William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1910

By Ben Procter | Go to book overview

Preface

In the fall of 1966 I noticed in the American Historical Association Bulletin that the Bancroft Library (at Cal-Berkeley) had received several hundred letters and other manuscript materials concerning William Randolph Hearst--and that more were expected from the family. Although W. A. Swanberg had written Citizen Hearst in 1961, I decided that this new information might warrant an updated biography. Within the next few months I had an opportunity to discuss this possibility with Professor Robert E. Burke of the University of Washington, who in 1950 had been the Purchasing Director for the Bancroft in England. He doused my excitement for this project by stating that papers from the Hearst warehouse in New York City had been trickling in yearly to the Bancroft, but not in sufficient quantity--or quality--for me to anticipate a biography. Thus the matter rested for the time being.

But as Burke knows, I am like an "ole dog" with a bone. I chew around on it--sometimes hungrily, other times by habit--until I decide to let go of it or continue to gnaw. In the case of Hearst the gnawing prevailed. Every six months or so I noticed more Hearst acquisitions by the Bancroft; and each time Burke received a call. His answer was still the same--not enough quantity or quality in the manuscript collection. In the summer of 1976, however, I decided to check for myself and, after spending a week at the Bancroft, I excitedly called Burke, stating that considerable amounts of information in the Hearst papers of the past fifteen years conflicted with Swanberg's book and that a new assessment of Hearst now might be in order. Burke still urged me to postpone the project, but for the first time he was not negative. As a consequence, during a sabbatical in 1981, I committed myself to this enterprise.

And now after sixteen years of "living" with Hearst, I feel, at times, that I should have been committed to an institution with padded walls surrounded by verdant fields, where I could sniff the daisies. I should have known better. My Ph.D. dissertation was a biography of John H. Reagan of Texas, who lived from 1818 to 1906--eighty-eight years. I pledged during that ordeal that I would never again write a biography, except on someone like William Barrett Travis who was only twenty-seven at the time of his death at the Alamo. Now I have embarked on Hearst who

-ix-

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