Cambrian: Arts & Events

Hearst Castle to show 'Citizen Kane' as part of film festival

Orson Welles appears in a publicity photo for 'Citizen Kane,' which he co-wrote and directed.
Orson Welles appears in a publicity photo for 'Citizen Kane,' which he co-wrote and directed.

A countywide film fest will do on Friday, March 13, what would have been unthinkable a few years ago: Screen the legendary 1941 “Citizen Kane” film in the private theater of William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop San Simeon estate. 

Hearst’s movie showings in the 1930s and ’40s never included “Citizen Kane,” as far as anybody — including Hearst’s family members — knows. In fact, they believe the newspaper-and-movie mogul never watched the film he had tried so hard to block. After all, many say the film was a scathing indictment of Hearst’s life as a wealthy, powerful media magnate.  

The event

The 50 A-list guests who can pay the $1,000 price of admission to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival event at the Castle will take a private tour of the estate, enjoy a hilltop reception and then watch the somewhat notorious but much-lauded 74-year-old movie co-written by director Orson Welles and 

Herman Mankiewicz (they shared a best-original-screenplay Oscar, the only one given to the film; Hearst reportedly campaigned against awarding any Oscars to “Citizen Kane.”). 

In the movie, reporters try to decipher and interpret the last word ever spoken by reclusive, brooding millionaire newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane: “Rosebud.”

Festival Director Wendy Eidson said she expects “a range of people from all over the country” to attend the screening, including two Oscar-nominated directors. She said the cachet of a “Citizen Kane” showing at the Castle helps attract big-name film folks to the festival, and “using a carrot like that helps elevate our festival for the future.”

Ben Mankiewicz, grandson of the screenplay co-author, will introduce the movie. Funds raised by the pricey event will support the festival and Castle preservation.

As of press deadline, the showing wasn’t sold out, “but it’s getting close,” Brooke Gutierrez, acting district superintendent of the State Park district that includes the Castle, said Jan. 26.

Why now?

But why show “Citizen Kane” at Hearst’s personal theater, and why now, after so many years?

According to Steven Hearst, one of W.R. Hearst’s great-grandsons and a Hearst Corp. vice president, why not?

In 2012, he allowed the festival to show the film at the Castle’s visitor center theater, about two miles from the hilltop estate. In 2013, he offered his great-grandfather’s private theater for the festival screening of the “Citizen Hearst” documentary.  

(While Hearst Castle has been state property since it was donated in 1951, according to terms of a deed restriction, Hearst Corp. and the family must approve special events and uses on the hilltop.)

Steven Hearst said recently that “the justification for those showings then was to benefit Friends of Hearst Castle, which helps to maintain the estate.” 

Why hadn’t that been done before? 

“No one ever asked before,” he said then.

Now, Hearst said, the same rationale applies to allowing “Citizen Kane” to be shown this year in his great-grandfather’s own theater.

What would W.R. Hearst think about all this?

While Stephen Hearst acknowledges he doesn’t know for sure, he said, “My sense is, W.R. was a big boy. He had thick skin. He was an infamous and famous American, and lots of people didn’t like him. He dealt with that daily.”

Hearst said that, when “Citizen Kane” was released, “W.R. did make efforts to buy and shelve it. But I don’t know that he lost a tremendous amount of sleep over it. The people who mattered to him knew it wasn’t an accurate depiction of him or the Castle, which is a lively, bright, palm-tree-surrounded, lovely estate. Nothing like the gloomy, wet, Medieval place in the movie,” the mountaintop Xanadu.

Fast forward to the here and now. As State Parks’ Gutierrez said of the “Citizen Kane” showing, “It’s a unique opportunity. The people who are attending can watch the film and compare the reality of Hearst Castle with the fiction about Hearst Castle while at Hearst Castle.”

Hearst said that, 74 years after the Hearst-Welles dust-up about “Citizen Kane,” “there’s no reason to not show it there to make money to maintain the assets. It’s a great movie that won all kinds of awards, and it’s an enjoyable movie. It’s not an accurate depiction of W.R. or the estate, but so what? Enjoy the flick.”

And as for comments that W.R. may be spinning in his grave over the screening at his own fairytale castle, his great-grandson chuckled (and repeated what he’d told several reporters in 2013). 

“If he is, I’m also in charge of the mausoleum, so I can go check.”

If you go

  • What: Event includes VIP tour, reception, private screening in Hearst Castle theatre and a Movie Mogul pass ($285 value) for the 2015 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.
  • When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 13
  • Where: Hearst Castle, San Simeon
  • Tickets: $1,000, available online at