Citizen Kane is said to be one of the greatest movies of all-time, but it did not come without controversy. The controversy around this movie is based on the idea that Charles Foster Kane is the fictionalization of William Randolph Hearst, a narcissistic newspaper publisher, politician, and wealthy millionaire. The remarkable parallels between Kane and Hearst include their houses, their newspapers and their use of money.
Both Kane and Hearst build spectacular and remarkable houses. In Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane builds a palace know as Xanadu. Xanadu is referred to in myths and poems as place of heaven on earth like, Avalon, Shangri-La, and Atlantis. Samuel Purchas wrote this in “Purchas his Pilgrimage or Relations of the World and the Religions observed in all Ages and Places discovered, from Creation unto this Present:”
In Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant springs, delightfull Streams, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be removed from place to place
Kane’s house in Citizen Kane fits this description well it had meadows, springs, streams, and statues of all sorts of animals, whether chase or game. Hearst house in California’s Santa Lucia Mountains also fits Samuel Purhas description of Xanadu. Hearst house is known as La Cuesta Encantada or The Enchanted Hill. The Enchanted Hill has 165 room’s 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. The rooms are furnished with impressive collection of Spanish and Italian antiques.
The way both men got into the newspaper business is rather similar. In the movie, Kane’s father figure, Thatcher is worried that Kane will not understand his place in the world. Thatcher worries are confirmed when Kane sends a telegram saying that he has no interest in gold mines or banks, but would rather like to take over a small newspaper which is in his possession. Kane states that he would to take over The Morning Inquirer, because, “I think it would be fun to write a newspaper.”(Citizen Kane) Hearst entered the newspaper world were very similar. In 1880 Hearst’s father, gains ownership of a small newspaper in San Francisco called The Examiner. Hearst father was losing massive amounts of money on the paper when Hearst asked for control of the paper. Hearst’s father hoping his son would take his place in the family mining and ranching business, finally conceded and allowed William to run the paper. Both Hearst and Kane immediately began to revolutionize everything about their respective papers. Both men threw themselves into their papers, Kane moved into his office so that he could constantly change his paper, so he could constantly be able to do and redo the paper at any hour, night or day. Kane stated from now on, The Inquirer is going to report all news, large or small, especially if it could be made into a sensation and subsequently sell more newspapers. They were going to report more than the news that the last editor considered newsworthy. If there were nothing exciting to sell newspapers Kane would create it. Kane told people that if they would provide the prose and poems, he would supply the war. Hearst did the same thing with his paper, reporting about topics that were not considered newsworthy by anyone but him. Hearst told his reporters that if they provide the pictures, he would provide the war. Both Hearst and Kane spent elaborate amounts of money on getting the best staff and higher circulation. Both men eventually develop immense newspaper networks covering the country.
Kane used his massive newspaper network to help slander Jim Getty in his political race for Governor. Kane also used his newspapers to help promote and encourage his second wife, Susan Alexander. Kane tried to use his papers to change Susan from a horrible to a great opera singer. He did this by manipulating the news and, therefore, trying to control what people read thought. Kane used his papers to attack companies in which he was the major stockholder. Charles Foster Kane had success in attacking large companies on the behalf of the people; he would be the people’s investigator. He would print false headlines such as the Spanish armada docked off the Jersey coast. Headlines that he had almost no proof to back up the story with.
Like Kane, Hearst used his paper to try to get what he wanted. Hearst used his papers to engage in mud-slinging campaign against Theodore Roosevelt for the governor of New York. Both men use their publication to portray each other as jailbirds. Although the movie differs from real life here, because Roosevelt defeated Hearst fairly, there was no scandal like that, which stopped Kane. Like Kane, Hearst used his paper to advance the career if his mistress, Marion Davies. Unlike Susan Alexander, Marion Davies was a talented singer and could have a successful career without Hearst. Hearst discovered that his newspaper were a source of great power and so use them to manipulate the news, people and countries. Hearst would also print false headlines about the Spanish brutality in the Cuban revolution, even though they’re nothing of sort going on. Hearst like attacking big companies as the people’s champion and like Kane contradicted himself when he supported the eight-hour day and the labor unions (Swanberg 235).
Both these men used their money for one and only one purpose, to get what they want. Both Kane and Hearst had vast fortunes from gold mines and other investments. They both did not care about spending their fortunes either. Kane went and the bought the staff from the Chronicle and Hearst was reported to pay almost any salary without a care in the world. When Thatcher told Kane that in one year on the Inquirer, Kane had lost one million dollars, Kane responded with “That means I can still run the paper for sixty years”(Citizen Kane). Hearst was seen to throw away money as if it literally grew on trees. Both men most of the time tried to buy love, they thought that maybe if the gave someone enough money they would love them. When Leland says that Kane is not collecting diamonds, but collecting someone who is collecting diamonds (Citizen Kane). Also, when Kane uses his money to built opera houses for Susan Alexander. These are example of using his money to try to get love. Hearst used his money to create Cosmopolitan magazine and publication company for the purpose of making Marion Davies a star. Hearst would throw lavish parties and demonstration in hope to get more people to love him.
Seeing the striking similarities between Kane and Hearst, one finds it is hard to believe that Citizen Kane was not based on William Randolph Hearst’s life. Citizen Kane was nominated for nine academy awards, but was forced to be shown in private theater, which is another example of Hearst using money to get what he wants
Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. With Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy
Comingore. RKO, 1941.
MacIntyre Diane, The Silents Majority.
Swanberg, W.A. Citizen Hearst. Scribner, 1961. Bantam Matrix Edition, 1967.