Lady Gaga is gone from the hallowed halls of Hearst Castle and so, too, is the State Parks employee who helped facilitate the pop star’s recent video shoot at the Castle. Nick Franco, district superintendent of the coastal area that includes the famed Castle, was placed on administrative leave shortly after Gaga’s video project wrapped up. State Parks won’t confirm that Franco’s discipline was related to the Gaga shoot, and it’s possible — maybe — that it’s for reasons unrelated to the project. But the timing and the lack of transparency invite speculation.
We do know that Gaga’s request to film at the Castle’s iconic Neptune Pool raised some ripples, since a decision had recently been made to drain the leaky pool and that process was already underway.
When Gaga wanted the pool refilled, State Parks administrators reportedly balked over the message that would send during a drought. Then, in stepped Stephen Hearst, vice president and general manager of the Hearst Corp. western properties. Water to refill the pool could come from a Hearst Ranch reservoir, he said, and when the shoot was done, it would go on to water landscaping at the Castle.
On top of that, Gaga agreed to pay almost $300,000 in donations to the Castle — some of which would go to repair of the leaky pool — and to film a water conservation video.
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The filming proceeded Feb. 11-13, by all accounts successfully, with no shattered antique vases. It was a shock, then, to learn that Franco — a popular district superintendent who’s helped raise the profile of the Castle — had been suspended.
Perhaps State Parks headquarters in Sacramento got its nose out of joint because the Governor’s Office applauded a move that had not been formally approved through the chain of command, even releasing a laudatory thank you note from Gov. Jerry Brown to Gaga.
Perhaps State Parks has thrown Franco under the bus, making him a fall guy for any critics of the idea that the state would allow the leaky swimming pool to be filled in a drought. But any such critics don’t have the whole story, and State Parks isn’t telling it.
People have many views about W.R. Hearst. He was a complex man. But on one thing, all can agree: He thought big. He knew how to publicize, using every facet of his media empire, from newspapers to magazines to movie studios to radio stations, to promote what he wanted promoted. Gaga, too, is a master promoter, and showcasing Hearst Castle in a music video is priceless publicity that’s sure to boost attendance.
We believe Hearst would have wholly approved her use of his beloved home, and Franco’s role in making it possible.