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The story behind Hearst Castle and 'Citizen Kane'

Sergeant Pepper-like cutouts of William Randolph Hearst greet visitors at the entrance to the new (in 1988) exhibit at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center.
Sergeant Pepper-like cutouts of William Randolph Hearst greet visitors at the entrance to the new (in 1988) exhibit at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center.

Masterful and compelling cinema, yes, but “Citizen Kane” is not a documentary.

William Randolph Hearst disliked the fictional story of Charles Foster Kane so much that one of the most celebrated movies of Hearst’s era was banned from the movie theater at Hearst Castle during his life and for an additional seven decades after his death.

Hearst loved theater and movies but watching Kane would be tough sledding, knowing the caricature was partly inspired by his life.

The movie is the story of a newspaper tycoon who amasses fame, fortune and bitterness.

But the mogul can’t buy love, political power or happiness. It is a classic story arc, gratifying to those of us who don’t own castles.

The “Can’t Buy Me Love” theme is timeless, but the Beatles song isn’t a Hearst biography either.

Though there are common points in the Hearst biography and film script, an accurate biopic for example would recreate W.R. Hearst’s tiny voice.

Actor/writer/director Orson Welles had a booming bass voice and had no interest in gumming up a good story with facts.

Some would say this was a shared trait between Hearst, a father of yellow journalism, and Welles, who terrified American radio listeners with a radio play, which sounded like a newscast, about an alien invasion.

“Citizen Kane” was released 10 years before William Randolph Hearst’s death in 1951 despite Hearst’s efforts to block the production.

More than 70 years after "Kane" was released, it will be shown Friday, March 13, 2015, at Hearst's private theater for the first time as a joint fundraiser for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and Friends of Hearst Castle.

Tribune reporter Kathe Tanner quoted a visitor to Hearst Castle in a Dec. 3, 2000, article.

Kate Suyadam had recently read a book that painted a more complete picture, “Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House,” by Victoria Kastner.

Said Suyadam: “I guess Hearst was not the monster I’d always been led to believe,” she said. “Yes, he was a hugely wealthy and powerful man who loved collecting. And yes, he bought on a scale and scope not done before or since. But Hearst didn’t do his buying under the direction of a decorator or with an eye to having a museum. He acquired things for the same reasons I buy or you buy — he got them because he loved them…He was not the villain of ‘Citizen Kane...”

To call Hearst a collector is like calling the Pacific Ocean a puddle.

Antique dealers sent catalogs of inventory to the tycoon, and at one point he was said to be buying half the inventory on the market.

Buying things like castle ceilings and Cardinal Richelieu’s bed.

He built his San Simeon castle from scratch but he had other residences to furnish scattered across the world all the way to St. Donat’s in Wales. Hearst bought the 1300’s era British Isles castle in 1925 and poured a fortune into that fixer upper.

The newspaper mogul was the first to build a multimedia empire, owning magazines, newspapers, radio stations, wire services and a movie studio.

An April 30, 1988 Telegram-Tribune article by Jim Moore quotes Hearst Castle interpretive Specialist Sally Scott.

Said Scott, “Hearst made many, many, many movies and was the father of the news reel.”

One of his early projects was a film of the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. The Internet Movie Database lists Hearst with 444 producer credits for short films, mostly newsreels.

His studio, Cosmopolitan Pictures, lists 87 feature films. He also owned the magazine of the same name.

Perhaps the largest insult in Kane is the portrait of Xanadu.

The movie paints a picture reminiscent of a cold and ominous Dracula’s Castle, not an inviting Mediterranean village nicknamed La Cuesta Encantada, or the Enchanted Hill.

Ah, but a warm Mediterranean paradise ruins the storyline.

There are no Friends of Xanadu.

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