William Randolph Metelerkamp

William Randolph Hearst


For other people named William Randolph Hearst, see William Randolph Hearst (disambiguation)

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.

Early life

Hearst was born in San Francisco, California to George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson. Following preparation at St. Paul's School in Concord, NH, he enrolled in the Harvard College class of 1885, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, the A.D. Club (a prestigious Harvard Final club), and of the Harvard Lampoon prior to his expulsion from Harvard for a crude prank. Heir to a vast mining fortune, at the age of twenty-three Hearst acquired and developed a series of influential newspapers, starting with the San Francisco Examiner in 1887, forging them into a national brand. His New York City paper, the New York Morning Journal, became known for sensationalist writing and for its agitation in favor of the Spanish-American War, and the term yellow journalism (a pejorative reference to scandal-mongering, sensationalism, jingoism and similar practices) was derived from the Journal's color comic strip, The Yellow Kid.

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'.

Publishing business

Searching for an occupation, in 1887 he took over management of a newspaper which his father George Hearst had accepted as payment of a gambling debt, the San Francisco Examiner. Giving his paper a grand motto, "Monarch of the Dailies", he acquired the best equipment and the most talented writers of the time. A self-proclaimed populist, Hearst went on to publish stories of municipal and financial corruption, often attacking companies in which his own family held an interest. Within a few years, his paper dominated the San Francisco market.

New York Morning Journal

In 1895, with the financial support of his mother, he bought the failing New York Morning Journal, hiring writers like Stephen Crane and Julian Hawthorne and entering into a head-to-head circulation war with his former mentor, Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, from whom he 'stole' Richard F. Outcault, the inventor of color comics, and all of Pulitzer's Sunday staff as well. His was the only major newspaper in the East to support William Jennings Bryan and Bimetallism in 1896. The New York Journal (later New York Journal-American) reduced its price to one cent and attained unprecedented levels of circulation through sensational articles on subjects like crime and pseudoscience.


In part to aid in his political ambitions, Hearst opened newspapers in some other cities, among them Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. The creation of his Chicago paper was requested by the Democratic National Committee and Hearst used this as an excuse for Phoebe Hearst to transfer him the necessary start-up funds. By the mid-1920s he had a nation-wide string of 28 newspapers, among them the Los Angeles Examiner, the Boston American, the Atlanta Georgian, the Chicago Examiner, the Detroit Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Washington Times, the Washington Herald, and his flagship the San Francisco Examiner. Hearst also diversified his publishing interests into book publishing and magazines; several of the latter are still existent, including such well-known periodicals as Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Town and Country and Harper's Bazaar.

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.

The Hearst Corporation continues to this day as a large, privately held media conglomerate based in New York City.

Involvement in politics

A Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives (1903–1907), he narrowly failed in attempts to become mayor of New York City (1905 and 1909) and governor of New York (1906), nominally remaining a Democrat while also creating the Independence Party. He was defeated for the governorship by Charles Evans Hughes.

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."

Personal life

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).

California property

Beginning in 1919, Hearst began to construct (and never completed) Hearst Castle, on a 240,000 acre (970 km²) ranch at San Simeon, California, which he furnished with antiques, art, and entire rooms brought from the great houses of Europe.

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.

Marion Davies

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.

Art Collection

Hearst, one of the most flamboyant art-collectors of all time, assembled a massive and distinguished collection that was largely dispersed and sold during a liquidity crisis in the 1930s. Primarily as a result of the negative portrayal in Orson Welles’s film, Citizen Kane—a dark reinvention of Hearst’s life—the collection never received its due acclaim. The most important aspects of Hearst’s activities as a collector will be represented in the LACMA exhibition Hearst the Collector, including his particularly strong collections of arms and armor, silver, and Renaissance tapestries. In each of these areas, he surpassed virtually all his contemporaries, amassing the greatest quantity of top-tier works. Hearst also formed legendary treasuries of medieval and Renaissance goldsmiths’ work and Limoges enamels. In addition, there were paintings by Boucher, Copley, David, van Dyck, Fragonard, Gérôme, Greuze, Lawrence, Lotto, Reynolds, and Vouet, with sculptures by Canova, Clodion, Marin, Sansovino, and Thorvaldsen, many of which will be on view. His classical antiquities boasted the illustrious provenances of historic British collections such as Buckingham, Hamilton, Hope, and Lansdowne but his passion for California and the American frontier, including a collection of three hundred Native American textiles, set him apart from traditional American collectors in New York and Boston.

St Donat's Castle

After seeing photographs of St Donat's Castle in Country Life magazine, the Welsh Vale of Glamorgan property was bought and revitalised by Hearst in 1925 as a love gift to Davies. Hearst and Davies spent much of their time entertaining, holding lavish parties, the guests at which included Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and a young John F. Kennedy. Upon visiting St Donat's, George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying: "This is what God would have built if he had had the money."


As Martin Lee and Norman Solomon noted in their 1990 book Unreliable Sources, Hearst "routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events."

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.

Hearst was criticized in John Steinbeck's masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath because he did not use his vast, fertile land for farming.

Citizen Kane

One of the most influential films of all time was Orson Welles' 1941 film Citizen Kane, which was loosely based on Hearst's life (Welles and co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz added bits and pieces from the lives of other rich men of the time, among them Harold McCormick, Samuel Insull and Howard Hughes into Kane). Hearst used all his resources and influence in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the film's release. Welles and the studio, RKO, resisted the pressure, but Hearst and his Hollywood friends succeeded in getting theater chains to limit bookings of Kane, resulting in mediocre box-office numbers and harming Welles' profits.

Fifty years later, HBO offered a fictionalized version of Hearst's efforts in its picture RKO 281.

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.

Death of Thomas Harper Ince

In 1924, silent film producer Thomas Harper Ince ("The Father of the Western") died, officially of a heart attack while on a weekend yacht trip with Hearst, Davies, and other prominent Hollywood personalities. For years, stories circulated that Hearst had shot Ince, and used his power to cover up the murder. Patty Hearst's 1994 novel Murder at San Simeon and Peter Bogdanovich's fictional 2002 film The Cat's Meow, are based on these unsubstantiated reports. Hearst was reportedly extremely jealous of Davies, who he believed had been involved in an affair with Charlie Chaplin. According to rumors, Hearst went into a rage, mistook Ince for Chaplin, and shot him accidentally. General opinion seems to be that such a cover-up is unlikely, but at that time not entirely impossible. Still, there has never been any substantial evidence to support the claim that Ince was murdered.

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.


In 1974 Hearst's granddaughter, Patty Hearst, made front pages nationwide when she was kidnapped by an extremist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and was soon after caught on film helping the group to rob banks. She renounced the SLA soon after her arrest. In 1979, after 22 months in prison, Hearst's sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. She was fully pardoned in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.

In fiction

  • The 2008 science fiction novelette The Last of the Funnies by Mike Cope pays homage to characters, people, and organizations tied to comic strips -- including The Yellow Kid, Rube Goldberg, Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and the National Cartoonists Society (NCS).
  • Jo Stoyte, a principal character of the 1939 novel After Many A Summer Dies the Swan is a name-change for WRH. The story is set in and around Hearst's Castle. Author = Aldous Huxley.
  • In The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Part 11 — "The Empire Builder from Calisota," after surpassing Hearst on his quest to be the richest duck/man in the world, Scrooge McDuck says there's 73 people richer than he, thus making Hearst the 75th one sometime in 1909.
  • In the musical Newsies, the newsboys strike against the unfair policies of Hearst and his rival, Joseph Pulitzer.
  • Hearst helped grant a dying child his wish to see the ocean in an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
  • In season 3 of the television series Veronica Mars, William Randolph Hearst's last name was featured in Hearst College, a central setting in the series.
  • In the eighteenth Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, villain Elliot Carver mentions him and his quote, "You provide the pictures; I'll provide the war." Carver draws the parallel between both of their desires to instigate warfare for personal profit.
  • In Walking Into The Night, a novel by Olaf Olafsson, about Christian Benediktsson, an Icelandic butler that worked for Hearst in Hearst Castle at San Simeon.
  • In the musical "Reefer Madness (2005 film)", Hearst is mentioned several times during the movie; the high school is named after him and his name comes up in the lyrics throughout the film. Most notably :
  • :"Not to worry, Jimmy!"
  • :We'll use the papers of Mr. Hearst
  • :Flood the airwaves until they burst
  • :With catchy slogans we've all rehearsed
  • The character Gail Wynand in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" is considered to be loosely based on Hearst.

See also


Further reading

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