William Randolph Hearst I (April 29, 1863 – August 14, 1951) was an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher. The son of self-made millionaire George Hearst, he became aware that his father received a northern California newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, as payment of a gambling debt. Still a student at Harvard, he asked his father to give him the newspaper to run. In 1887, he became the paper's publisher and devoted long hours and much money to making it a success. Crusading for civic improvement and exposing municipal corruption, he greatly increased the paper's circulation.
Moving to New York City, he acquired The New York Journal and engaged in a bitter circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World which led to the creation of "yellow journalism"--sensationalized stories of dubious veracity. Acquiring more newspapers, Hearst created a chain that numbered nearly 30 papers in major American cities at its peak. He later expanded to magazines, creating the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.
He was elected two times to the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated in 1906 in a race for governor of New York. Nonetheless, through his newspapers and magazines, he exercised enormous political influence, most notably in creating public frenzy which pushed the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. His life story was a source of inspiration for the lead character in Orson Welles' classic film, Citizen Kane.
Though he served two terms in the U.S. Congress, Hearst's political ambitions were mostly frustrated, as he failed in two bids to become Mayor of New York City (1905 and 1909) and one race for governor of New York (1906). He was a prominent leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party from 1896 to 1935, but he became more conservative later in life.
His palatial estate, Hearst Castle, near San Simeon, California, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, was donated by the Hearst Corporation to the state of California in 1957, and is now a State Historical Monument and a National Historic Landmark, open for public tours. Hearst formally named the estate 'La Cuesta Encantada' ('The Enchanted Hill'), but he usually called it just 'the ranch'.
In 1924 he opened the New York Daily Mirror, a racy tabloid frankly imitating the New York Daily News. Among his other holdings were the magazines Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Bazaar; two news services, Universal News and International News Service; King Features Syndicate; a film company, Cosmopolitan Productions; extensive New York City real estate; and thousands of acres of land in California and Mexico, along with timber and mining interests.
Hearst promoted writers and cartoonists despite the lack of any apparent demand for them by his readers. The press critic A.J. Liebling reminds us how many Hearst stars would not be deemed employable elsewhere. One Hearst favorite, George Herriman, was the inventor of the dizzy comic strip Krazy Kat; not especially popular with either readers or editors, it is now considered by many to be a classic, a belief once held only by Hearst himself.
Two months before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he became one of the sponsors of the first round-the-world voyage in an airship, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin. His sponsorship was conditional on the trip starting at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, NJ, so the ship's captain, Dr. Hugo Eckener, first flew the Graf across the Atlantic from Germany to pick up Hearst's photographer and at least three Hearst correspondents. One of them, Grace Marguerite Hay Drummond-Hay, by that flight became the first woman to travel around the world by air.
The Hearst news empire reached a circulation and revenue peak about 1928, but the economic collapse of the Great Depression and the vast over-extension of his empire cost him control of his holdings. It is unlikely that the newspapers ever paid their own way; mining, ranching and forestry provided whatever dividends the Hearst Corporation paid out. When the collapse came, all Hearst properties were hit hard, but none more so than the papers; adding to the burden were the Chief's now-conservative politics, increasingly at odds with those of his readers. Refused the right to sell another round of bonds to unsuspecting investors, the shaky empire tottered. Unable to service its existing debts, Hearst Corporation faced a court-mandated reorganization in 1937. From this point, Hearst was just another employee, subject to the directives of an outside manager. Newspapers and other properties were liquidated, the film company shut down; there was even a well-publicized sale of art and antiquities. While World War II restored circulation and advertising revenues, his great days were over. Hearst died of a heart attack in 1951, aged eighty-eight, in Beverly Hills, California, and is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.
His defeat in the New York City mayoral election, in which he ran under a short-lived third party of his own creation (the Municipal Ownership League) is widely attributed to Tammany Hall. Tammany, the dominant Democratic organization in New York City at the time (and a widely corrupt one), was said to have used every dirty trick in the book to derail Hearst's campaign. He also sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904, but found that his support for William Jennings Bryan in previous years was not reciprocated. The conservative wing of the party was ascendant and nominated Judge Alton B. Parker instead. An opponent of the British Empire, Hearst opposed American involvement in the First World War and attacked the formation of the League of Nations. Hearst's last bid for office came in 1922 when he was backed by Tammany Hall leaders for the U.S. Senate nomination in New York. Al Smith vetoed this, earning the lasting enmity of Hearst. Although Hearst shared Smith's opposition to Prohibition he swung his papers behind Herbert Hoover in the 1928 presidential election. Hearst's support for Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, via his allies William Gibbs McAdoo and John Nance Garner, can also be seen as part of his vendetta against Smith, who was an opponent of Roosevelt's at that convention.
Hearst's reputation triumphed in the 1930s as his political views changed. In 1932, he was a major supporter of Roosevelt. His newspapers energetically supported the New Deal throughout 1933 and 1934. Hearst broke with FDR in spring 1935 when the President vetoed the Patman Bonus Bill. Hearst papers carried the old publisher's rambling, vitriolic, all-capital-letters editorials, but he no longer employed the energetic reporters, editorialists and columnists who might have made a serious attack. His newspaper audience was the same working class that Roosevelt swept by three-to-one margins in the 1936 election. In 1934 after checking with Jewish leaders to make sure the visit would prove of benefit to Jews, Hearst went to Berlin to interview Adolf Hitler. Hitler asked why he was so misunderstood by the American press. "Because Americans believe in democracy," Hearst answered bluntly, "and are averse to dictatorship."
In 1903, William married Millicent Veronica Willson (1882–1974), a 21-year-old chorus girl, in New York City. Evidence in Louis Pizzitola's book Hearst Over Hollywood indicates that Millicent's mother Hannah Willson ran a Tammany connected and protected brothel quite near the headquarters of political power in New York City at the turn of the last century. Pizzitola's book also documents a strongly held belief at the time that Millicent and her sister Anita were prostitutes when they met Hearst. Ironically or perhaps deliberately, the first scene that Orson Welles filmed for Citizen Kane (deleted by the censors) takes place in a brothel. Nearly 20 years her senior, Hearst had been seeing her since she was 16. The couple had five sons: George Randolph Hearst (1904–1972), William Randolph Hearst Jr. (1908–1993), John Randolph Hearst (1910–1958), and twins Randolph Apperson Hearst (1915–2000) and David Whitmire Hearst (1915–1986).
Hearst paid $120,000 for the H-shaped Beverly Hills mansion in 1947, now the 'most expensive' US home on sale at $165 million (£81.4 million). It has 29 bedrooms, three swimming pools, tennis courts, its own cinema, and a nightclub. Lawyer and investor Leonard Ross bought it in 1976. The Beverly House, as it came to be known, has some interesting cinematic connections. According to Louis Pizzitola's book Hearst Over Hollywood, Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy stayed at the house for part of their honeymoon, watching their first film together as a married couple in the mansion's theater (a Hearst produced film from the 1920s). Later, long after Hearst's death, the house was the setting for the gruesome scene in the film The Godfather depicting a horse's head in the bed of a producer at a film company called International, also the name of Hearst's early film company.
Hearst's mother also had the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona built in Pleasanton, California (now destroyed). He also had a property on the McCloud River, in Siskiyou County in far northern California, called Wyntoon.
Conceding an end to his political hopes, Hearst became involved in an affair with popular film actress and comedienne Marion Davies (1897–1961), and from about 1919, he lived openly with her in California. The affair ruled over Davies' life, leaving her reputation chained with Hearst's. Millicent separated from her husband in the mid-1920s after tiring of his longtime affair with Davies, but the couple remained legally married until Hearst's death. Millicent built an independent life for herself in New York City as a leading philanthropist, was active in society, and created the Free Milk Fund for the poor in 1921.
Hearst's use of "yellow journalism" techniques in his New York Journal to whip up popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898 was also criticized in Upton Sinclair's 1919 book, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism. According to Sinclair, Hearst's newspaper employees were "willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war." Sinclair also asserted that in the early 20th century Hearst's newspapers lied "remorselessly about radicals," excluded "the word Socialist from their columns" and obeyed "a standing order in all Hearst offices that American Socialism shall never be mentioned favorably." In addition, Sinclair charged that Hearst's "Universal News Bureau" re-wrote the news of the London morning papers in the Hearst office in New York and then fraudulently sent it out to American afternoon newspapers under the by-lines of imaginary names of non-existent "Hearst correspondents" in London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Berlin, etc.
Hearst was criticized continually by Communists for being anti-Communist and ultra-nationalist and was also called a Nazi by some Communists. They accused him also of libel (mostly about his articles on the Soviet Union and Stalin, for example those alleging the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933). In 1918, Hearst had called for the legal recognition by the United States of the Bolshevik government until it happened in 1933. He said, "Let us recognize the truest democracy in Europe, the truest democracy in the world today."
Hearst is rumored to have provided financial assistance to Josephine Terranova after her sensational murder trial in 1906.
Hearst also sympathized with Harry J. Anslinger in his war against marijuana. Jack Herer and others argue that Hearst's paper empire (he owned hundreds of acres of timber forests and a vast number of paper mills designed to manufacture paper from wood pulp) in the early 1930s was threatened by hemp, which: 1) like wood pulp, could also be used to manufacture paper and 2) also had an advantage over wood pulp, because it could be regrown yearly as well. Between 1936 and 1937, Hearst associated marijuana with hemp in his newspapers and published many of the stories that Anslinger fabricated. Hearst would indeed play a major part in aiding the anti-marijuana movement, which eventually led to its prohibition in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, a law which also outlawed hemp. Other commentators have subsequently pointed out that Jack Herer and others have missed that the Hearst chain was one of the biggest buyers of newsprint in the U.S. The Hearst chain had, as buyers of newsprint, a strong interest in a low price for newsprint. If anyone could produce large amounts of cheap newsprint from a new crop it would lower Hearst's purchasing cost for newsprint. The conclusion of this reasoning is that Hearst had no relevant financial interest in a ban on the cultivation of hemp.
Now, fifty years after his death, Citizen Kane's reputation seems secure — it was twice ranked #1 on the list of the American Film Institute's 100 greatest films of all time (1998 & 2007) — while Hearst's own image has largely been shaped by the film. While the film merely paints a dark portrait of Hearst, it was devastating to the reputation of Marion Davies, fictionalizing her as a talentless drunk. Many years later, Orson Welles said his only regret about Kane was the damage it had done to Davies. In his commentary included on the US DVD, Peter Bogdanovich asserts that the character of Susan Alexander was entirely a satire of Harold McCormick's wife Ganna, rather than of Marion.
No member of the ‘Oneida’ crew or guests present on that night, which included friends of Thomas Ince and his business manager George Thomas, ever made any allegations of foul play. Several of the young actresses present that night as guests - Seena Owen, Margaret Livingston, Julanne Johnston, and Aileen Pringle, were quite outspoken on the matter, and maintained consistent stories even until their deaths.
Elinor Kershaw, Ince’s wife, also refuted the claims until her passing on September 12, 1971.
The two leading biographies on Hearst, ‘Citizen Hearst’ by W.A. Swanberg and most recently ‘The Chief: The Life Of William Randolph Hearst’ by David Nasaw both agree that no foul play occurred, and contend that no evidence to the contrary was ever presented by or to law enforcement officials. Nasaw believes it‘s a case of rumor and innuendo creating a non-existent scandal that still resonates, over seventy years later. He offers that, after falling ill (probably from a bleeding ulcer), Ince was taken home where he died two days later in the arms of his wife. Three different doctors who treated him, at different times, could affirm his ill health and death was due to natural causes. No injuries to the body were reported, and blood-test results for poisons were negative.