Saturday, June 25, 2011

Behind the walls at Hearst Castle, and other scandals

By Steve Crum

San Simeon, Calif.--Life was sweet here, the best sweets money could buy. For more than 30 years, since its $10 million construction began in 1919, Hearst Castle aka La Cuesta Encanta (“The Enchanted Hill’) was William Randolph Hearst’s ornate valentine to his mistress and to himself. Especially to himself.

Today, state park guides boast to tourists that the late publisher-baron would be ecstatic knowing his awesome dream is shared with the masses., the Hearst name forever connected. A shrine to W.R., The Boss. Magnificent is the apropos adjective for this place.

Towering high, high over the San Simeon Bay of cavorting whales and seals, the castle is surrounded by 240,000 acres of rock-strewn hills and plains.

Remnants of Hearst excesses are visible far from the castle itself. Zebras, cattle and horses still roam--perhaps the ancestors of the original animal brood Hearst had flown to this area beginning in the 1920s.

In those days, Hearst even maintained a zoo of llamas, lions and bears, oh my. As part of the $21.60 per looker ticket, you even see the ruins of the bear cages. Amazing that they are still standing even this long after the man’s 1951 death.

At that time, his Enchanted Hill itself stopped production--unlike his publishing empire that kept on churning. For indeed The Boss had long range plans for building more guest houses, and extending the main house. And meticulously designing each room, each historically themed, antique-excessed room. But Hearst had said to stop construction until he got back from a brief trip. Then he died, never getting back.

Today is Tour No. 2 of four Hearst Castle tours, my second and last this vacation. This is a much more intimate tour than yesterday’s Tour 1 which guided 30 of us through the main house and dining areas as well as the two Roman-columned swimming pools. On this aridly hot morning, Mary greets the 12 of us: “You can ask me anything you want, and I will do my best to answer.”

By the time we snake through another dozen of the estate’s 115 rooms and file into Marion Davies’ bedroom, our host has enthusiastically answered several of my queries that focus on what I was really interested in: the Davies-Hearst scandal.

Mary said guides must have at least four sources to back up their facts, so accept the following as credible:

•Marion Davies, star of 51 movies between 1917-37, lived with Hearst for 30 years, until his death in 1951. Hearst remained married to his wife Millicent throughout this time. She rarely visited the castle unless Marion was not there, preferring to stay in her New York digs.
•Hearst had several children with Millicent, none with Marion. Or is that the final answer? During a trip to Europe with his sister, Davies claimed her sister gave birth to a baby girl. The girl, named Patricia Van Cleve, grew up to be tall with piercing eyes--resembling William Randolph Hearst. Coincidental? The story goes that years later Hearst confided to Patricia, admitting she was indeed his daughter, and that she should never tell anyone, including her husband, Arthur Lake.
•Arthur Lake made 75 movies, but is best tagged as Dagwood Bumstead in 30 Blondie movies produced by King Features Syndicate (owned by the Hearst Corp.)
•In 1999, moments before she died, Patricia admitted to reporters what she had promised never to reveal until she was on her deathbed, that she was indeed the daughter of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst. It was so stated in her obituary, which even ran in Hearst newspapers. (Her mom, Marion, died in 1961 of cancer.)
•Vignette: Marion Davies received a flower from Hearst every day for the 30 years. The romantic tycoon placed it on the floor outside her bedroom door. They had separate bedrooms.
•Of the many reasons Hearst hated Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, none was more vitriolic than the film’s Rosebud plot device. Kane, of course, is a thinly disguised Hearst. Xanadu is the name of publisher Kane’s castle, and there are numerous parallels. Rosebud is a beloved sled’s name in the movie, but it really meant something entirely different. Davies had made the mistake of telling her old drinking buddy, Herman J. Mankiewicz, the real meaning of Rosebud. When Mankiewicz and Welles later collaborated on Citizen Kane, the name was included, definitely signifying Welles’ contempt for Hearst and his empire.
•The true meaning of Rosebud? It was Hearst’s pet name for Marion Davies’ most intimate body part. Do the math.

Citizen Kane was a box office disaster when released in 1941. Hearst had banned all mention and advertising of the film in his newspapers and magazines. That zero-publicity included the top Hollywood gossip columnist and Hearst employee, Louella Parsons. She could help make or break any picture. MGM head Louis B. Mayer even tried to buy the film from Welles to burn the negative. Welles refused, withstood a major career blast, and lived to see his movie revered as the best ever made.

In 1985, grandson W.R. Hearst III said he personally enjoyed Citizen Kane, and that Orson Welles could visit Hearst Castle any time he wanted. Welles never took him up on it.
CRUMMY TRIVIA: Look for future movie star Alan Ladd as a reporter during the opening and closing scenes of Citizen Kane.
NOTE: This story was originally published in The Kansas City Kansan newspaper in 1998.
Let's take a tour of Hearst Castle via this featurette:

No comments:

Post a Comment