Carole Lombard was among the many filmland friends of William Randolph Hearst (shown with Carole, Clark Gable and director Mervyn LeRoy at one of Hearst's famed costume parties). Lombard had briefly dated one of the mogul's sons in the mid-1920s, and counted Hearst's beloved Marion Davies as a good friend. Carole was a frequent guest at Davies' gargantuan Santa Monica beach house and made her share of visits to what the publisher called "the ranch," mapmakers labeled "San Simeon" and what the rest of the world knew as "Hearst Castle."
And it just so happens that on March 9, a little bit of history will be made on the Castle property. That's because that night, as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, the Hearst Castle Visitor Center...
...will present, on its five-story National Geographic Theater screen...
...with the blessings of the Hearst family.
You read that correctly. Festival organizers got the idea of showing the Orson Welles classic at the theater, and great-grandson Steve Hearst gave his approval. In fact, he says he's seen "Kane" several times, calling it "a classic, entertaining American film. ... I obviously don't believe it to be an accurate depiction of W.R. or his love for the property" in San Simeon, or "his lifestyle, associations and demeanor." In other words, the sunny San Simeon on the central coast of California was in no way the gloomy, fictional Xanadu of Florida. (It's also interesting to note that the Visitor Center has for years sold W.A. Swanberg's scathing biography, "Citizen Hearst," which itself is now half a century old.)
The younger Hearst, a vice president of the corporation bearing the family name, said "(the movie) bothered W.R. in a large way. ... He realized people would be making a judgment about him based on the film."
William Randolph Hearst was fully aware of the power of film, having been in the business himself for many years with newsreels, animation (often of Hearst comic-strip properties) and feature films, many (but far from all) of which were vehicles for Marion Davies, his longtime paramour -- and someone he certainly would have married had his wife Millicent, who cherished her social status and being mother to his sons, ever granted a divorce.
As has often been stated here and elsewhere, the Kane character developed by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz is a composite of several moguls in various industries; had he achieved his fictional fame in a field other than publishing, it's doubtful links to Hearst would be made. But they were, and while Hearst had been attacked for decades for sundry reasons -- first mostly from the right, later mostly from the left -- his knowledge that this time Davies, who had been retired from acting for several years in 1941, would be the main victim in guilt by association particularly enraged him.
Upon hearing that the Hearst family was allowing "Kane" to be shown on the property, one person commented that W.R. "must be rolling over in his grave." Truth be told, his namesake company little resembles the one he owned at the time of his death nearly 60 1/2 years ago.
Newspapers, Hearst's longtime stock in trade, are now relatively few and far between; the biggest by far is the San Francisco Chronicle, longtime rival of Hearst's original newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, which was sold several years ago, and the Houston Chronicle. These days, Hearst is better known for magazines, including Esquire, Cosmopolitan (a far different publication than it was in Hearst's day) and O, The Oprah Magazine, and broadcasting (including the A&E cable network and a minority share in ESPN).
If anything would have made Hearst roll over in his grave, it was how Davies was effectively shut out of the company power structure immediately after his death, particularly considering that had it not been for her loan of $1 million in 1937 to rescue his tottering empire, there might not be a Hearst Corporation today.
To learn more about the "Kane" screening, part of a night called "Hollywood To Hearst Castle" that will feature guest Harrison Ford (did Marion ever make a movie with his silent-era namesake?) and Hollywood photographer Timothy White, go to http://slofilmfest.org/2012/01/16/hollywood-to-hearst-castle. It promises to be plenty of fun, something Hearst and guests always enjoyed. Witness this photo from the Castle in 1926:
Who's here? Most of the elite in the film industry in 1926:
Back row, left to right, partially obscured: King Vidor, Beatrice Lillie, Richard Barthelmess, Eleanor Boardman.
Middle row: Frank Orsatti, E.B. Hatrick, Edmund Goulding, Mrs. Talmadge, Greta Garbo, Nicholas Schenck, unidentified, Harry Rapf, Aileen Pringle, J. Robert Rubin, Norma Shearer.
Front row: Hal Roach, Natalie Talmadge, Eddie Mannix, Constance Talmadge, Buster Keaton, Paul Bern, Irving Thalberg.
Foreground, reclining: John Gilbert.