Newspaper Mogul William Randolph Hearst Tried To Bring Down Citizen Kane, Claims New Book; Hearst Reportedly Used Extortion & Communism In Failed Bid To Stop The Making Of The Movie

Newspaper Mogul William Randolph Hearst Tried To Bring Down Citizen Kane, Claims New Book; Hearst Reportedly Used Extortion & Communism In Failed Bid To Stop The Making Of The Movie

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     The pen is mightier than the sword; but, sometimes the pen is defective.  A new book claims that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst deliberately tried to destroy Orson Welles and sabotage/discredit his movie — Citizen Kane.  The movie has long been understood to be based largely on Hearst’s life.  The 1941 movie portrays a young, idealistic, socially conscious Kane [Hearst], who became exceedingly wealthy,but ultimately succumbs to the temptations of power, lust, and ruthlessness.  Jennifer Newton, writing in the March 29, 2016 edition of London’s The Daily Mail Online says “it has long been known that [Mr.] Hearst banned any mention of the film in any of his newspapers — starving it of publicity,” thus preventing Welles from recouping costs of producing the movie, much less make a profit,  Ms. Newton adds that “other tactics, including extortion and media manipulation were also reportedly used by Hearst’s staff — to discredit the film — although Welles [said at the time] he did not believe Hearst was behind the attack on Welles and the film itself.”

    “However,” Ms. Newton writes, “according to new research by Harlan Lebo from California, for [in] his forthcoming book, “Citizen Kane:  A Filmmaker’s Journey,”  “Hearst himself, was behind the attacks on both Welles and the film.”  Mr. Lebo’s book is scheduled for publication on April 26, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press.

     Mr. Lebo told the British newspaper, The Guardian, that “it’s been typically assumed that Hearst probably didn’t know about it; and it was probably his lackeys trying to protect [or curry favor] [with their] the boss.  But, it’s clear he knew about it the entire time.”  Ms. Newton writes that Mr. Lebo’s book “details the scheme’s hatched to discredit Welles, including the time he was told not to return to his hotel room by a police investigator as there [was[ a 14 year-old girl and two photographers hiding in the closet.  The book also reveals that the Hearst organization planned to link Welles to Communism, as another way of undermining his personal credibility.”

     “And, with the attacks becoming thick and fast,” Ms. Newton adds, “the book cites a memo, sent by the lawyer-manager of Welles, Arnold Weissberger saying:  “This is not a tempest in a teapot, it will not calm down, the forces opposed to us are constantly at work.”

     But even Mr. Hearst, with all his power, and ability to influence and shape the message, the film has achieved everlasting life — having been named by the American Film Institute as the top movie of all time — besting the likes of Casablanca, The Godfather, Gone With The Wind, Lawrence Of Arabia, and The Wizard Of Qz.  At the time, the movie was nominated for nine academy awards; but, was widely booed by the Hollywood attendees — no doubt in large part to Hearst’s displeasure, power, and influence.  Citizen Kane lost eight of the nine categories it was nominated for — except for best screenplay, which Welles shared with Herman Mankiewicz.

    But, while the movie has achieved immortality, both Mr. Hearst and Mr. Welles suffered as a result of this titanic fight between a newspaper mogul and a rising, and exceedingly ambitious actor and director.  Their struggle is ‘the stuff; Hollywood became famous for.

     According to The American Experience website, “long before Orson Welles Citizen Kane was released, there was a buzz about the movie, and the “boy genius” who made it.  Welles had rocketed to fame in the aftermath of his War of the World’s radio program, and there was a buzz and excitement about what he would do next.  At a preview screening of Citizen Kane, the website notes, “nearly everyone present realized they had seen a work of brilliance — except Hedda Hooper, the leading gossip columnist of the time.  She hated the movie, calling it “vicious,” and an “irresponsible attack on a a great man.”

     Louis B. Mayer, “The Lion of Hollywood,” along with other movie executives attempted to buy the the rights to the movie, in an attempt to no doubt curry favor with Mr. Hearst, who’s newspapers were vital to the burgeoning film business.   As The American Experience notes, “Hearst,” and his minions, “were largely successful,” in undercutting the movie’s impact at the time.  And, “it wasn’t until nearly a quarter-century later,” before Welles, and Citizen Kane were recognized as having created a cinematic masterpiece.

     “Hearst and Welles were proud, gifted, and destructive-geniuses, each in his way,” said producer Thomas Lemon.  “The fight that ruined them both was thoroughly in character with how they’d lived their lives.”  Hearst biggest beef with the film, or certainly one of his biggest beef’s, was the way Marion Davies, a former showgirl and Hearst companion was portrayed in the movie.  It is said that the reference to Rosebud — at the end of the movie — refers to a private piece of anatomy on Marion Davie’s person that Hearst was enthralled with.  Hearst was said to be particularly annoyed with this reference.

     “Charles Foster Kane, the character modeled on Hearst, which Welles himself would play” actually was a window into the psyche of both men, according to many writers and other who have written on the Hearst/Welles feud.  “But, in the course of making the film, Welles’s huge ego, and youth, blinded him to the extent of Hearst’s power and reach: he tragically underestimated Hearst’d ability to counterattack,” The American Experience notes.

     In conclusion, The American Experience notes, “Citizen Kane was an American saga, about a giant who brings ruin to all, including himself.  As fate would have it, it is through this film, that both men are remembered today.  In telling the tale of these two flawed and fascinating men, The Battle over Citizen Kane also sheds light on the masterpiece over which they fought, the fiction that fuses them both, and the enduring film character of Charles Foster Kane.”

     It isn’t rated the greatest film of all-time for nothing.  I have seen it at least three times; and each time I see something I had not seen before.  It is complex, moving, engrossing, and lingers with you afterwards.  It is indeed….a masterpiece. V /R, RCP

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