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William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1910

By Ben Procter | Go to book overview

1 The Romantic Legend of the Hearsts

On April 13, 1919, Phoebe Apperson Hearst died quietly at La Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, her luxurious estate on the east side of the mountains at Pleasanton, thirty miles south of San Francisco. Although well known for her philanthropies to education--kindergarten programs, libraries, girls' training schools, and the University of California at Berkeley--she also contributed generously to orphanages, havens for unwed mothers, and hospitals, mainly in California but in other areas of the United States as well. In addition, she was the wife of the late George Hearst, an extremely wealthy miner and businessman who had been a U.S. senator from California. But more than anything else, she was the mother of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. 1

After appropriate encomiums and profuse eulogies, Phoebe Hearst was laid to rest, and to a certain extent so were her wishes. To her only son she bequeathed most of her fortune, in excess of $25 million, and to relatives and close friends amounts ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000. But her niece and confidante, Ann Flint, would not, as Phoebe had wished, receive Wyntoon Castle, her summer home on the McCloud River in northern California (Siskiyou County). Nor would Adele Brooks, her designated official biographer, write her obituary or publish a prepared manuscript. Hearst would dismiss the author, instructing her to "turn over to him" all notes and manuscript materials concerning his mother. Then nine years later he commissioned Winifred Black Bonfils, the original "sob sister," whose pen name was "Annie Laurie," to write his mother's biography. After twelve days and fifty-four thousand words, she completed her assignment, and Hearst published The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst. 2

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