Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

Something to Hide?

Delores Del Rio
Delores Del Rio

As the two-hour film winds down, reporter Thompson is no closer to discovering the identity or significance of "Rosebud" than he was at the beginning of his investigation. Some of those he interviewed who were closest to Kane during his life and career are no help. Most of them have provided no clues, while some others can only venture wild guesses. Thompson himself finally concludes that it will just have to remain a mystery. A missing piece in an unfinished jigsaw puzzle symbolic of Kane himself, and his life.

However, after Thompson and his fellow reporters exit the scene, a workman handling the contents of Xanadu, the late Kane's palatial estate, picks up a child's sled and throws it into an incinerator. As he does, film viewers see the name "Rosebud" on the front of the sled, along with a picture of one. As the sled burns and the name melts away in the intense heat, thick black smoke billows out of the chimney and the credits roll. The movie is over.

Could the "Rosebud" sled have been symbolic of Charles Foster Kane's lost childhood? A childhood that was stolen from him in the middle of the winter when his mother, heir to a Colorado mining fortune, signed papers allowing young Charlie to be raised by a prominent financier in Chicago and New York. Is that what the dying Mr. Kane was thinking about in his final moments on earth? Was that why the snow globe was clutched in his hand when his life's clock finally stopped?

That may have been the symbolism Welles was trying to convey to his audience. However, there is a more plausible explanation in the real world of William Randolph Hearst. "Rosebud" was the nickname Hearst reportedly gave to the clitoris of his long-time mistress. A loyal companion who gave him great pleasure for 35 years. That's who and what Kane's character was likely thinking about when his time on earth expired. That's who the real-life Hearst was trying to protect in his attempts to suppress the movie's release... or so it was widely believed. But perhaps it was even more than that.

Maybe he had something else to hide. A deep, dark secret he didn't wish to be reminded of. Perhaps Welles' movie rekindled memories of a grisly, tragic incident that took place on his yacht 17 years earlier. A mysterious death that could tarnish the name and reputation of his beloved mistress.

Her name was Marion Davies.

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