Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

Bold Upstart

Orson Welles does radio
Orson Welles does radio

Welles, at that time, was a novice, 24-year-old prodigy. He had never made a motion picture before, but his convincing narration on the 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds set off a nationwide panic and made him a celebrity. Despite his lack of hands-on filmmaking experience, he knew going into his bold venture that "You don't pick a quarrel with a man who buys his ink by the barrel." But he made the picture anyway.

To his dying day in 1985, Welles continued to insist that Citizen Kane was not just about Hearst. He claimed that the Kane character was a "composite" of several powerful individuals at that time. However, Hearst remained unconvinced and he and his cohorts made every effort imaginable to stop the picture from being released. From threats to blackmail to boycotts.

All-powerful MGM Studio Chief, Louis B. Mayer, offered RKO Pictures, with whom Welles was contracted, $800,000; a healthy sum that was far more than the picture was expected to gross at the box office. Mayer's sole purpose, at his friend Hearst's urging, was to acquire the negatives and destroy them.

Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer

When that effort flopped, Hearst tried to destroy Welles himself. Hearst newspaper headlines and gossip columns trumpeted the scandal of Welles' affair with actress Delores Del Rio while she was still married. And when the film finally was released, none of the Hearst newspapers carried any mention of it. Nor would they accept advertising from any of the theaters showing the picture.

What was Hearst afraid of? What was he trying to hide? Or... more to the point... who was he trying to protect? Himself... or someone else? Most of Hollywood at the time knew the answer to that question. Especially the critics.

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