William Randolph Hearst is my VIP for this week. He was born on April 29, 1863, in San Francisco, California, to George and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. His father was a millionaire mining engineer, goldmine owner, and U.S. Senator (1886-91). His father’s grandfather was Scots-Irish John Hearst who emigrated from Ballybay, County Monaghan; he, his wife, and six children were part of the Cahans Exodus in 1766 and settled in South Carolina. They apparently immigrated to South Carolina because the policy of the colonial government encouraged Irish Protestants to come to America.
The council records of October 26, 1766, list a “John Hearse” and a “John Hearse Jr.” as owning property. The `Hearse’ spelling of the family name never was used afterward by the family members themselves, or any family of any size. A separate theory purports that one branch of a `Hurst’ family of Virginia (originally from Plymouth Colony) moved to South Carolina at about the same time and changed the spelling of its surname of over a century to that of the [immigrant] Hearsts. Hearst’s mother, nee Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson, was of Irish ancestry; her family came from Galway. She was the first woman regent of University of California, Berkeley, funded many anthropological expeditions and founded the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.”
William Hearst attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and then enrolled in Harvard College, class of 1885, but was expelled for “antics ranging from sponsoring massive beer parties in Harvard Square to sending pudding pots used as chamber pots to his professors….”
While searching for an occupation in 1887, Hearst became manager of a newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner. His father had received it in payment of a gambling debt in 1880. He gave his paper the motto “Monarch of the Dailies,” bought only the “best equipment,” and hired “the most talented writers of the time.” He published “stories of municipal and financial corruption, often attacking companies in which his own family held an interest. Within a few years, his paper dominated the San Francisco market.”
Hearst went on to build the largest newspaper chain in America; his “methods profoundly influenced American journalism.” In 1887 after “taking control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father,” he moved to New York City and acquired The New York Journal. He then “engaged in a bitter circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World that led to the creation of yellow journalism – sensationalized stories of dubious veracity. Acquiring more newspapers, Hearst created a chain that numbered nearly 30 papers in major American cities at its peak. He later expanded to magazines, creating the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world. Hearst had a great impact on journalism.
As a Democrat Hearst was elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives; he also “ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, for Governor of New York in 1906, and for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1910.” He “exercised enormous political influence” through his newspapers and magazines; he was blamed for “pushing public opinion with his yellow journalism type of reporting” that apparently led “the United States into a war with Spain in 1898.”
Hearst’s “life story was the main inspiration for the development of the lead character in Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane. His mansion, Hearst Castle, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Simeon, California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, was donated by the Hearst Corporation to the state of California in 1957, and is now a State Historical Monument and a National Historic Landmark, open for public tours. Hearst formally named the estate La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill”)” but preferred to call it “the ranch.”
In 1903, Hearst married a 21-year-old chorus girl from New York City by the name of Millicent Veronica Willson. Millicent’s mother Hannah Willson evidently ran a brothel that was connected to and protected by Tammany Hall characters; the brothel was located near the headquarters of political power in New York City. Hearst and Millicent had five sons: George Randolph Hearst (born April 23, 1904), William Randolph Hearst, Jr. (born January 27, 1908), John Randolph Hearst (born in 1910), and twins Randolph Apperson Hearst and David Whitmire Hearst (born December 2, 1915).
Hearst was also the grandfather of Patricia “Patty” Hearst who became famous for being kidnapped by and then joining the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974; her father was Hearst’s fourth son, Randolph Apperson Hearst.
Hearst had an affair with Marion Davies (1897-1961), a popular film actress and comedienne, and lived openly with her in California. Millicent grew tired of the long affair and separated from Hearst in the mid-1920s; however, she was still legally married to him at the time of his death.
“Millicent built an independent life for herself in New York City as a leading philanthropist, was active in society, and created the Free Milk Fund for the poor in 1921. After the death of Patricia Lake, Davies’s supposed niece, it was confirmed by Lake’s family that she was in fact Hearst’s daughter by Davies.
Hearst left his home in remote San Simeon, California, to seek medical care in 1947 and died on August 14, 1951, in Beverly Hills at the age of 88. He was buried in the Hearst family mausoleum at the Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California. None of Hearst’s five sons graduated from college but all of them followed their father in the media business. William Randolph, Jr. became a Pulitzer Price-winning newspaper reporter.