Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

20th Century Emperor

Pancho Villa
Pancho Villa

Early in his career Hearst and his newspapers championed the causes of the "little guys," often siding with the common folk on a wide range of social issues. In typical Hearst fashion, stories were often sensationalized as they portrayed the plight of those living in poverty and other hardships. Many of the issues on which he took sides later became law, such as anti-trust legislation, tax reform, and the direct election of U.S. Senators. He also took on the powerful New York County Democratic political organization better known as Tammany Hall and had many high-profile verbal scuffles with its influential leaders.

However, as he got older, his views and those of his publications took on a more conservative bent. He became a rabid foe of organized labor, which had unionized most of his newspaper operations, thanks to favorable labor laws passed during the FDR administration. He also blasted socialism, and communism, but not the fascism coming to the fore in Italy and Germany in the 1930s. He even had meetings with Hitler and Mussolini and appeared to condone what they did in their early political careers, despite his protestations that he wasn't anti-Semitic.

Hearst was a notorious xenophobe. He reportedly hated minorities, and he used his chain of newspapers to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity. He especially hated Mexicans, portraying them as lazy, degenerate, and violent, and as marijuana smokers and job stealers. However, the real motive behind this prejudice may well have been that Hearst had lost 800,000 acres of prime timberland to the rebel Pancho Villa, suggesting that Hearst's racism was fueled by Mexican threats to his empire's source of newsprint.

La Cuesta Encantada
La Cuesta Encantada

In the 1920s Hearst began building his massive castle-like estate at San Simeon, overlooking the Pacific Ocean  near California's Big Sur Country. La Cuesta Encantada ("The Enchanted Hill"), which Hearst family members simply referred to as "the ranch," took nearly 28 years to build. It had 165 rooms, many of which contained priceless artworks and furnishings, and the grounds boasted numerous ancient sculptures taken from European archeological sites. "The Ranch" also boasted a private zoo, golf course, stables, and numerous riding trails. Some early reports exaggerated that the Hearst-owned property around San Simeon was "half the size of Rhode Island." Although that wasn't actually the case, 240,000 acres (375 square miles) in the hands of one man is still a sizable piece of real estate.

With party-girl Davies often acting as gracious hostess, San Simeon became one of Hollywood's favorite get-away-from-it-all hot spots. Among the frequent guests were Carole Lombard, Mary Pickford, Sonja Henie, Dolores Del Rio, Louis B. Mayer, and many other visiting celebs like Charles Lindbergh and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City. An invitation to the estate and its functions was a highly sought after badge of honor among the Hollywood elite.

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