexander, Charles Foster Kane’s second wife. However, she won’t give him any information, so he heads off to the personal archives of Kane’s first custodian and benefactor, Mr. Thatcher. During his time with Thatcher’s personal journal, the story of Kane’s childhood comes out…the story of an oblivious and unhappy boy with an ineffectual father and a scheming mother, living in a little house in Colorado. In one memorable scene that has often been analyzed, the child Kane plays with his sled in the far background, visible through the window of his home, illustrating his removal from the people of power in the foreground.

Of course, Kane will become a person of power, himself, and without giving too much away, he loses friendships, ruins his first marriage, and nearly drives his second wife to her death. All the while he is determined to acquire more influence this is a classic example of someone going “mad with power,” a power with which Kane simply cannot reckon. In his quest to become governor of New York state, Kane gives rousing speeches to the enthralled masses, a gigantic poster of his own face hanging behind him.

Yet, quicker than the plebeians in “Julius Caesar,” the people turn against him after rival “Boss” Gettys exposes one of Kane’s many weaknesses to the public. Kane ultimately becomes a recluse, reduced to destroying bedrooms in his estate at Xanadu, and ordering his erstwhile wife, Susan Alexander, not to leave. Naturally, she cannot endure this existence for so long, with nothing to do but piece together jigsaw puzzles by the fireplace (see the symbolism?). She does leave him, eventually, and Kane is reduced to utter nothingness, a man who has gained everything and then slowly lost it all, little by little.

Kane wanders the alleys between mountains of antiques and furniture (think the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter), the world’s greatest hoarder, but with nothing to do with his material trappings. It’s a prime reminder that money can’t buy happiness, in my opinion.

Of course, Thompson doesn’t see all of this in fact, he sees none of it. None of the film’s narrative occurs within the timeline of Kane’s real life, except perhaps for the beginning. Everything is murky, based on accounts–or accounts of accounts. Even Kane’s best friend from young adulthood, Jedediah Leland, cannot give an uncolored account of what truly happened to Citizen Kane.

The film’s penultimate image, which supposedly reveals the mystery of “Rosebud,” may in fact just be another red herring, another proof that the whole of a man, however mysterious, must be greater than the sum of his parts. In a famous line, Thompson reminds his fellow reporters, “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.” NO TRESPASSING.

For all its hype as a classic of Hollywood filmmaking, it was a bit…well…boring at times. Then again, it’s not supposed to be a “summer blockbuster.” Hype is a disastrous thing. It ruined Star Wars, it ruined The Dark Knight Rises, and it tainted Citizen Kane.

Jeden z najslávnejších stretnutí Hollywoodu filmového tvorcu „génia pre chlapcov“, ktorý sa začal objavovať, oproti zúrivému 76-ročnému magnátovi novín, ktorý sa vyhrieva v tento deň v roku 1941, keď William Randolph Hearst zakáže ktorejkoľvek zo svojich novín spustiť reklamu na Orsona. Welles ' Občan Kane.

Aj keď bol Wellesovi iba 24 rokov, keď začal pracovať v Hollywoode, už sa pomenoval na newyorskej divadelnej scéne a najmä kontroverznou rozhlasovou adaptáciou románu H. G. Wellsa. Vojna svetov v roku 1938. Po uzavretí lukratívnej zmluvy so zápasiacim štúdiom RKO hľadal vhodne zápalnú tému pre svoj prvý film, keď jeho priateľ, spisovateľ Herman Mankiewicz, navrhol, aby sa opieral o život Williama Randolpha Hearsta. Hearst bol notoricky známym, často tyranským podnikateľom, ktorý si vybudoval vlastnú celonárodnú novinársku ríšu a vlastnil osem domov, z ktorých najpozoruhodnejší bol San Simeon, jeho rozľahlý hrad na kopci na pobreží strednej Kalifornie.

Po zachytení ukážkového preverenia nedokončených Občan Kane 3. januára 1941 nemala vplyvná publicistka Hedda Hopperová zbytočne čas na odovzdávanie správ Hearstovi a jeho spolupracovníkom. Jej súperka a hlavná filmová publicistka Hearstovej, Louella Parsonsová, bola rozčúlená o filme a jeho portréte Charlesa Foster Kaneho, postavy podobnej Hearstovi, ktorú v samotnom Wellese charakterizoval typicky veľkolepý štýl. Ešte viac odporné voči Hearstovi a jeho spojencom bolo vyobrazenie druhej manželky Kaneovej, mladej alkoholickej speváčky so silnými paralelami s pani Hearstovou, herečkou s herečkou, ktorá sa stala herečkou Marion Davies. Hearst bol povedal, aby reagoval na tento aspekt filmu silnejšie ako ktorýkoľvek iný, a sám Welles neskôr nazval Davies-založená postava "špinavý trik", ktorý očakával, že vyprovokuje hnev magnáta.

Len pár dní po premietaní poslal Hearst slovo do všetkých svojich publikácií, aby nespúšťal reklamy na film. Namiesto toho, aby sa zastavil, tiež hrozil vojnou proti hollywoodskemu štúdiovému systému všeobecne a verejne odsúdil počet „prisťahovalcov“ a „utečencov“ pracujúcich vo filmovom priemysle namiesto Američanov, čo je príliš jemný odkaz na mnohých Židovskí členovia hollywoodskeho zariadenia. Hearstove noviny tiež šli po Wellesovi, obvinili ho z komunistických sympatií a spochybnili jeho vlastenectvo.

Ťažké váhy Hollywoodu, ktoré už boli rozhorčené Wellesom pre svoju mladosť a jeho otvorené pohŕdanie Hollywoodom, sa čoskoro zhromaždili okolo Hearstu. Louis B. Mayer z Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer dokonca ponúkol zaplatiť 842 000 RKO v hotovosti, ak by prezident ateliéru George Schaefer zničil negatívne a všetky Občan Kane, Schaefer odmietol a odvetou hrozil, že bude žalovať divadelné reťazce Fox, Paramount a Loews za sprisahanie potom, čo odmietli šíriť film. po čas a iné publikácie protestovali, divadelné reťazce sa mierne uvoľnili a povolili niekoľko predstavení nakoniec sa film sotva zlomil.

Nominácia na deväť Oscarov, Občan Kane vyhral iba jednu (spoločnú cenu za najlepší scenár pre Mankiewicza a Wellesa) a Welles a film bol skutočne vybojovaný na slávnostnom odovzdávaní cien Akadémia 1942. Schaefer bol neskôr vytlačený spolu s Wellesom v RKO a film bol vrátený do archívov RKO. Bolo by to o 25 ďalších rokov skôr Občan Kane získal právoplatný podiel pozornosti, odvtedy je však vyhlásený za jeden z najlepších filmov všetkých čias.


Anything that Welles had done that involved controversy benefited him. So it could well be that whatever his motivation for taking on Hearst, he thought that the controversy that would stem from this could only be beneficial. It turned out to be otherwise--terribly so, horribly so.

-- Richard France, PBS’ “American Experience: The Battle Over Citizen Kane”

There’s a telling moment in the new PBS “American Experience” documentary “The Battle Over Citizen Kane,” when actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. remembers the time his father asked William Randolph Hearst why he didn’t give up the newspaper business and concentrate on making motion pictures. Hearst’s reply: “I thought of it, but I decided against it. Because you can crush a man with journalism, and you can’t with motion pictures.”

The fascinating two-hour “Battle Over Citizen Kane” explores how the then-76-year-old Hearst crushed Orson Welles, Hollywood’s “boy wonder” who starred, directed and co-wrote “Citizen Kane.” The landmark 1941 film, considered by many critics and directors to be the greatest movie ever made, painted a brutal portrait of Hearst and his mistress, actress Marion Davies.

“Nobody of our age, in our age, can think of Hearst without thinking of ‘Kane,’ ” says Richard Ben Cramer, co-writer and narrator. “So the two of them are linked, in fact, in our consciousness of the 20th century. They are linked. . you almost can’t write one without the other.”

Hearst and Welles were very much cut from the same cloth. Both had been raised to believe they could do everything. Hearst made his name by filling his papers with entertaining, often scandalous and sometimes fictional, stories to sell papers. He eventually controlled the first nationwide chain of newspapers. Hearst also collected homes, art and women and spent most of his life in his huge California castle, San Simeon, which was built on property half the size of Rhode Island. Though Hearst was married, his constant companion was actress Marion Davies, a bright, lively, fun-loving woman whom Hearst made a movie star. Part of Hearst’s rage over “Citizen Kane” was the depiction of Davies’ alter ego as a boozy, no-talent opera singer.

Welles was all of 24 when he came to Hollywood in 1939 and decided to take on Hearst. No stranger to controversy and trouble, Welles made headlines with his inventive, bold New York stage productions of “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar.” At 23, he terrified the nation with his Halloween radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” It was Welles’ friend, writer Herman Mankiewicz, who had been a guest at San Simeon, who proposed the story of Hearst to Welles.

But as the documentary points out, there’s just as much of Welles embodied in the film’s Charles Foster Kane as there is Hearst.

Producer and co-writer Thomas Lennon acknowledges that the filmmakers didn’t understand the parallels between Hearst and Welles when they started the project two years ago. “Documentary film, at least the fun ones, offer a process of feeling their way in the dark,” he says. Though Welles’ former co-workers and friends were eager to participate, Lennon adds it was more difficult to get cooperation from the Hearst camp.

“There are people who made a study of Hearst who had no problems talking about it,” Cramer says. “But the people who directly or indirectly are in the Hearst orbit still, I think you could say, were careful about talking.”

“There were other projects,” Lennon says, “that have been started about Hearst that were not able to get completed because of this ongoing resistance.”

Lennon thinks such resistance has been a mistake, “because I think actually one of the things that has happened by virtue of both the silence of the Hearst corporation and also the sheer power of ‘Kane,’ is the image of Hearst has become synonymous with Kane to the point that a couple of years ago, when William Randolph Hearst’s son died, there were headlines that ‘Son of Citizen Kane Dies.’ In other words, that identity has hovered on and on and it is really actually false. [Hearst] was a very different man [from Kane].”

Welles, says Lennon, was excited about the prospect of getting into a fight with Hearst. “He used controversy to take highbrow subject matter or highbrow artistic ambition and make them accessible to large masses of people. That actually is very Hearstian in that he used controversy to get people to read his paper. Welles used controversy to get people to come into his tent--literally, his tent.”

Welles was thrilled when “Kane” came under fire. “He thought it was going very well,” Cramer says. “It was right on his script. The papers were talking about it. The reporters were interviewing him. He was firing off telegrams to RKO. He was threatening to sue. He was a cause celebre. It was perfect Welles controversy.”

But he proved to be no match for Hearst. The publisher pulled out all the stops. He attempted to shut down the production. Hollywood executives, led by MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, tried to purchase the film in order to burn the negative. Pressure was put on exhibitors to refuse to show the movie.

Hearst then started a smear campaign in his papers attacking Welles’ personal life and his liberal political leanings. Simultaneously, the FBI opened a file on Welles.

“Nobody has made the link between the FBI investigation and the ‘Citizen Kane’ controversy before,” Lennon says. “It was most active in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. By the late ‘50s, Welles was living abroad. He had been taken care of pretty good.”

William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane, the Assassination of William McKinley, and Donald Trump

Hearst, you may know, was an American newspaper magnate in the early twentieth century. He owned just about all of the largest in papers in every major American city. He also expanded to magazines and created the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.

Hearst became so wealthy that he built a frikkin’ castle on top of a mountain. Hearst Castle is now a major tourist destination – we made it a point to stop there on a family vacation in 2001. It’s big and bold and breathtaking, sitting high above the California landscape. It has some of the finest pieces of art in the world. There are like 150 pools. What they don’t tell you on the tour is that Hearst was a thin-skinned lunatic.

Wealth wasn’t enough for ol’ William. He sought power. He controlled the editorial positions and coverage of political news in all of his papers, thereby exercising enormous political influence. Problem was, Hearst routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures, and distorted real events. Consider this anecdote :

“We had a crime story that was going to be featured in a 96-point headline on page one,” remembers Vern Whaley, an editor for Hearst’s Herald-Examiner. “When I found the address that was in the story, that address was a vacant lot. So I hollered over at the rewrite desk, I said, ‘You got the wrong address in this story. This is a vacant lot.’ The copy chief that night was a guy named Vic Barnes. And he says, ‘Sit down, Vern.’ He says, ‘The whole story’s a fake.'”

Hearst basically invented yellow journalism, and he used it to get what he wanted.

In 1898, he called for war against Spain. Public support grew. And, uh, then we went to war against Spain.

After World War I, he called for an isolationist foreign policy. Public support grew. And, uh, we became an isolationist nation, despite the atrocities developing abroad.

He used his influence to win elections, twice winning a seat to the House of Representatives as a Democrat.

There was no one to check Hearst. No internet, no 24 hours news cycle, no Daily Show, no John Oliver. Hearst owned the largest papers, controlled what they said, and so he avoided criticism in the press. He was untouchable. William Randolph Hearst could get away with anything.

Let’s talk about Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane, you may know, was released in 1941 and is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Maybe the greatest. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling and cinematography, a miracle for its time. Here’s Roger Ebert :

Its surface is as much fun as any movie ever made. Its depths surpass understanding. I have analyzed it a shot at a time with more than 30 groups, and together we have seen, I believe, pretty much everything that is there on the screen. The more clearly I can see its physical manifestation, the more I am stirred by its mystery.

What you may not know is that Citizen Kane was loosely based on Hearst’s life. Orson Welles never confirmed this, but, I mean, come on. It’s not that hard to connect the dots. Charles Foster Kane builds a newspaper empire, obtains massive amounts of wealth, builds a castle atop a mountain, and then begins a ruthless pursuit of power, ultimately ending in tragedy and death.

Remember the part where I said that Hearst was a thin-skinned lunatic? Right. So, yeah, he wasn’t really a fan of Citizen Kane. Not surpisingly, he didn’t like the idea of the film painting a very unflattering portrait of him.

And remember the part where I said that Hearst always got what he wanted? Right. So, yeah, he used his influence and resources to attempt to prevent the film from being released.* Welles and his studio resisted the pressure, but Hearst was ultimately successful in pressuring theater chains to limit showings of the movie.

*As it turns out, Hearst never watched the film.

The resulting box office numbers were mediocre. It was only later that the movie was appreciated and watched by the masses.

Let’s talk about William McKinley.

McKinley was our 25th President, serving from 1897-1901. He has the same expression in every single picture.

McKinley was also one of four Presidents to be assassinated, along with Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and John F. Kennedy.

Why is it that we know so much about the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, but nothing about McKinley?* I mean, sure, he didn’t free the slaves or speak in a funny New England accent, but he was the President. And a good one! I think I speak for all of us when I applaud the Dingley Act of 1897, which led to rapid economic growth and a brighter future for all Americans. He won his re-election by a landslide and had the good foresight to pick Teddy Roosevelt as his Vice President.

*Or Garfield, but we can talk about him another time.

McKinley was an important man. A good man. We should know more about his assassination.

Thankfully, I have this blog. So, here’s what happened: On September 6, 1901, McKinley was visiting Buffalo, New York, for an event called the Pan-American Exposition. Things were a little more lax in 1901, and McKinley was out and about shaking hands with the public* when he was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. Perhaps the main reason we don’t talk about the assassination is because Czolgosz is an impossible name to say.

*McKinley enjoyed meeting with the public and was reluctant to accept security (lol). In fact, the President’s Secretary feared an assassination attempt would take place on this trip FOR THIS VERY REASON and twice took it off the schedule (lol). McKinley restored it each time (lol). Really, McKinley’s assassination is a result of an ‘ehhh it’ll be fine’ attitude.

Anyway, this guy Czolgosz had lost his job during the Panic of 1893 and turned to anarchism. He viewed McKinley as a symbol of oppression. So he decided to kill him. He attended the event in Buffalo, went to shake the President’s hand, and shot him twice. One bullet grazed McKinley, and the other entered his abdomen and was never found.

Here’s a drawing of the incident:

Thirteen days later, McKinley died from gangrene caused by the bullet wounds.

The next morning, Teddy Roosevelt took over, became wildly popular, and had his head etched into Mt. Rushmore. We forgot all about poor old Willie McKinley.

It was right around the turn of the twentieth century that William Hearst began dabbling in politics. Hearst was a Democrat. The sitting President, William McKinley, was a Republican. This was a problem for Hearst.

So, Hearst asked the best writers he could find to smear McKinley and bring him down. The gaudier, the better. In February 1900, a guy named Ambrose Bierce wrote a column and closed with a reference to the assassination a few days earlier of the Kentucky governor, William Goebel.

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West.
Good reason: it is speeding here [to Washington]
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

In early 1901, an unsigned column (widely attributed to Hearst editor Arthur Brisbane) called McKinley a ‘bad man’ and declared:

If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done.

The killing must be done. Six months later, McKinley was assassinated.

There’s no doubt – this is all very curious. Hearst was a massively influential man, he always got what he wanted, he printed an op-ed that called for the killing of the President, and then the President was killed.

But … no. I’m not accusing William Hearst of conspiring with Czolgosz (or others) to have McKinley killed. That’s not where I’m going with this, especially because I don’t want Hearst’s family to sue me for slander (even though that would be great fun and hilariously ironic).

Here’s where I’m going with this:

We live in a country where we can say and write what we want. It’s a great thing. But our words are not without consequence.

Was Czolgosz inspired by Hearst? Maybe, maybe not. But his newspapers certainly influenced the general public’s perception of McKinley. And perception can grow like a snowball, inciting anger and fear and a general sense of anxiety that is not always based in facts.

And all it takes is one person – a Czolgosz, a John Wilkes-Booth, a Lee Harvey Oswald – to turn that anger into something much worse.

He said this two weeks ago:

Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.

Can … can you just not say that?

Yes, he backtracked, he said he never meant to imply that people should, like, get out their guns and kill Hillary Clinton. But there are crazy people who will hear those words and legitimately think about doing that.

Hearst and Trump have a lot in common.

A desire to be in politics

And Trump, like Hearst, speaks to a massive audience. But please, use some discretion. Watch your language. THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING. And please don’t incite violence, because that never ends well.

September 5th, Labor Day, is the 75th anniversary of Citizen Kane’s release in the US.

And the day after that, September 6th, will be the 115-year anniversary of McKinley’s assassination.

The two events are hastily connected. Citizen Kane is loosely based off a guy who may or may not have inspired McKinley’s assassination.

But on those two days, let’s have a moment of silence. Not for remembrance. Not for recognition. But because sometimes it’s good to stay quiet.

Welles insisted that the main character was &aposmade up of a lot of people,&apos not just William Randolph Hearst

The creation of the film’s protagonist, businessman and attempted politician Charles Foster Kane, was taken directly from Mankiewicz’s own experiences, however. The screenwriter had been close friends with newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who served as the character&aposs primary inspiration. In fact, some of Kane’s dialogue was created almost verbatim from Hearst’s own writings and speeches. In addition, Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, even informed the design of Kane’s Xanadu estate in the film.

The film so angered Hearst that he blacklisted press coverage in his publications. At one point, Hearst accused Welles of being a communist,ਊ charge that, at the time, could lead to government investigations, let alone destroy Hollywood reputations. "If Hearst isn&apost rightfully careful, I&aposm going to make a film that&aposs really based on his life,” Welles, who insisted the character was “made up of a lot of people,” later remarked.

Orson Welles on the set of "Citizen Kane"

Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In American History

There were other public moments when charges of Hearst-generated conspiracies were alleged. Among the most interesting are those associated with the McKinley assassination, the death of Hollywood producer Thomas Ince, and the campaign to expunge Welles’s classic film Citizen Kane.

In the history of modern media, perhaps no individual was more skillful in marshaling the tools of communication to promote his own agenda than William Randolph Hearst. His early twentieth-century media empire—which he built through the inherited wealth of his father’s mining enterprises—was influential in a way not easily appreciated today.

At the peak of his power he owned twenty-eight newspapers, with most of them in the largest U.S. cities, as well as eighteen widely circulated magazines, influential film studios, several radio stations, and for a time a political constituency of national consequence.

Hearst was more than a media figure. He was outsized in his influence, and his ego. His grasp of the media matrix in its infancy was as thorough as his commitment to push his agenda on the U.S. public, and his use of the tools of technology to advance his own causes—from the global (Spanish-American War) to the ephemeral (the film career of chorusgirl-turned-actress Marion Davies)—earned him the requisite fear, awe, and contempt of his media brethren. Financially wounded by the Great Depression and undermined by the backlash against his pro-German sympathies in the 1930s, his massive empire and influence declined throughout the last decade of his life.

Although he died 14 August 1951, the Hearst Corporation remains a formidable publishing conglomerate, employing nearly 20,000 people and producing dozens of magazines and newspapers, as well as maintaining an active presence in business publishing, cable television, radio, even real estate.

The McKinley Assassination

Establishing a pattern that would become familiar to readers of his newspapers for half a century, Hearst mercilessly attacked the sitting president during his reelection campaign in 1900. Hearst’s papers assailed President William McKinley in their news stories and front-page editorials, and savagely delineated him and his Republican cronies in cartoons. Hearst attacked McKinley for his support of wealthy industrialists, his pro-trust business policies, and his anti-working-class hubris.

When a crazed assassin named Leon Czolgosz murdered McKinley at the Buffalo World’s Fair in September 1901, some Republican politicians and many Republican newspapers accused Hearst of inflaming the murderous hatred of Czolgosz through editorials such as the one published in Hearst’s papers the previous April: “If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then killing must be done.”

Competing newspapers and a handful of powerful politicians were quick to denounce this Hearst-generated pattern of stirring up the masses through his papers’ consistent, coordinated attacks on McKinley.

According to biographer David Nasaw, no less a figure than Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt fingered Hearst as bearing some responsibility for the assassin’s act: “Every scoundrel like Hearst and his satellites who for whatever purposes appeals to and inflames evil human passion has made himself accessory before the fact to every crime of this nature.”

Another death—and a more enduring suspicion about Hearst’s direct involvement—enmeshed the publisher in November 1924. Movie producer Thomas Ince, who was celebrating his forty-third birthday at a star-studded private party aboard Hearst’s yacht, the Oneida, died shortly after being taken off the boat early the following morning. Although Hearst claimed that Ince had suffered a heart attack on board, there was rampant speculation in the gossip columns and throughout Hollywood that Hearst had murdered Ince.

Murmured motives included everything from an untenable clash of egos to, more salaciously, a theory that Hearst shot Ince while he was firing at Charlie Chaplin, who was allegedly having an affair with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies. The “Hearst-shot-Ince-while-gunning-for-Chaplin” theory was the premise of a 2001 film, The Cat’s Meow, directed by Peter Bogdonovich and adapted from Steven Peros’s play about the incident.

No evidence has ever been produced linking Hearst to the crime, although his yacht full of media-connected guests (a regular group of revelers who usually partied at Davies’s Los Angeles mansion, according to Chaplin) remained uncharacteristically silent about the incident. The conspiracy theorists claim Hearst swore them all to silence and that none of the witnesses would have risked incurring the wrath of the media giant by revealing the truth.

Hearst’s attempt to squelch distribution of Orson Welles’s 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane, led to what several biographers have called a “clash of titans.” Hearst—informed by columnist Hedda Hopper after she screened the movie that the portrayal of Kane/Hearst was a “vicious and irresponsible attack”—pulled out all the stops to keep the movie from being shown (Carringer).

In one of the earliest examples of the power of vertical media integration, Hearst allegedly threatened Kane’s producers, RKO, with an advertising blackout of all future RKO movies in Hearst magazines, newspapers, and newsreels.

Hearst supposedly promised unflattering, magazine-length profiles of RKO executives in his publications and reportedly even threatened to initiate FBI investigation of members of the RKO board of directors and of executives associated with the film. Hearst’s newspapers labeled Welles a Communist sympathizer and attacked his association with a group of radio writers and directors called “The Free Company,” whom Hearst labeled as anti-American leftists.

The film did eventually open, though in limited release around the country. Despite its widespread celebration by reviewers (Time magazine called it “Hollywood’s greatest creation”), the film—battered by Hearst’s preemptive publicity strikes—was a commercial failure. Only after RKO sold its film library to television in 1956 did the movie find its audience. In 1962, the film magazine Sight and Sound voted it the greatest film ever made.

Hearst didn’t kill Citizen Kane, but he wounded it, and it wouldn’t be until well after “the Chief” (as his employees called him) was dead that his quasibiographical counterpart Charles Foster Kane became, for a new generation of media consumers, the enduring icon of a once-mighty publishing empire.

Making History on Paper / The early life of William Randolph Hearst

There have been hundreds of books written about William Randolph Hearst, including W.A. Swanberg's definitive "Citizen Hearst" (1961). There have been movies fashioned after his life, notably Orson Welles ' "Citizen Kane" (followed by books about the movie). Do we need still another book on Hearst?

A new batch of several hundred letters and other fresh Hearstiana at Berkeley's Bancroft Library has convinced Ben Procter, professor of history at Texas Christian University, that we do. Drawing on the new letters and heavily on standard sources, especially Swanberg, Procter has come up with more detail than we have seen before on Hearst up to age 47.

While some of Procter's detail is excessive, the mass of it makes more clear and specific than ever the acts and events that shaped this enigmatic and powerful figure in our national history. Most of the major events have been written about before, but the concentrated impact of the new ones makes the evidence all the more compelling.

Made newly vivid is the young Hearst as the son of a largely absent but indulgent father, George Hearst, and a mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who pampered her beloved son to an astonishing degree.

George Hearst bought the San Francisco Examiner in 1880 to help his ultimately successful run for state senator. But his son, after being "rusticated" out of Harvard, decided that he wanted to run the Examiner personally. George disapproved of newspapering as a career, but Will begged for the job, saying he had developed "a strange fondness for our little paper."

His father tried dissuading him by offering a large part of the family real estate holdings, but Will insisted that he had ideas to transform the paper in revolutionary ways. George relented, and when Will said the transformation would take $100,000, his father responded, "Hell! That ain't no money!" and gave it to him. Will took over the Examiner when he was 24.

The transformation is familiar today, but it was startling then. He called the newspaper "Monarch of the Dailies" and hired the best talent available, including Ambrose Bierce and cartoonist Thomas Nast. Headlines got big and black and favored words like "fatal," "tragic," "crime," "victim" and "suicide." Hearst's ambition was to beat The Chronicle. Three years and $1 million later, he had managed it.

Soon Will began eyeing New York as a chance to enter the Eastern big leagues. He was determined to beat Joseph Pulitzer's highly successful New York World, but it would take a lot of money. Ultimately, Will bought the failing New York Morning Journal, then called "the chambermaid's delight." It was the beginning of the famous battle between Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer's World.

Hearst raided Pulitzer's staff and hired the country's best talent: Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Richard Harding Davis, Arthur Brisbane. He started a price war. His stock-in-trade was well-written stories with shock value and huge headlines, stories of intrigue and sex among celebrities, and fancy graphics. (Sound familiar in 1998?)

On the positive side, both Hearst and Pulitzer competed in fighting for the rights of poor people against sweatshops. Both attacked greedy banks and corporations. But this was also the period in which Hearst practically invented the Spanish-American War, with mostly phony stories about Spain's atrocities against its colonial subjects in Cuba. In 1896 Hearst issued a spectacular Sunday supplement in color and included a comic strip, "The Yellow Kid" -- a move that put "yellow journalism" into the English language as a synonym for cheap and sensationalized reporting.

But then Hearst decided that he wanted to be president of the United States. His papers became his political mouthpiece and a ruthless weapon against adversaries. To run for president, Hearst needed a wife, and in 1903, one day before his 40th birthday, he married a 22-year-old dancer, Millicent Willson, whom he had dated for several years.

His many political enemies used his own tactics against him, and his last campaign for office in 1909 failed. Curiously, some of the progressive policies he espoused (attempts to control monopolies, improved housing and pay for the poor, etc.) eventually succeeded, but as a politician he failed to get what he wanted. Procter's book ends with Hearst's retirement from politics at 47. It is no denigration of Procter's careful research to say that he suffers from touches of hubris. In the preface, he flashes his badge as a Ph.D. in history. Nonacademics like Barbara Tuchman, Rachel Carson and Swanberg also were patronized by many pedigreed academics, yet those three did more to enlighten the public than a whole quadrangle full of condescending professors.

Procter also writes, "Often in this study I became a detective attempting to separate myth from history. . . . Two examples, out of literally hundreds, demonstrate my concern for historical accuracy . . . the parents of WRH were not married in Stedville, Missouri (as George Hearst listed in his political campaigns) . . . but I did find their marriage certificate that named Steelville, Missouri."

Aha! He then takes pleasure in one-upping Swanberg, writing that Swanberg's "Citizen Hearst" had Phoebe Hearst's last estate "at Pleasanton, just across the bay from San Francisco actually it is thirty miles south of San Francisco." As long as we're quibbling, it is 35 miles southeast of central San Francisco.

And there are occasional small errors. The De Young brothers did not start the San Francisco Call, but the Dramatic Chronicle, ancestor of today's Chronicle. The Call was run by Loring Pickering.

Despite the contemporary oversupply of pop psychology applied to public figures, one wishes the author had provided more of his own insight into how Hearst's early private and public experiences shaped the personality and behavior of the pioneering publisher, who was to become a reactionary, idiosyncratic semi- recluse before his death in 1951, at 88.

Yet Procter's new evidence may attract future writers to the Bancroft Library -- ideally some who will use it for deeper insights into the formative 40 years of this eccentric figure whose influence affected the country's late 19th and 20th century history and is still felt in American journalism.

Reappraising Hearst, the villain of ɼitizen Kane'

NEW YORK — A newly published biography of the larger-than-life yellow-journalism magnate William Randolph Hearst sent me scurrying to the bookstore this week, and also to my video outlet, to rent a copy of "Citizen Kane," Orson Welles's classic caricature of Hearst as a driven, unscrupulous, power-hungry and, ultimately, lonely man.

This is not at all the portrait that emerges from "The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst" by Kenneth Whyte, whose day job is publisher and editor in chief of Maclean's magazine in Canada. Whyte's Hearst is a largely admirable and even heroic figure, not a man who would sell his soul to increase his newspapers' circulation but a deeply engaging figure who avidly promoted one of the early humanitarian interventions of American history.

In a phone conversation this week, Whyte quoted the director and Welles confidant Peter Bogdanovich to the effect that the "brilliant wunderkind of ɼitizen Kane' who grows up to be disillusioned and estranged from the people closest to him turned out to be more Welles himself than Hearst."

"Hearst managed to go through life incredibly productive right up to a rather old age," Whyte said, "and he had stable, if unorthodox, relations with the people closest to him in life. He was actually a well-adjusted individual."

This comes as something of a surprise, so deeply entrenched is the image of Hearst as an erratic megalomaniac, even though another writer, David Nasaw, revised that view of Hearst in his highly praised biography, "The Chief," nine years ago. The fact would seem to remain that the gripping but manufactured narrative based, as the movie ads put it, on a true story, has a power over the mind that the actual true story often does not have.

My own favorite film in this connection is the wonderfully entertaining "Amadeus" of 1984, based on the brilliant play by Peter Shaffer about the relationship between the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri - the latter driven literally to madness by his jealousy over Mozart's genius.

How most of us deal with the dread reality of our own mediocrity, or the fear that we are mediocre, is a great subject, wickedly and tellingly handled by Shaffer, who didn't intend for us to take his play as a historically accurate portrait of Mozart.

And yet, the film and the play it was based on were so effective that, ever since seeing it (and I've seen it several times), the giddy, silly Mozart portrayed by the actor Tom Hulce has always been the real Mozart for me, even as I know that the real Mozart was somebody else.

The same conflation of movie character with historical figure applies in the case of Welles and Hearst. Even knowing that the portrait in "Citizen Kane" was a figment of Welles's imagination - or, not entirely a figment, since he based his movie on an early, negative biography, "Imperial Hearst" by Ferdinand Lundberg - it's very hard to think of Hearst separately from Welles's fantastic portrayal of him.

Hearst of course was one of the iconic figures of American history, a pioneer of spicy, mass-market tabloid journalism and a figure of enormous influence at the end of the 19th century and for much of the first half of the 20th.

Whyte's book is not a full biography but focuses on Hearst's early career, when he came to New York, used family money to buy the New York Journal in 1895 and then waged the mother of all newspaper wars against the tabloid run by Joseph Pulitzer, the New York World.

In his richly detailed examination of that period, Whyte explodes any number of persistent myths, perpetuated most of all by "Citizen Kane," the most important of them involving Hearst's supposedly nefarious and self-interested role in forcing the United States into an unjustified imperial war against Spain in Cuba in 1898.

"The movie's treatment of Hearst as a young journalist does give him credit for having genuine feelings for the common man," Whyte said. "But then it introduces the Spanish-American War, showing Hearst printing blatantly fictional content and not caring that it was deliberate fiction."

But in Whyte's view, the portrayal of Hearst as the purveyor of fiction is itself a fiction. He makes the case that Hearst was actually a great and a responsible editor whose advocacy of American intervention in Cuba was a sincere and courageous effort to stop Spain from a massacre of genocidal proportions in its Cuban colony.

Among the more famous exchanges in American history between an editor and a member of his staff supposedly took place between Hearst and Frederic Remington, an illustrator he had sent to Cuba supposedly to send back drawings of Spanish atrocities.

When Remington cabled to Hearst that no war was taking place, Hearst reportedly cabled back: "You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war." According to Whyte, who points out the awkward fact that no copy of this famous cable exists, this putative exchange is one of the great apocryphal stories of all time. There is no evidence that it actually occurred.

Still, the story has endured for more than a century because it is too good not to be true, a bit like the false claim during the recent American election campaign that Sarah Palin didn't know whether Africa was a country or a continent. There are what Norman Mailer called factoids - invented truths - that provide such deep comfort to powerfully held convictions that belief in them is well-nigh irresistible.

That certainly seems to be the case with Hearst's reputation.

Whyte notes that on a visit to the current Hearst headquarters in New York, he was unable to find a single image of the founder, no portrait, no photo, no bust, nothing. He asked one person he encountered if sheɽ ever seen an image of Hearst in the headquarters building, and she replied that she had not.

Could this be because the current-day Hearst Corporation feels a certain embarrassment at the reputation of its founder, a reputation that owes a great deal to Orson Welles? No doubt at the Hearst Corporation it is understood that William Randolph is a misunderstood man. The problem is that the misunderstanding has proved to be more powerful than the evidence produced to correct it.

William Randolph Hearst stops 'Citizen Kane' ads - HISTORY

This Day In History: January 8, 1941

As the year 1941 dawned, 24-year-old Orson Welles had just finishing making what is largely considered one of the best films of all time – Citizen Kane. But at the time, he was having a difficult time getting his picture released. Why? Because Hollywood’s Boy Genius had stepped on the toes of the world’s most powerful Newspaper mogul.

The trouble began when Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was invited to view a screening of the as-of-yet unfinished version of Citizen Kane on January 3, 1941. This infuriated her competition, Louella Parsons, the Hollywood reporter for Heart’s papers. Like just about everyone else who would see the film, when Parsons did get to see it, she immediately saw the similarities between Charles Foster Kane and William Randolph Hearst.

She wasted no time filling her boss in on Welles’ bombastic characterization of him. If that didn’t peeve the newspaper magnate off enough, Kane’s second wife, a singer with a drinking problem, was clearly based on Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies. This is what pushed Hearst over the edge after seeing the film, and had him gunning for Welles (who himself admitted years later that it might have been a bit much).

Hearst wasted no time exacting his revenge. On January 8, 1941, he ordered all his papers to cancel any ads for the film slated for publication. He also threatened to start making trouble for the motion picture industry in general, publicly questioning the amount of “immigrants” and “refugees” employed in the industry instead of Americans.

Most of Hollywood rallied around Hearst not only because he was one of the most powerful guys in the world (at least as far as their careers were concerned), but also because Orson Welles rubbed a lot of them the wrong way. Many in the film industry found Welles to be an annoying, if talented, little twerp for his flagrant contempt for everything Hollywood.

Hearst made it extremely difficult for Citizen Kane to get released. When it finally hit theaters in early May of 1941, only large cities showed it. Critics went wild for the film, Hearst or no Hearst. New York Times reporter Bosley Crowther’s review read, “Citizen Kane is far and away the most surprising and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen here in many a moon. As a matter of fact, it comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood.”

Citizen Kane was nominated for nine Oscars, but only won one, for Best Screenplay. Welles and the film were actually booed at the ceremony, which seems a bit bizarre for an actor and film that garnered so many nominations. In the end, Orson Welles had the last laugh as Citizen Kane is still considered one of the best films ever made, and Welles one of the finest actors of all time.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Mank: The “Dirty Trick” Orson Welles Played on Marion Davies

David Fincher’s new film Mank follows the rocky, boozy road to the great cinematic masterpiece that is 1941’s Citizen Kane. Though it’s a troubled male-genius narrative centered on Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), the oft-forgotten screenwriter who fought to claim cowriting credit on the film, the person whose legacy was forever cemented by Citizen Kane is, of course, its director and star Orson Welles. And though Welles has plenty to be proud of when it comes to Kane, there is one regret about it that followed him for the rest of his life.

In 1982, just three years before his death, Welles reflected on Marion Davies, the Hollywood actor who allegedly inspired Citizen Kane’s talentless blonde opera singer, Susan Alexander Kane. “It seemed to me to be something of a dirty trick and still strikes me as something of a dirty trick,” a regretful Welles said. “What we did to her.” Welles also wrote the foreword to Davies’s posthumously published 1975 memoir, The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst, in which he tried to set the record straight.

Though Charles Foster Kane was indisputably based largely on Davies’s partner, William Randolph Hearst, the truth about Marion and Susan is much more complicated. Fincher gets at that in his film, showing Davies—as portrayed by a top-of-her-game Amanda Seyfried—as she truly was. A rare Hollywood star who successfully made the transition from silent film to talkies, Marion Davies was also a canny producer, dry-wit, universally beloved hostess, and, by all accounts, a clever businesswoman. But thanks in large part to Citizen Kane, Davies has long been misremembered.

Below, get to know the real Marion Davies—who, thanks to Mank, is getting another crack at the legacy she deserves.


Long before she met Hearst, Marion Davies had a head for business and branding. Born in New York as Marion Cecilia Elizabeth Brooklyn Douras, Marion and her sisters changed their name to the anglicized Davies after seeing it splashed across a billboard advertisement. (Her mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery reads “Douras.”) Davies pursued a career as a model, showgirl, and ultimately joined the Ziegfeld Follies. But she had an early passion for motion pictures and wrote her own script for what would be her first feature film, 1917’s Runaway Romany, which was directed by her brother-in-law George Lederer. In Mank, it’s George’s son, Charles (Joseph Cross), who reintroduces Herman to his aunt Marion.

Publishing giant William Randolph Hearst (portrayed in Mank by Charles Dance) was already in his late 50s when he first set his sights on a teenaged Davies while she was appearing in the Follies. He quickly formed Cosmopolitan Pictures, signed Davies to an exclusive contract, and began an affair with her that would last the rest of his life. Hearst was married and would remain so—but while he was puritanical about the love lives of others (he reportedly wouldn’t let unmarried couples share a room when they came to stay at his sprawling Hearst castle), he unashamedly and publicly shared his life with Davies.


Hearst took a controlling, suffocating interest in Davies’s film career—and here, according to most, is where it all went wrong for the gifted performer. “Marion Davies was one of the most delightfully accomplished comediennes in the whole history of the screen,” Welles wrote in the foreword to her memoir. “She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened.” In fact, Marion Davies was a star for a time, appearing in films opposite the likes of Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Leslie Howard.

Clark Gable and Marion Davies in Cain and Mabel (1936).

by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images.

In order to speed along Davies’s ascent, Hearst entered into a distribution deal with Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), offering the latter’s studio chief Louis B. Mayer (played by Arliss Howard in Mank) the full strength of his media empire in exchange for roles for Davies, but he and Davies disagreed on what kind of parts she should play. She fancied herself a comedian he preferred her in more serious and dramatic roles. Still, the MGM deal, combined with Davies’s inherent talent and Hearst’s full-court media blitz, shot several Davies films to the top of the box-office charts in 1922 and 1923.

Though it’s impossible to tell how much of Davies’s success is owed to Hearst (probably plenty), her rapid stumble from stardom is usually laid directly at his feet. Davies survived the transition from silent films to talkies, despite struggling offscreen from a stutter. (“I couldn’t act,” Davies quipped in her memoir. “But the idea of silent pictures appealed to me because I couldn’t talk either.”) But Hearst’s machinations overexposed her as he aggressively pushed stories about her into his company’s newsreels. He also founds limits to his influence at MGM, when, as portrayed in Mank, Davies lost the coveted role of Marie Antoinette to Norma Shearer (Jessie Cohen), who just happened to be the wife of MGM’s top producer Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley).

Hearst stormed out of his MGM deal in a snit—and, yes, just as she does in Mank, Davies had to pack up the enormous 11-room bungalow, which served as her dressing room, in pieces and drive it over to Warner Brothers. In the late 1930s, after a reportedly troubled run at Warner Brothers, Davies officially retired from acting.


The more enduring role Marion Davies played in Hollywood was as a charming hostess at both the many soirées she and Hearst would throw at his castle in San Simeon, California—and the wilder nights she would host herself a few hours down the coast, at the Ocean House mansion Hearst bought for her in Santa Monica. Actor David Niven, who wrote revealing Hollywood memoirs in the twilight of this career, is a surprising font of intel on the inner workings of the Davies/Hearst shindigs. He referred to the robust Hearst as a “friendly avocado,” but described Davies as “always warm and gay. Even in repose she seemed about to burst out laughing.”

According to his own biographer, Sheridan Morley, some of Niven’s more colorful anecdotes should be taken with a grain of salt. But there’s bountiful photographic evidence to back up Niven’s account that, as in the final San Simeon scene in Mank, Davies and Hearst were fond of elaborate costume parties:

The parties at Ocean House [. ] were strictly Marion, and there with gaiety, generosity, and bubbling fun she entertained her multitude of friends. Each year she gave a costume ball on W.R.’s birthday. There was a 49’er party a kid party, when Gable came as a boy scout and Joan Crawford as Shirley Temple an early American party, when Hearst dressed as James Madison, a your-favorite-movie-star party, which saw Gary Cooper as Dr. Fu Manchu and Groucho Marx as Rex the Wonder Horse. But the most lavish of all was the circus party. Two thousand guests assembled. Cary Grant and Paulette Goddard dressed as tumblers and [. ] made a most impressive entrance cartwheeling across the floor. Henry Fonda came with a group of clowns Bette Davis was a bearded lady [. ] I don’t remember what Marion wore, but I do remember thinking, in spite of his noble profile, how forlorn and self-conscious W.R. looked as the ringmaster.

Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies in a costume party scene from Mank.

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Virginia Madsen, who played Davies in the 1985 TV movie The Hearst and Davies Affair, was able to consult with Davies’s stand-in, Vera Burnett, and others who knew the San Simeon hostess firsthand. Masden was dazzled to learn that the quick-witted Davies was the only one who could keep up with Charlie Chaplin in a game of charades. “I couldn’t believe some of the stories people had,” Madsen said during a 1985 interview. “No one ever said a bad word about her. [William Hearst’s wife] Millicent Hearst could have harmed Marion if she’d wanted to, but as far as I know, even she never said a bad word against Marion, and Marion never said a bad word against her.”


If Davies had an apparent flaw, it was her fondness for alcohol—and here, as depicted in Mank, may be where the alcoholic Herman Mankiewicz and the charming movie star truly bonded. Mankiewicz was a fixture at the Hearst/Davies parties, but by all accounts the shindigs at San Simeon weren’t exactly wild affairs. Hearst wasn’t fond of hard liquor and set his guests a firm pre-dinner limit before allowing beer and wine with the meal. Niven evocatively wrote that the drinks at cocktail hour “flowed like glue.” According to The Guardian, “anyone who managed to get drunk—Errol Flynn and Dorothy Parker were two lucky ones—would return to their rooms to find their bags packed and a car waiting to take them to the station.” This attitude helps explain Hearst’s extreme disgust at Mank’s drunken display in one of the closing scenes of the film.

But Davies not only hosted much wilder parties of her own at the Ocean House estate (where Niven and Flynn rented a cottage known as “Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea”)—she disobeyed Hearst’s drinking rules in his own castle. One story goes that Davies dropped her gin flask out of her purse at dinner and when the smell became apparent to their guests, Davies quipped to Hearst: “How do you like my new perfume?”


“What did Marion ever do to deserve this?” Tom Pelphrey’s Joe Mankiewicz asks after reading brother Herman’s script in the third act of Mank. “It’s not her,” Oldman’s character responds. He swears again to Seyfried’s Davies: “It was never meant to be you.”

Welles claimed the same thing in real life. “We had someone different in the place of Marion Davies,” he said in that 1982 interview. He doubled down in the foreword he wrote for Davies’s memoir, saying that Susan had been inspired by an actual woman—one who was not Davies: “It was a real man who built an opera house for the soprano of his choice. And much in the movie was borrowed from that story. But that man was not Hearst…to Marion Davies she bears no resemblance at all.”

It’s true that you don’t have to look very far to find other, more convincing inspirations for Citizen Kane’s poor, tone-deaf Susan, whom Charles Foster Kane supports with the full strength of his wealth. In 1929, Chicago business magnate Samuel Insull built the Civic Opera House for his songbird of a wife, Gladys. Roger Ebert, meanwhile, named another singer, Ganna Wolska as the inspiration for Susan on his DVD commentary for Citizen Kane. Wolska’s wealthy husband, Harold Fowler McCormick, had attempted to use his fortune and media influence to battle New York Times headlines such as “Mme. Walska Clings to Ambition to Sing.”

Susan does, however, have qualities associated with Davies—like an obsession with jigsaw puzzles. Davies was so famously fond of puzzles that one time, according to The Guardian, “a skilled carpenter and painter [was] brought in to make a perfect replacement for a tiny lost piece.” The Mank anecdote about “Rosebud” being Hearst’s nickname for a certain part of Davies’s anatomy might also have some basis in reality.

Though Davies and Mankiewicz shared a friendship, it is very unlikely that she ever visited him personally to beg that he shelve his Citizen Kane script, as she does in Mank. Hearst virulently opposed the film and effectively used everything in his arsenal to suppress both its theatrical run and its award season bid—but Davies reportedly claimed to have never even seen it.


Hearst always made sure to provide Davies with her own income, whether as the president of his Cosmopolitan Pictures, by putting her on the payroll at MGM, or via the enormous amount of property he put in her name. So when Hearst’s lavish spending caught up with him, it was, in fact, Davies who bailed him out. “They were going to foreclose on [Hearst Castle] and Marion sold her jewelry and liquidated stocks and she gave him a million dollars—in the 1930s that was an enormous amount of money—so that he could keep the ranch,” Victoria Kastner, Hearst Castle historian and author of Hearst Ranch: Family, Land and Legacy, said in a 2013 interview. “She actually convinced another girlfriend to give him another million dollars.”

Davies, ever the wise investor, sold her Ocean House in 1945 during a property tax dispute it is now known as the Marion Davies Guest House. All this means that Davies had plenty of her own money when Hearst died and left her much of his fortune. She “sold her inheritance for $1 back to Hearst Corporation. She didn’t keep it.” Kastner said. “There could have been a court fight, but basically what Marion was saying was, ‘I didn’t do this for money.’ Hearst wanted to be sure she was okay and taken care of when he was gone, but she gave back the inheritance. It really is a love story, you know?”

Watch the video: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 1976 - Orson Welles Interview (May 2022).