Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies

Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies

Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies

Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies


Hollywood -- crossroads of filmmaking, mythmaking, and politics -- was dominated by one man more than any other for most of its history. It was William Randolph Hearst who understood how to use cinema to exploit the public's desire for entertainment and to create film propaganda to further his own desire for power. From the start, Hearst saw his future and the future of Hollywood as one and the same. He pioneered and capitalized on the synergistic relationship between yellow journalism and advertising and motion pictures. He sent movie cameramen to the inauguration of William McKinley and the front lines of the Spanish-American War. He played a prominent role in organizing film propaganda for both sides fighting World War I. By the 1910s, Hearst was producing his own pictures -- he ran one of the first animation studios and made many popular and controversial movie serials, including The Perils of Pauline (creating both the scenario and the catchphrase title) and Patria. As a feature film producer, Hearst was responsible for some of the most talked-about movies of the 1920s and 1930s. Behind the scenes in Hollywood, Hearst had few equals -- he was a much-feared power broker from the Silent Era to the Blacklisting Era.

Hearst Over Hollywood draws on hundreds of previously unpublished letters and memos, FBI Freedom of Information files, and personal interviews to document the scope of Hearst's power in Hollywood. Louis Pizzitola tells the hidden story of Hearst's shaping influence on both film publicity and film censorship -- getting the word out and keeping it in check -- as well as the growth of the "talkies," and the studio system. He details Hearst's anti-Semitism and anti-Communism, used to retaliate for Citizen Kane and to maintain dominance in the film industry, and exposes his secret film deal with Germany on the eve of World War II.

The author also presents new insights into Hearst's relationships with Marion Davies, Will Hays, Louis B. Mayer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler, and the Kennedys. Hearst Over Hollywood is a tour de force of biography, cultural study, and film history that reveals as never before the brilliance and darkness of Hearst's prophetic connection with Hollywood.


During my research for Hearst Over Hollywood, I interviewed the late Edward L. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and widely recognized as the father of public relations. Bernays, who was over one hundred years old when I spoke with him, had spent a lifetime developing techniques of persuasion and creating publicity schemes that promoted corporate America and sold the public on things they never knew they needed. While some might have seen a dubious honor in being known as the creator of spin, Bernays proudly called himself a propagandist. Apparently, Bernays was never close to William Randolph Hearst, but he did work for the Hearst organization, and he was close at least in spirit to Hearst's brand of communication.

In the 1920s Bernays was hired as a consultant to Hearst's Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan magazines and for a corporation called Inter City Radio that was Hearst's initial attempt to form a network of radio stations that would enable him to channel his political ambitions into the nation's largest urban centers. As early as the 1910s Bernays enjoyed yellow journalism as a medium of information and entertainment. He visited the Hearst newspaper offices in New York and looked on in amusement as the paper's drama department made sure that “publicity a play received matched the amount of advertising [it purchased].” Over the years Bernays formed friendships with a number of Hearst associates. A Hearst reporter named Karl Von Weigand told Bernays over dinner in 1933 that he had just seen a copy of the spin master's book Crystallizing Public Opinion on Joseph Goebbels's “propaganda library” shelf and that he believed the Nazi Party was using Bernays's theories to guide their policies aimed at the destruction of the Jews.

In his autobiography, Bernays described the film industry as “a crude, crass, manufacturing business, run by crude, crass men,” but he never dis-

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