Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

"Rosebud"

Movie poster: Citizen Kane
Movie poster: Citizen Kane

"Rosebud... " the dying man gasps with his last breath, slumping backward in his chair. The glass ball clutched in his hand falls from his grasp onto the floor and rolls down the marble staircase. As it shatters, water and fake snowflakes spill out. A nurse enters the room and folds his hands across his chest, pulling a sheet over his head. So ends the life of Charles Foster Kane in the opening scene of Orson Welles' classic film, Citizen Kane.

As the tributes to the late Mr. Kane pour in from around the world, an enterprising newspaper reporter named Jerry Thompson is assigned by his editor to decipher the significance of the dying man's final word. The quest to solve this mystery takes Thompson on a serpentine journey into the life of a newspaper publishing tycoon considered one of the giants of the 20th century.

The story is, of course, fictitious. Or is it? Just who was Charles Foster Kane and who or what was "Rosebud?" Welles knew those answers when he started shooting the picture. By the time it was completed, everyone else knew, too. Including the man on whose real-life persona the fictitious Mr. Kane was based.

William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst

His name was William Randolph Hearst.

Until Citizen Kane was released in 1941 few people with any stature ever dared to say anything publicly unfavorable about the then-76-year-old media mogul. Commanding a coast-to-coast empire of 28 newspapers and 18 magazines with combined circulation well into the tens of millions, along with radio stations and film production companies, "Willie" Hearst was the Rupert Murdoch of his time. He could destroy nearly anyone's life and career with a single headline, and he often did. He could incite wars and, in one notable instance, he actually did. He clashed with powerful presidents, including Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Clearly, Citizen Hearst was not a man to be trifled with.

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