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Citizen Kane An Accurate Portrayal Of William

Citizen Kane: An Accurate Portrayal Of William Randolph Hearst? Essay, Research Paper Many have called Citizen Kane the greatest cinematic achievement of all

Citizen Kane: An Accurate Portrayal Of William Randolph Hearst? Essay, Research Paper

Many have called Citizen Kane the greatest cinematic achievement of all

time. It is indeed a true masterpiece of acting, screen writing, and

directing. Orson Welles, its young genius director, lead actor, and a

co-writer, used the best talents and techniques of the day (Bordwell 103)

to tell the story of a newspaper giant, Charles Kane, through the eyes of

the people who loved and hated him. However, when it came out, it was

scorned by Hollywood and viewed only in the private theaters of RKO, the

producer. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, it was practically booed off

the stage, and only won one award, that for Best Screenplay, which Welles

and Herman Mankiewicz shared (Mulvey 10). This was all due to the pressure

applied by the greatest newspaper man of the time, one of the most powerful

men in the nation, the man Citizen Kane portrayed as a corrupt power

monger, namely William Randolph Hearst.

One cannot ignore the striking similarities between Hearst and Kane. In

order to make clear at the outset exactly what he intended to do, Orson

Welles included a few details about the young Kane that, given even a

rudimentary knowledge of Hearst’s life, would have set one thinking about

the life of that newspaper giant. Shortly after the film opens, a reporter

is seen trying to discover the meaning of Kane’s last word, “Rosebud.” He

begins his search by going through the records of Kane’s boyhood guardian,

Thatcher. The scene comes to life in midwinter at the Kane boarding house.

Kane’s mother has come into one of the richest gold mines in the world

through a defaulting boarder, and at age twenty-five, Kane will inherit his

sixty million dollars (Citizen Kane). His mother is doubtful of the

quality of the education her son will receive in Colorado, and therefore

wishes to send her son to study with Thatcher. Hearst’s parents came by

their money through gold mines (Swanberg 5), so both Hearst and Kane were

raised with “golden” spoons in their respective mouths. Kane is unusually

devoted to his mother, as shown when he turns away from his father to

listen to his mother, and when he only pays heed to his mother’s answers to

his questions (Citizen Kane). Hearst likewise was completely devoted to

his mother. He was sheltered from the real world by his mother and her

money for most of his young life, rarely even seeing his traveling father

(Swanberg 25). Also, Kane’s dying word and the name of his childhood sled,

“Rosebud,” (Citizen Kane) was the name of a town twenty miles east of where

Hearst’s parents were born and grew up (Robinson 13). Everything from the

newsreel at the start of the film on Kane’s life matches Hearst’s almost

perfectly. Kane ran over thirty newspapers, radios, and syndicates, had a

well publicized romantic affair, tried in vain to be elected to public

office, was totally and completely careless with his money, (always

expecting there would be much more coming), and built himself a pleasure

palace called Xanadu, which included a gigantic collection of statues and

animals (Citizen Kane). Hearst also did all these things over the course

of his life, which further served to convince movie viewers of Welles’

libelous intentions in the making of the movie. (Swanberg).

After the opening newsreel on Hearst’s life, the movie goes through the

boyhood scene where Thatcher takes Kane away from his parents. It then

quickly shifts to a point twenty years later, when Kane is about to inherit

the sixth largest private fortune in the world. Thatcher is concerned that

Kane won’t know his place in the world, and his fears are affirmed when

Kane sends a telegram saying that he has no interest in gold mines or

banks, but, rather, he would like to take over a small newspaper of which

Thatcher has taken possession, the Morning Inquirer, because, “I think it

would be fun to write a newspaper.” (Citizen Kane) The circumstances under

which Hearst entered the newspaper world were very similar. Hearst’s

father, a nearly illiterate mining tycoon, owned a newspaper in San

Francisco, The Examiner, which he used as nothing more than a political

organ to further his candidacy for a seat in Congress (Swanberg 26).

Against his father’s wishes for him to enter the world of mining, young

Hearst took control of the paper to try to reverse his father’s enormous

losses on it (Swanberg 47).

Both Hearst and Kane immediately began to revolutionize everything

about their respective papers. Kane literally moved in to the office so

that he might be constantly around his paper, constantly able to redo it at

any hour, night or day. He makes it quite clear that, from now on, The

Examiner was going to do more than just report what the current editor

considered “newsworthy.” It was going to report all news, large or small,

especially if it could be made into a sensation and sell newspapers. And

if there was no current sensation, Kane would create the news. Hearst did

the same thing, revolutionizing his paper to take on “undignified topics”

to gain circulation, sporting shocking headlines and stories of “crime and

underwear.” In a classic example of similarity, Kane nearly quoted Hearst

exactly: “You supply the prose and poems, I’ll supply the war,” (Orson

Wells, Citizen Kane) as Kane discussed what to telegram back to a man in

Cuba. Hearst was very much anti-Spanish dur ing the Cuban revolution, and

if not for his efforts, it is probable that the war would not have even

been fought. But Hearst, who would do anything for a headline, cooked up

incredibly falsified tales of Spanish brutality. As stories of Cuban

injustice became old news to the public, especially as there was no real

war, a reporter telegraphed Hearst that he would like to leave. Hearst

replied, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”

(Swanberg 127) Such an obvious similarity can only have been deliberate,

as Kane practically quoted Hearst.

In the movie, Thatcher was furious with Kane’s success in attacking

trusts in defense of “the people” and providing false headlines such as

those about the Spanish Armada being anchored off of the Jersey coast, a

headline printed with virtually no proof to substantiate it. Kane even used

his paper to attack a company of which he himself, along with Thatcher, was

the major shareholder. As Thatcher prepared to leave after his discussion

with Kane on what new is, he mentioned to Kane his enormous losses, which

totaled one million dollars for the year, a staggering sum to have been

lost by one person, especially at that time. Kane,. however, laughed it

off, joking that, at that rate, he’ll have to close down in sixty years

(Citizen Kane). All these things were characteristic of Hearst as well.

He attacked the trusts in favor of “the people” (a favorite phrase of

Hearst’s) and hired lawyers to try to get injunctions against the trusts

and eventually destroy them. He supported the eight hour workday and the

labor unions (Swanberg 235). He made up headlines preying on people’s fear

and hatred of Spain and Japan which, not coincidentally, he had aroused by

previous articles in The Examiner and other publications of his about

Spanish atrocities in Cuba and the “yellow menace” of Japan (Swanberg 122,

352) Hearst threw money away as though to him it literally grew on trees.

A man with an income of fifteen million dollars a year at the height of his

power, he had almost no savings and sometimes had to borrow money (Swanberg

88).

Right after taking over The Inquirer, as told now by Bernstein, Kane

ordered the editor to play up less “important” stories for the paper, the

kinds of things that the nation wanted to see and read about, not just

boring, plain “news.” He became very involved in the editorial content of

his paper, constantly trying to make it better that the rest, staying up

late, thinking of headlines and ideas for scoops. Kane went to the office

of The Chronicle, his main competition, to admire the best newspaper staff

in the world and its gigantic circulation, and soon after he bribed those

same men with large sums of cash to move from The Chronicle to his

newspaper, achieving in six years what it took The Chronicle twenty years

to accomplish. He married the president’s niece, Emily. (Citizen Kane)

These were very Hearst-like maneuvers in many ways. First, as stated

before, Hearst loved to embellish and exaggerate the news to get

circulation. Second, Hearst was constantly stealing talented newspapermen

from other newspapers, a practice which annoyed such men as Joseph Pulitzer

to no end. (Pulitzer’s World was Hearst’s favorite publication) (Swanberg

95). Hearst paid any salary he had to without a care, for he had millions

his disposal, since his father was still funding the enterprise. Hearst

married young Millicent Willson, a parallel to Kane’s Emily (Swanberg 246)

Bernstein’s narration ended with a telegram from Kane announcing his

purchase of the largest diamond in the world. Bernstein commented to

Leland, Kane’s best friend, that Kane was not collecting diamonds, but

collecting someone else who was collecting diamonds (Citizen Kane). This is

an early hint at Kane’s belief that one could buy love like anything else,

which is one of Welles’ main criticisms of Hearst, and is shown as Kane’s

fatal flaw. It is certainly one of the main reasons Welles made the movie

about Hearst in the first place.

The next scene opens with Leland, one of Kane’s only friends. Leland

continued Bernstein’s stories of Kane’s belief in the ability to purchase

love, and hinted at the one overwhelming thing about him, the absolute

enigma he posed to even his closest friends. Leland explained how no one

could understand Kane because of the contradictions in his beliefs and

life. He said that, “Maybe Charlie wasn’t brutal, he just did brutal

things,” (Citizen Kane) explaining how Kane, while a firm believer in the

government and law, couldn’t see how it applied to him. Hearst, who was an

incredible egomaniac, shared the same beliefs. He was in constant conflict

with himself. For instance, he supported the coal strikers while being

backed by Tammany Hall, the very head of the Democratic party machine with

close ties to big business (Swanberg 238-245). This trait is the one which

Kane played out to full effect in his movie. Once the audience was sure

that they were seeing Hearst up there, Welle s could explain the problems

of a man like Hearst, a man who had to have his own way. His want at the

moment was the largest paper in New York, but that would soon change.

Leland told of Kane’s arguments with his wife, which climaxed with

Kane’s ultimate statement of his belief in his own omnipotence. When Kane’s

wife begins, “People will think,” he completes the sentence for her with,

“What I tell them to think!” (Citizen Kane) Everything about Hearst’s

manner of speaking and his beliefs pointed to that fact that he was an

egomaniac as well, a firm believer in his own power.

The one thing Kane wanted in his life, Leland explained, was love, but

it was the one thing he never found. He wanted the people to love him just

as his newspaper staff did, and he went about making sure that it occurred

by entering the world of politics. Right before his campaign for governor,

Kane met a pretty, young opera singer named Susan Alexander and entered

into a relationship with her. Then he made his incredible bid for

governorship on an independent ticket, an office which, for him, would have

been the easy first step to the White House (Citizen Kane). Once again,

the detailed similarities to Hearst’s life were astounding. Hearst sought

public office after his dominance over the newspaper world was assured.

The key office he sought, and which was denied to him by attacks by

Theodore Roosevelt, was the governorship of New York on an independent

ticket. Both of the men used dirty and abusive campaigning methods,

portraying their opponents as jailbirds in their publ ications. Had Hearst

been elected, he would most likely have become president soon after. Here,

however, both in the movie and in Hearst’s life, the family obsession about

the newspapers began to dissolve. Kane left the running of his newspapers

to other men, not taking as much of an interest in them anymore. Hearst did

likewise, ending his earlier practices of obtaining good men at any cost.

A man had to work to keep his job, and it could be snatched away at any

moment by “The Chief” (Swanberg 263). Hearst also met a beautiful young

actress, Marion Davies, and took her as his mistress (Swanberg 402). At

this point, however, the two tales differ.

Kane was defeated in the election when his affair with Ms. Susan

Alexander was exposed by his opponent, Jim Gettys, who basically ordered

Kane and Emily to come to see Ms. Alexander. Again Kane’s towering

egocentricity showed through when he completely disregarded everyone else’s

wishes and declared that only he decided what C.F. Kane did. As Gettys

left, Kane flew into a rage and screamed, “I’m Charles Foster Kane, and I’m

going to send you to Sing Sing, Gettys, Sing Sing!” The next day, the

papers were filled with the story, and Kane lost the election. (Citizen

Kane) Hearst, on the other hand, was defeated by the president himself and

people using his own newspapers against him, but it served Welles’ purpose

better to have Kane defeated by his own greed.

Kane went on to divorce Emily and marry Susan. Having failed in his

own right, he heaped his ambition on Susan. This was most clearly seen

with his statement, “We’re (italics added) going to be a great opera star.”

(Citizen Kane)

The movie then shifted easily to Susan Alexander’s portrayal of Kane as

her own personal ambition factory. Whatever she was lacking, he supplied

it for her and threw his papers heart and soul into backing her, even

though she was a terrible opera singer. Hearst did the same for Davies,

each movie of hers a greater triumph than the last, according to his

reviewers. Although Marion Davies, unlike Susan, was a genuinely talented

individual, there were enough similarities between the two women. Both

women loved jigsaw puzzles (Reflections on Citizen Kane), both were

singers, both were well publicized affairs. However Kane married Susan,

while Hearst never divorced his wife. Both men pushed and pushed and

pushed their mistresses to the breaking point and ran their mistress’s

lives (Swanberg 585), at which point Susan attempted suicide and Kane found

her lying in bed unconscious. Davies never went to such lengths, but found

the pressure somewhat hampering. When Susan awoke, Kane was so grateful,

he let her have her way; she would not sing again even though it meant the

end of Kane’s hopes for greatness. Kane began to build Xanadu for them, a

gigantic castle with a gigantic collection of animals from all over the

world (Citizen Kane). Hearst built San Simeon for Davies, to whom he was

truly devoted (Swanberg 447), unlike Kane and Susan. The latter couple

eventually divorced after Susan’s speech in which she says that Kane had

never giver anything to her, he had just tried to buy her into giving him

something.

Finally, with the point of view of Kane’s butler come two more

similarities. Kane flew into violent rages when he didn’t get something he

wanted, as when Susan left him and he said that fateful word for the first

time, “Rosebud.” Kane was also a collector of everything, he threw nothing

out, and was always buying something. (Citizen Kane) Hearst had the same

bizarre practice. He would destroy thousands of dollars worth of antiques

in a fit of anger and then spend one hundred thousand dollars on a passing

whim. He never, however, threw anything out (Swanberg 585).

The movie closed on the scene of the resolution of the Rosebud puzzle.

Among all the junk Kane had collected, lay a tiny wooden sled, the one from

the day when Thatcher took him away from his mother, which was hauled off

and thrown into the fire. Upon closer examination, the word “Rosebud” can

be made out as it is slowly incinerated.

Having taken into account the evidence presented above, it was clear

that Orson Welles had based his movie around the life of William Randolph

Hearst, a fact which upset Hearst to no end. In fact, a representative of

the Hearst Organization offered eight hundred and forty two thousand

dollars to RKO, the film’s producer, if they would burn it. This plot

having failed, RKO was blacklisted by the gigantic Hearst press and had to

show the movie in private theaters. And yet, Welles still claimed that his

movie had no intention of being biographical. He said, It is not based

upon the life of Mr. Hearst or anyone else. On the other hand, had Mr.

Hearst and similar financial barons not lived during the period we discuss,

Citizen Kane could not have been made.” (Zinmen 238)

In his life, Hearst ran many newspapers, as of course, did Kane. When

he was still beginning, he owned four, and at the time he committed all of

them to warring with Spain, as mentioned above. This singular, small event

was the turning point in the life of a brilliant man and indeed the turning

point of a nation. He had almost single handedly, using his power of the

press, sent one of the most powerful nations in the world to war. The

people of the United States had been manipulated wonderfully by the press

to believe that Spain was such a menace that they must rally for war, even

though it was all an invention by Hearst and his constituents to promote

the newspaper’s circulation. If the press could do that, he believed it

could do anything, even send a Mr. Hearst to the White House who had not

the slightest experience as a political leader. And it very nearly did

(Swanberg 245).

When he realized that his newspapers were a source of infinite power,

that he could manipulate the people to get what he wanted, Hearst changed.

His goals changed. His fight went from one for larger circulation to one

for personal power, as much as he could get. He stopped being physically

involved in his papers, as mentioned before, instead directing from his

throne at San Simeon. He entered the political arena, where the ultimate

prize lay, the ultimate investment of power in a single individual, the

presidency. And yet again and again, by the voters or the corrupt bosses

at Tammany Hall or by his many political enemies, he was defeated. His,

like the story of Kane, was a story of constant personal failure due, as

often as not. to his own faults

However, things for Hearst were not always as bad as they were for

Kane. Hearst did actually win public office once. He became a state

representative of New York. This he accomplished with the backing of the

Tammany Hall bosses and a Democratic constituency in the district. Beyond

that he hurled his newspapers and money into the effort, earning a colossal

victory over his opponent. However, Hearst was not content to be a

Representative. He wanted to be president, had wanted to be president ever

since he realized that he had a chance. He had wanted to be the biggest

newspaper publisher in America, and he was. He had wanted Ms. Davies, and

he had her and was devoted to her and spent millions for her entertainment.

Everything which he had wanted he had received, in any way that he could

think of at the moment.

Orson Welles’ criticism of Hearst was the way in which he went about

getting what he wanted, using his immense power over the people of the

country simply to gain personal power. This is the overarching theme,

portrayed so powerfully, in Citizen Kane. When Welles disclaimed any

biographical intent, he did not pretend he was not depicting the forces

that governed Hearst’s life. His newspapers changed drastically, and men

spoke to him with reverence and fear, for his darker side had come to

light. He enjoyed being king over his empire, watching his subjects squirm.

With the building of his palace at San Simeon he only made concrete what

many had known for a long time: William Randolph Hearst sat on a throne as

the king of an empire which controlled the country’s information.

As brought out explicitly by the movie, Hearst wanted love, but not

just the love of a few, the love of all. He needed whatever he wanted, and

he wanted the people’s love. While Hearst was not the loveless monster

Kane is portrayed as, he had many faults, the main one being that he often

seemed to believe he could buy love. Welles attacked this belief heart and

soul, claw and tooth in such scenes as when Leland returns the check with

which Kane had hoped to preserve their friendship, now torn into shreds.

Kane simply cannot fathom why he returned it, because he doesn’t realize

that there is more to loving that gifts. (Cowie 37)

Hearst gave lavish parties and demonstrations to try to win people over

to his side, and it often worked. He assailed his political opponents with

his newspapers, attacking them in whatever way he could, transforming the

newspapers from something he thought he loved into a tool with which he

could get things, a bat he could swing at his opponents, a way to quench

his thirst for money and power. Hearst was a man who discovered the power

he controlled and then proceeded to abuse it, a practice Welles found

intolerable.

All in all, Orson Welles directed, starred in, and helped to write

possibly the greatest film of all time, all to one purpose, to denounce

William Randolph Hearst and all men who were abusive of power and the

public trust. Why did he spend all this effort on this one man, an

apparent crusader for the people, for the working man? Simply, it was

because Hearst, for all his apparent love of the people, was only trying to

get love and power for himself by abusing the most potent weapon and shield

of his day, the free press. “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been

a really great man.” (Orson Welles, Citizen Kane)

Bibliography

Bordwell, David. “Citizen Kane,” Focus on Orson Welles. Prentice-Hall,1976.

Cowie, Peter. The Cinema of Orson Welles. De Capo Press, 1973.

Citizen Kane. dir. Orson Welles. With Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy

Comingore. RKO, 1941.

Mulvey, Laura. Citizen Kane. BFI, 1992.

Reflections on Citizen Kane. dir. Unknown. Turner Home Entertainment,1991.

Robinson, Judith. The Hearsts: an American Dynasty. Avon Books, 1991.

Swanberg, W.A. Citizen Hearst. Scribner, 1961. Bantam Matrix Edition, 1967.

Zinman, David. Fifty Classic Motion Pictures: The Stuff that Dreams are

Made Of. NY Crown Publishers, 1970. NY Limelight Editions, 1992.

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