Hearst Breaks Silence Over Citizen Kane

SFFILM Festival has coaxed William Randolph Hearst’s grandson to open up about Citizen Kane.

Before there was fake news, there was yellow journalism: publishers used eye-catching headlines to seduce readers. The most notorious purveyor of yellow journalism was local tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who ran SF Weekly’s sister newspaper the San Francisco Examiner during the early 1900s. Hearst’s life story was ridiculed in Orson Welles 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane, widely considered the greatest film of all time and screening Thursday, April 6 at the SFFILM Festival.

Hearst’s grandson William Randolph Hearst, III will be attending Thursday’s event and speaking beforehand about this film that depicts his grandfather as kind of a terrible human being. This will be one of the first occasions that a member of the Hearst family has discussed Citizen Kane publicly.  

“The family was not a fan of the movie. They went to some lengths to suppress it,” SFFILM executive director Noah Cowan tells SF Weekly.

Film historian and author of Television: A Biography David Thomson will moderate Thursday night’s conversation, and notes how much the elder Hearst hated Citizen Kane.  “Hearst himself reacted to the film so badly and so personally,” Thomson tells SF Weekly. “He did quite lot to block and impede the film, all of which leads you to think that he believed that Welles had made a movie about him.”

Hearst and the family’s Hearst Communication have been a San Francisco-founded national media empire since the late 1800s. Hearst took over the San Francisco Examiner in 1887 (his father won the paper as payment for a gambling debt), and Hearst Communications sold the Examiner and bought the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. The family corporation also co-owns television networks AMC and ESPN.

But William Randolph Hearst’s legacy will always be tarnished by Citizen Kane, which makes it such a coup that SFFILM got Hearst’s grandson to discuss the film. “No one had really asked Will about his feelings about this or his family’s role in the film, ”Cowen tells SF Weekly. “After an hour of conversation between Hearst and David Thomson, Everyone will be seeing this film through different eyes.”

‘Citizen Kane’ with William R Hearst, III is Thursday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available at SFFILM.org.

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