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Overview (4)

Born in San Francisco, California, USA
Died in Beverly Hills, California, USA  (heart attack)
Nicknames W.R.
The Chief
Height 6' 3" (1.91 m)

Mini Bio (1)

William Randolph Hearst was the greatest newspaper baron in the history of the United States and is the person whom Citizen Kane (1941), widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, is primarily based on. While there are many similarities between Charles Foster Kane, as limned by the great Orson Welles and his screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz (who knew Hearst), there are many dissimilarities also.

He was born on April 29, 1863, in San Francisco, California, the only child of the multi-millionaire miner George Hearst and his wife, Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Mrs. Hearst was a former school-teacher with refined manners who was over 20 years her husband's junior. Phoebe spoiled William Randolph, who was raised with personal tutors and sent to the most elite prep schools back East. He attended Harvard College but was expelled in 1885.

When he was 23 years old, William Randolph asked his father if he could take over the daily operation of the "San Francisco Examiner," a newspaper that George had acquired as payment for a gambling debt. His father relented and William Randolph took over, styling himself as its "Proprietor." The "Examiner," which he grandly called "The Monarch of the Dailies" on its masthead, was the first of many newspapers that the young Hearst would come to run, and the first where he indulged his appetite for sensationalistic, attention-getting, circulation-boosting news stories.

When his father George died, Phoebe Hearst liquidated the family mining assets to fund her son's acquisition of the ailing "New York Morning Journal." (The family continued to own forest products and petroleum properties.) Ruthless and driven, the aggressive Hearst willed the "Morning Journal" into becoming the best newspaper in New York City, hiring the best executives and finest reporters from the competition. In the style of yellow-news baron Joseph Pulitzer, with whom he now went into direct competition, Hearst introduced an in-your-face, outrageous editorial content that attracted a new market of readers. Though the term "Yellow Journalism" was originally coined to describe the practices of Pulitzer, Hearst proved adept at it. Hearst responded to the request of illustrator Frederic Remington, who had been detailed to Havana in 1898 in anticipation of something big, to return to the States with a terse message: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

After the U.S.S. Maine was blown-up in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, Hearst called the Journal city desk and demanded that the front page prominently play up the incident as the sinking of the American battleship meant war. The Journal began immediately running banner headlines proclaiming "War? Sure!" to inflame the public and pressure the government of President William McKinley to proclaim war against Spain. (Some critics accused Hearst of being indirectly responsible for McKinley's assassination as he had published a poem by Ambrose Bierce that seemed to call for such an act.)

The Spanish-American War became the Journal's war just as Vietnam was the television network's war. Ernest L. Meyer wrote about Hearst's journalistic standards: "Mr. Hearst in his long and not laudable career has inflamed Americans against Spaniards, Americans against Japanese, Americans against Filipinos, Americans against Russians, and in the pursuit of his incendiary campaign he has printed downright lies, forged documents, faked atrocity stories, inflammatory editorials, sensational cartoons and photographs and other devices by which he abetted his jingoistic ends."

Hearst added Chicago to his domain, acquiring the "Chicago American" in 1900 and the "Chicago Examiner" in 1902. The "Boston American" and the "Los Angeles Examiner" were acquired in 1904, firmly establishing the media empire that in its heyday during the 1920s, consisted of 20 daily and 11 Sunday newspapers in 13 cities, the King Features syndication service, the International News Service, and the American Weekly (Sunday syndicated supplement). One in four Americans in the '20s read a Hearst newspaper daily. His media empire also included International News Reel and the movie production company Cosmopolitan Pictures, plus a number of national magazines, including "Cosmopolitan," "Good Housekeeping" and "Harper's Bazaar." In 1924, he opened the "New York Daily Mirror," a racy tabloid that was an imitation of the innovative "New York Daily News," which ran many photographs to illustrate its lurid reporting.

Unlike Charles Foster Kane, Willaim Randolph Hearst never married the niece of the president of the United States. The closest he got to a president other than socializing with one was marrying Millicent Wilson, who shared the name of Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). The nuptials took place the day before he turned 40. His family opposed his marriage to Millicent, who was a 21-year-old showgirl whom he had known for many years. Before Millicent, he had been involved with Tessie Powers, a waitress he had financially supported since he had attended Harvard and trysted with her while still sporting the college's beanie. Hearst's personal life often was featured in stories that his competitors, the tabloid newspapers, ran during his lifetime, the kind of press he would have no moral qualms about if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot and it was someone else's other than his ox being gored. (So much for his moral outrage over Citizen Kane (1941).) He and Millicent had five sons, but Hearst took another showgirl, 20-year-old Marion Davies of the Ziefgeld Follies, as his mistress. She was 34 years his junior. It was a relationship that lasted until the end of his life.

Hearst used his media power to get himself twice elected to Congress as a member of House of Representatives (1903-1905; and 1905-1907) as a progressive, if not radical Democrat. However, he failed in his two bids to become mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, and was defeated by the Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes in his attempt to become governor of New York State in (1906). He supported the Spanish-American War - many observers believe he even was the casus belli of that conflict - but opposed the U.S. entry into World War One as he despised the British Empire. He also opposed President Wilson's formation of the League of Nations and American membership in the organization.

By the time of the First World War, his political ambitions frustrated, he decided to live openly with Davies in California and at a castle he bought in Wales. His wife and children remained in New York, where Hearst became known as a leading philanthropist, creating the Free Milk Fund for the poor in 1921. They officially separated in 1926.

Hearst spent many years and a fortune promoting Marion Davies' film career. According to the great critic Pauline Kael, Davies was a first-rate light comedienne, but Hearst wanted her to play the classical roles of a tragedienne, with the result that he pushed her into movies that were ill-suited for her, and that made her look ridiculous. She was not, however, the talentless drunk that Charles Foster Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander was. (Orson Welles said that his only regret over Citizen Kane (1941) was the backlash and grief caused to Davies, who was a woman adored by everyone who knew her. Davies nephew actually was the step-father of Welles' first child.)

Phoebe Hearst died in 1919, and Hearst moved onto the family's 268,000-acre San Simeon Ranch in southern California. On 127 acres overlooking the California coast north of Cambria, he built what is now called Hearst Castle but that he called "La Cuesta Encantada." Starting in 1922, and not finished until 1947, the 165-room mansion was built by an army of craftsmen and laborers. The mansion -- which cost approximately $37 million to build -- was not ready for full-time occupancy until 1927, and additions to the main building continued for another 20 years. At La Cuesta Encantada, Hearst entertained the creme de la creme of Hollywood and the world, whom he treated to his hospitality among his personal art collection valued at over $50 million, the largest ever assembled by any private individual. He could live openly in California with Davies.

Along with his sensationalism and jingoism, William Randold Hearst was a racist who hated minorities, particularly Mexicans, both native-born and immigrants. He used his newspaper chain to frequently stir up racial tensions. Hearst's newspapers portrayed Mexicans as lazy, degenerate and violent, marijuana-smokers who stole jobs from "real Americans." Hearst's hatred of Mexicans and his hyping of the "Mexican threat" to America likely was rooted in the 800,000 acres of timberland that had been confiscated from him by Pancho Villa during the Mexican revolution.

The Great Depression hurt Hearst financially, and he never recovered from it. At one point, his financial distress was so great, his mistress, Marion Davies, had to pawn some of her jewels to get him the cash to keep him afloat. The Hearst media empire has reached its zenith in terms of circulation and revenues the year before the Stockmarket Crash of October 1929, but the huge over-extension of the Hearst media empire eventually cost him control of his holdings. Hearst's newspaper chain likely had never been profitable, but had been supported by the income from his mining, ranching and forest products interests. All of Hearst's business interests were adversely affected by the economic downturn, but the newspapers were hit particularly hard due to the decline in advertising revenues, the life's blood of any newspaper. His bellicose and eccentric behavior only made matters worse.

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt exerted himself over the U.S. economy, Hearst had become a reactionary. He had produced a film, Gabriel Over the White House (1933) starring Walter Huston as a presidential messiah, but Roosevelt, apparently, wasn't his kind of Christ-figure. In the movie, President 'Judd' Hammond exercised near dictatorial powers, including apparently ordering summary executions of gangsters; this may have gone over well in corporate America, but hardly was a management paradigm for a working democracy. However, Roosevelt's attempts to centralize power in government and industry cartels to combat the Depression were eventually repudiated by Hearst. His anti-Roosevelt stance, trumpeted by his papers, proved unpopular with the common man who was his primary readership.

Once, he had served as the self-appointed tribune of the common man, and his progressive politics was denounced by the plutocrats as radical, but by the 1930s, Hearst was flirting with Fascism. The Hearst papers carried paid-for columns by both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, though Hearst claimed that he was only an anti-Communist. However, during a continental tour with Marion Davies, Hearst actually attended the Nuremberg rally of 1934. He later completed a newsreel deal with Hitler during the trip. Franklin D. Roosevelt, of course, was as staunchly anti-fascist as Hearst was anti-communist. His pro-intervention policies on the side of Britian during the early days of World War Two rankled the philo-German Hearst.

Hearst had a complicated relationship with Roosevelt, whom he helped obtain the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination (as a moderate). Hearst fluctuated between endorsing and attacking F.D.R. and his New Deal. In public, Roosevelt, on his part, would woo Hearst with invitations to the White House, obtaining a temporary truce, while in private, Roosevelt complained of Hearst's power and had his income taxes investigated. In 1934, Hearst launched a virulent anti-communist witch-hunt that would last for 20 years in which he tarred New Deal supporters as reds, then ended up labeling F.D.R. himself a communist. In response to his red-baiting, liberals and leftists retaliated with a boycott of Hearst newspapers.

Hearst had become a major liability to the Hearst Corp. by the mid-1930s as he became more noxious. He had started out as a populist, but had veered right in the 1920s, then tacked left in the early 1930s, only to veer to the far right beginning in the mid-'30s. Always a maverick, Hearst might have been psychologically unable to maintain a constant position; unable or unwilling to reign in his ego and support those in power, he could never stay allies with anyone for long, and thus regularly shifted positions. As Roosevelt went left, Hearst went right. Apparently, as his flirtation with fascism elucidates, he had cast himself as the savior of America in his own mind.

The economic result of Hearst's shift to the right (which also may have been influenced by his need to cajole financiers, who decidedly were anti-Roosevelt) was that advertising sales and circulation declined, just as millions in debt came due and had to be refinanced. In 1936, Hearst's efforts to raise more capital by floating a new bond issue was stymied by his creditors, with the result that he was unable to service the Hearst Corp.'s debts. The Hearst Corp. went into receivership and was reorganized, and William Randolph Hearst was reduced to the status of an employee, with a court-appointed overseer. A liquidation of Heart Corp. assets began, and newspapers were shed, Cosmopolitan Pictures was terminated, and there was an auctioning off of his art and antiquities. Hearst, the media baron of unparalleled power, was through as a major independent power in American politics and culture.

However, he still retained enough clout with his remaining newspapers (and their ability to publicize movies) in the early 1940s to make life miserable for Orson Welles after the supreme insult of his roman a clef Citizen Kane (1941). Allegedly, Hearst wasn't so much incensed at Welles as he was at Mankiewicz, a friend who had betrayed his secrets. ("Rosebud," the name of the Charles Foster Kane's childhood sled that supposedly is the key to his psychology but is actually a "McGuffin" around which to structure the movie's plot, was allegedly Hearst's nickname for Davies' private parts.)

The economic recovery that came with war production during World War II (which he opposed, just as he had America's entry into the First World War) buoyed the Hearst newspapers' circulation and advertising revenues, but he never returned to the prominence he had enjoyed in the old days. He did, still, have the love of Marion Davies, who was with him to the end, steadfast in her love. Hearst died in 1951, aged eighty-eight, at Beverly Hills, California, and is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

More than 50 years after his death, Hearst's stature has diminished while the reputation of Citizen Kane (1941) remains secure. Interestingly, Hearst's own current, largely negative image has largely been shaped by the film, which is considered a landmark in cinematic innovation. Perhaps it was just a case of Hearst living too long, of outliving his own innovative period. As a newspaper publisher, Hearst promoted innovative writers and cartoonists despite the indifference of his readers. George Herriman, the creator of the comic strip "Krazy Kat," was a Hearst favorite; Hearst even produced Krazy Kat movie shorts. "Krazy Kat" was not especially popular with readers, but it is now considered to be a classic and a watershed of that increasing respected art form. On the negative side, the sensationalistic, border-line fabricated, over-hyped journalistic paradigm that Hearst championed through his perfection of modern yellow journalism, a paradigm he made standard newspaper fare for over half-a-century, lives on in today's media.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Millicent Veronica Willson (28 April 1903 - 14 August 1951) ( his death) ( 5 children)

Trivia (16)

The character Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941) is based on him.
Newspaper publisher. Founder of the Hearst newspaper empire.
In the 1920s, Hearst built a castle on a 240,000 acre ranch at San Simeon, California, where he lived with Davies. The mansion had 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways. The site, which Hearst called La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill), hosted countless lavish parties with stars and politicians. Today, the site is a State Historical Monument and one of the most popular visitor destinations in California.
Though Hearst and Millicent stayed married until his death -- they separated in 1926 -- he was devoted to his longtime mistress, the popular actress and comedienne Marion Davies, with whom he had a daughter, Patricia Lake.
In 1924, silent film producer Thomas H. Ince died on a weekend yacht during a trip with Hearst and other Hollywood celebrities. While he officially died of a heart attack, rumors circulated that Hearst shot Ince accidentally because he took him for Charles Chaplin, who had been involved in an affair with his mistress Marion Davies. The film The Cat's Meow (2001) is based on this rumors.
Former father-in-law of Dorothy Hart, first wife of William Paley.
President of Cosmopolitan Productions (Cosmopolitan Pictures Corporation), a film production company formed to make movies for Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies.
Founder of International Film Service Company, a distribution company, in 1916. The company merged with Pathe Exchange later that year.
Had five sons: George Randolph Hearst (born 1904), William Randolph Hearst Jr. (born 1908), John Hearst (born 1910) and twins Randolph Hearst and David Hearst (born 1915).
Married Millicent Veronica Willson, a 21-year-old chorus girl, in New York City on the day before his 40th birthday.
Following his death, he was interred at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.
Portrayed by Don Yanan in Hollywood Mouth (2008). Yanan also plays Hearst in the 40-minute film that is shown to visitors at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California ("Hearst Castle Building the Dream").
In 1929, Stanislaus Zbyszko filed suit against Hearst and the New York American, claiming that the newspaper destroyed his wife Anna's physical affection for him by printing his photograph beside one of a gorilla - as an argument for the theory of evolution. The caption read, "Stanislaus Zbyszko, the wrestler, not fundamentally different from the gorilla in physique." Zbyszko was awarded $25,000 by the court.
Great-grandfather of Steve Hearst.

Personal Quotes (6)

[to a staff photographer in Cuba just before the Spanish-American War of 1898, who wired Hearst that "there's no war down here"] You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war.
It is a good thing that women are so easily manipulated. Otherwise, most of us wouldn't be here.
A politician will do anything to keep his job - even become a patriot.
I am against Prohibition because it has set the cause of temperance back twenty years; because it has substituted an ineffective campaign of force for an effective campaign of education; because it has replaced comparatively un-injurious light wines and beers with the worst kind of hard liquor and bad liquor; because it has increased drinking not only among men but has extended drinking to women and even children.
Whatever begins to be tranquil is gobbled up by something not tranquil.
We hold that no person or set of persons can properly establish a standard of expression for others.

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