When Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane first hit cinemas in 1941, the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was distinctly unimpressed: The similarities between himself and Welles’ creation Charles Foster Kane were too strong to be ignored. The press baron went out of his way to derail the movie.
Now, more than 70 years later, it seems his family has finally forgiven Welles — who wrote, directed and starred in the film aged 26 — and has agreed to a screening of Citizen Kane at Hearst Castle visitor center in California.
The screening, on March 9, will be part of the San Luis Obispo international film festival. Hearst’s former home, Hearst Castle, (fictionalized as Xanadu in the film) was donated to the state in 1957, six years after his death, and now attracts a million tourists a year. The festival director, Wendy Eidson, told the Los Angeles Times it was likely to be the first time the Welles classic had been seen on Hearst’s sprawling estate, which its owner referred to as La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill).
“I tossed out the idea of screening Citizen Kane there as a joke, and they didn’t laugh,” Eidson said. “I was sort of floored.”
However the media mogul’s great grandson Steve Hearst said the viewing was “a great opportunity to draw a clear distinction between WR and Orson Welles, between the medieval, gloomy-looking castle shown in Citizen Kane and the light, beautiful, architecturally superior reality.”
Hearst’s efforts to destroy Citizen Kane are legendary. He is said to have lobbied against it with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which decides the Oscars, resulting in How Green Was My Valley winning best film in 1942 in its place. Hearst also kept advertisements for the movie out of his many newspapers, and one of his allies in Hollywood is even said to have tried to buy the footage in order to burn it before the movie’s release. Another story is that the FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover launched a decade-long investigation into Welles as a result of Hearst’s anger.
Hearst is said to have been particularly incensed at the depiction in Welles’ film of Kane’s companion, Susan Alexander, an alcoholic singer. Hearst was romantically involved with a successful actor, Marion Davies. Welles once said that she was not the basis for Alexander.