Hearst Gets His Due

By Gordon, John Steele | American Heritage, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Hearst Gets His Due


Gordon, John Steele, American Heritage


A NEW BIOGRAPHY RESCUES A GREAT INNOVATOR FROM THE SHADOW OF CITIZEN KANE

HISTORY IS A SELF-CORrecting process. Every historian lives amid the culture of his or her own age and to a greater or lesser extent reflects that culture and its interests and assumptions. Every historian also has prejudices, personal interests, and blind spots. But over time one historian's failings are matched by another's strengths, so that a balanced, rounded portrait of an age and the people who lived in it can emerge.

No better example of this can be had than that of what the historian Stewart Holbrook called "the age of the moguls" and some of the major players of that time, the so-called robber barons. The first histories and biographies of the era tended to be highly tendentious (as first histories often are). Some, not infrequently funded by the people involved, were unctuously laudatory; others were equally condemning. In recent years, a string of newer biographies has redressed the balance. Maury Klein's The Life and Legend of Jay Gould and The Life & Legend of E. H. Harriman, Ron Chernow's Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Jean Strouse's Morgan: American Financier all have drawn portraits of their subjects that are thorough and honest.

But history, like life, is not always fair. Sometimes even a work of fiction is so powerful that it obliterates in the public mind all attempts by historians to draw a more accurate picture. Consider the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III. He was not a hunchback; it is quite possible that someone else ordered the killing of the little princes in the Tower; and he was a skilled general and administrator. He was no' more brutal than his contemporaries in a brutal age. His last words were "Treason! Treason!" not "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

But the mere truth does not stand a chance against a portrait painted by Shakespeare. Richard III is, to be sure, a very great play, but as history, its depiction of a power-mad cripple from whose clutches England was rescued by Henry Tudor is no more than propaganda. No matter, that is the image that will surely reside forever in the folk memory of the English-speaking peoples, despite such marvelous works of real history as Paul Murray Kendall's 1955 biography Richard III.

William Randolph Hearst, a major figure of the age of the robber barons, has suffered a similar fate. A polarizing figure, to put it mildly, Hearst was lionized (often in his own newspapers) and vilified equally in his lifetime. But the portrait of him that survives today is the one painted by the actor and director Orson Welles and the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz in the movie Citizen Kane.

That film, as a work of fiction, is deservedly on nearly everyone's ten-greatest-ever-made list. But while its creators maintained it was a work of fiction, no one believed them. When the left-leaning Ferdinand Lundberg, author of the fiercely anti-Hearst 1936 biography Imperial Hearst, sued for plagiarism, Mankiewicz denied ever having read Lundberg's book. This claim was somewhat undercut by the fact that three copies of it were found in his library. RKO settled the case for $15,000 plus several hundred thousand dollars in court costs and attorney's fees.

But if Charles Foster Kane holds an extraordinary place in the history of American cinema, the real, flesh-and-blood William Randolph Hearst is no less fascinating. Almost 50 years after his death at 88 in 1951, he finally has gotten a biography worthy of one of the most extraordinary lives in American history. Unlike Lundberg's hatchet job, or W. A. Swanberg's lively but superficial Citizen Hearst, published in 1961, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, by David Nasaw (Houghton Mifflin), was written with the cooperation (hut not control) of the Hearst family and the Hearst Corporation. Thus the author had access to a vast trove of papers no historian had seen before.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hearst Gets His Due
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.