The Many Lives of William Randolph Hearst

The Many Lives of William Randolph Hearst

Publishing giant Hearst celebrates its 125th anniversary today. The founder of this American institution, William Randolph Hearst, was a provocative and storied mogul-patriarch. Dozens of books have been written about this larger-than-life figure—these three show the various sides of the man, including a few secrets he managed to keep hidden during his very public life.

The Business Mogul
Hearst started his career in the family business, taking over the San Francisco Examiner, a paper his father, George Hearst, had purchased. After commissioning stories by successful writers like Mark Twain and Jack London, Hearst dominated the San Francisco news market, and took the newspaper business by storm. In “The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst” author Kenneth Whyte paints a portrait of a man who built a media empire (including radio, newswires, and a film company) off of aggressive business practices and controversial exposés.

The Lover
Hearst married Millicent Veronica Wilson in 1903, the same year he began his term serving in the House of Representatives for New York’s 11th District. The couple had five sons, but the marriage was less than ideal. Hearst also carried on a very public relationship with actress Marion Davies, who he lived with starting in 1919. Davies, who lived with Hearst until his death, shared the intimate details of their life together in “The Times We Had.” Davies was known for acting as hostess at many lavish parties at the Hearst Castle. The relationship took a turn when Hearst’s company hit a bumpy financial period, and Davies wrote her beau a million-dollar check to bail him out. A fascinating figure in her own right, Davies was rumored to have an affair with Charlie Chaplin, both of whom were present when movie mogul Thomas Ince was killed on Hearst’s yacht in 1924.

The Movie Muse
Did Orson Welles really base “Citizen Kane” on Hearst’s life? David Nasaw’s “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst,” which draws on private business papers and interviews to reconstruct the life of the man who has many parallels to the Charles Foster Kane character. Both are newspaper magnates, both loved their mistresses more than their first wives and both ran for Governor of New York. Nasaw ultimately deems the real man the more interesting character.

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