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"Citizen Kane"

A 1999 postage stamp commemorating the movie "Citizen Kane"

Hedda Hopper, a Hollywood gossip columnist of the Los Angeles Times, watched the dailies of the 1941 film “Citizen Kane.” She had some concerns about the content of the film being about newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

After the gossip columnist alerted the Hearst organization, Louella Parsons, Hopper’s rival for The Los Angeles Examiner, viewed the dailies for “Citizen Kane.” She was outraged by its storyline and thought the movie was about her boss. The rise and fall of fictional newspaper proprietor Charles Foster Kane resembled Hearst in every way possible.

Marion Davies, Hearst’s real-life mistress, had strong similarities to Kane’s fictional mistress and second wife, Susan Alexander. In the RKO Pictures movie, Kane bought his second wife’s opera career. Many critics accused Hearst of doing the same thing with his mistress’s film career. However, Marion Davies was an accomplished silent film actress in the movie industry in 1916, well before she set eyes on Hearst in 1918.

In 1937, Davies quit the film industry, because she wasn’t taken seriously as an actress due to her association with Hearst. She was also a very wealthy woman. Her silent film career had successfully crossed over into talkies by the Great Depression era, where other silent film actors and actresses couldn’t do so.

However, unlike the film, Hearst’s existent wife wouldn’t grant him a divorce. And the last similarities came with Kane’s mansion named Xanadu, which resembled Hearst’s Castle in San Simeon, California.

Hearst Castle is a Spanish Renaissance building with 150 rooms. It has a cathedral-like facade, and two bell towers. Lavish interior decorations were obtained from palaces and European churches. Also, the estate had subsidiary buildings, Mediterranean gardens, statuary, pools, fountains, a pergola, and priceless art treasures that were collected from all over the world.

Hearst was angered that Hopper, an outside source, discovered the contents of the film and not someone from his organization. He made several unsuccessful attempts to stop the distribution of the film.

In his newspapers, the “Citizen Kane” film’s listings at what movie house and show times weren’t advertised to the general public. With the movie theaters owned by the Hearst organization, the picture wasn’t shown at those locations. Louella Parsons bashed the film in her gossip column that appeared in 400 newspapers.

Richard Berlin, an ambitious head of Hearst’s magazine division, had the filmmaker and star, Orson Welles, investigated. He wrote back to his boss in a business letter, “Welles is acting as a front for the Communist Party.”

There was no truth to this accusation on Welles’ patriotic character. William Randolph Hearst was the King of Yellow Journalism. In the early 1920s, he had destroyed screen comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s career. Hearst’s newspapers reported that the portly comedian raped actress Virginia Rappe at a party inside San Francisco hotel on Sept. 5, 1921, causing her to die a few days later of a ruptured bladder.

Arbuckle’s movie, “Crazy to Marry,” was quickly pulled out of the theaters. Moralists boycotted movie theaters all across the country. Before the public eye, Arbuckle was already considered guilty of the crime. He had been arrested and was out on bail.

After three exhausting trials, Arbuckle was found not guilty by the jury for causing Virginia Rappe’s death. It was determined by medical evidence that woman’s bladder was ruptured by her excess amount of drinking alcohol over the years, and a possible illegal abortion. They actually shook his hand and apologized for putting him through such a terrible ordeal.

But he was never able to work in the movie business again because the scandal linked to his own name. However, he did work as a director under the new name William B. Goodrich until his death on June 29, 1933.

On the night of the release of “Citizen Kane,” Welles was warned by a police detective not to return to his hotel suite. He was told that there was a 14-year-old girl and a couple of newspaper photographers waiting for him in the closet. In a later interview, Welles admitted that he believed the failed attempt to cause a scandal involving an underage girl was the work of one of Hearst’s “hatchet men” to impress his boss.

President Donald Trump may have coined the phrase, “Fake News.” Nevertheless, Hearst made his living inventing false news in his newspapers and destroying very powerful people’s lives with it. If the Oscar-winning movie, “Citizen Kane” was about the newspaper publisher, you may want to say it was poetic justice.

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Carl G. White lives in Napa.

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