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William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) was the American publisher, editor, and proprietor—for almost half a century—of the most extensive journalistic empire ever assembled by one man.

On April 29, 1863, William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco. He received the best education that his coarse-grained, multimillionaire father and his refined, schoolteacher mother (more than 20 years her husband's junior) could buy: private tutors, private schools, grand tours of Europe, and Harvard College. Hearst inherited his father's ambition and energy, but neither his father's fortune nor need to make his own way in the world. George Hearst had amassed millions in mining properties, which he left, not to his son but to his wife—who compensated for his crass unfaithfulness by wantonly spoiling their only offspring.

Young Hearst's journalistic career began in 1887, 2 years after he was expelled from Harvard. "I want the San Francisco Examiner," he wrote his father, who owned the newspaper and granted the request. The Daily Examiner became young Hearst's laboratory, where he indulged a talent for making fake news and faking real news in such a way as to create maximum public shock. From the outset he obtained top talent by paying top prices. Ambrose Bierce, at the peak of his fame, became Hearst's first star performer.

Building a Journalistic Empire

But to get an all-star cast and an audience of millions, Hearst had to move his headquarters to New York City in 1895, 4 years after his father's death. By this time his mother had liquidated $7,500,000 of her husband's mining properties and turned over the proceeds to her son, who immediately purchased the decrepit New York Morning Journal. Within a year Hearst ran up the circulation from 77,000 to over a million by spending enough money to beat the aging Joseph Pulitzer's World at its own sensationalist game. Sometimes Hearst hired away the World's more aggressive executives and reporters; sometimes he outbid all competitors in the open market, as when he got Richard Harding Davis to report and Frederick Remington to illustrate the ongoing Spanish-American War.

The Journal had got its start by raiding the World of its talents and its readers. Next, to Arthur Brisbane's portentous front-page column entitled "Today," and to black-and-white daily comic strips and colored Sunday supplements, Hearst added frenetic reporting of sports, crime, sex, scandal, and human-interest stories. "A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut," said Hearst writer Arthur James Pegler. Hearst's slam-bang showmanship attracted new readers and nonreaders, but on no one did the Journal cast so potent a spell as on its master of ceremonies.

During the last 5 years of the 19th century Hearst set his pattern for the first half of the 20th. The Journal supported the Democratic party, yet Hearst opposed the free-silver campaign of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in 1896. In 1898 Hearst backed the Spanish-American War, which Bryan and the Democrats opposed. Further, Hearst's wealth cut him off from the troubled masses to whom his newspapers appealed. He could not grasp the rudimentary problems raised by the issues of free silver and the war with Spain. Thus, for 5 years Hearst stood in the mainstream of the history of his time and did not even get his feet wet.

Entering Politics

Having shaken up San Francisco with the Examiner and New York with the Journal, Hearst established the Chicago American in 1900, the Chicago Examiner in 1902, and the Boston American and the Los Angeles Examiner in 1904. These acquisitions marked more than an extension of Hearst's journalistic empire, they reflected his sweeping decision to seek the U.S. presidency. However, he had chosen the wrong path to the wrong goal at the wrong time. To begin with, journalism and politics rarely mix; each is a full-time occupation. Furthermore, Hearst never even qualified as a great journalist. At most he was a showman whose very flair for a certain type of metropolitan journalism did him more harm than good in national politics. Finally, he had little preparation and less aptitude to win success in either field in the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of 20th-century America. The contrasts between his towering presence and his close-set eyes, his courtly manner, and his high-pitched voice did not present the typical image of a successful politician.

In 1902 and 1904 Hearst won election to the House of Representatives as a New York Tammany Democrat. But his journalistic activities and his $2 million presidential campaign left him little time to speak, vote, or answer roll calls in Congress. His absenteeism disgusted his colleagues and dismayed his constituents. Nevertheless, he found time to run as an independent candidate for mayor of New York in 1905 and, in 1906, as Democratic candidate for governor. His loss in both elections ended Hearst's political career.

The 45 years of anticlimax that followed gave ample scope to those defects of character, inheritance, and environment which a perverse fate had bequeathed Hearst. In 1903, the day before his fortieth birthday, he married 21-year-old Millicent Willson, a show girl with whom he had been smitten for several years, giving up Tessie Powers, a waitress he had supported since his Harvard days. The Hearsts had five boys, but in 1917 Hearst fell in love with another show girl, 20-year-old Marion Davies of the Ziegfeld Follies. He maintained a liaison with her that ended only at his death. He spent millions on her career as a movie actress, backing such sentimental slush as When Knighthood Was in Flower and Little Old New York, while ignoring her real talents as a comedienne.

When Hearst's mother died in 1919, he came into his patrimony and took up permanent residence on his father's 168,000-acre San Simeon Ranch in southern California. There he spent $37 million on a private castle. He put $50 million into New York City real estate and another $50 million into his art collection—the largest ever assembled by a single individual.

Hearst Publications

During the 1920s one American in every four read a Hearst newspaper. Hearst owned 20 daily and 11 Sunday papers in 13 cities, the King Features syndication service, the International News Service, the American Weekly (a syndicated Sunday supplement), International News Reel, and six magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Harper's Bazaar.

Yet, for all his getting and spending, Hearst had few powers to lay waste and none to hoard. Originally a progressive Democrat, he had no truck with the Republican expressionists—Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Elihu Root—who supported the Spanish-American War, which Hearst claimed he had made but which actually had made his Journal. Hearst then fought every reform Democratic leader from Bryan to Franklin Roosevelt; he opposed American participation in both world wars.

In 1927 the Hearst newspapers printed unchecked, forged documents charging that the Mexican government had paid several U.S. senators more than $1 million to support a Central American plot to wage war against the United States. (Ironically, this fiasco led President Calvin Coolidge to appoint Dwight Morrow as ambassador to Mexico, thereby launching a new era in U.S.-Latin American relations.) From this scandal the Hearst press suffered not at all. Nothing was lost save honor, and that had gone long since.

In the next 10 years, however, Hearst's funds and the empire suddenly ran out. In 1937 the two corporations that controlled the empire found themselves $126 million in debt. Hearst had to turn them over to a seven-member conservation committee, which managed to stave off bankruptcy only at the expense of much of Hearst's private fortune and all of his public powers as a newspaper lord. He died on Aug. 14, 1951.

Some of Hearst's biographers have stressed his split personality—as if that differentiated him from the rest of mankind. The word "nihilist" provides a more precise clue. Not that Hearst's nihilism incorporated any of the revolutionary passion that impelled the Bolshevik Lenin or the destructive passion that impelled the Nazi Hitler. Hearst's nihilism had no more substance than Hearst himself possessed. In fact, no notable of his time left so faint an imprint on its sands.

Further Reading

Edmund D. Coblentz, ed., William Randolph Hearst: A Portrait in His Own Words (1952), is a compilation of Hearst's public and private documents. Judicious interpretations of Hearst's life are Oliver Carlson and Ernest Sutherland Bates, Hearst: Lord of San Simeon (1936); John William Tebbel's sympathetic The Life and Good Times of William Randolph Hearst (1952); and William A. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst (1961). Ferdinand Lundberg, Imperial Hearst: A Social Biography (1936), is a scathing attack. See also John K. Winkler, William Randolph Hearst: A New Appraisal (1955). □

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"William Randolph Hearst." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Hearst, William Randolph

William Randolph Hearst

Born: April 29, 1863
San Francisco, California
Died: August 14, 1951
Beverly Hills, California

American publisher and editor

For almost half a century William Randolph Hearst was the American publisher, editor, and proprietor (business owner) of the most extensive journalistic empire ever assembled by one man. His personality and use of wealth permanently left a mark on American media.

Early years

On April 29, 1863, William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco, California. He received the best education that his multimillionaire father and his sophisticated schoolteacher mother (more than twenty years her husband's junior) could buyprivate tutors, private schools, grand tours of Europe, and Harvard College. Hearst's father had been a keen geologist (student of the earth's history as recorded in rocks) and lucky gold miner during the 1849 Gold Rush. As partner in some of the largest mines in America, George Hearst easily entered politics as a California Senator. To help him politically, he purchased the then failing San Francisco Examiner. Meanwhile, his son, William Randolph, was routinely being expelled from school due to pranks. He was even expelled from Harvard after sending engraved silver chamber pots (prior to indoor plumbing, people kept pots under their beds to use for relieving themselves at night) to his professors. But Hearst inherited his father's ambition and energy. William's mother, the cultured parent, took William on two art tours in Europe before he was sixteen years old.

Young Hearst's journalistic career began in 1887, two years after his Harvard expulsion. "I want the San Francisco Examiner, " he wrote to his father, who owned the newspaper and granted the request.

When William's father died, he left his millions in mining properties, not to his son, but to his wifewho compensated by giving her son ten thousand dollars a month until her death. In turn the gray-eyed, soft-spoken William Randolph Hearst invested frantically and heavily.

Building a journalistic empire

The Daily Examiner became young Hearst's laboratory, where he gained a talent for making fake news and faking real news in such a way as to create maximum public shock. From the outset he obtained top talent by paying top prices.

To get an all-star cast and an audience of millions, however, Hearst had to move his headquarters to New York City, where he immediately purchased the old and dying New York Morning Journal. Within a year Hearst ran up the circulation from seventy-seven thousand to over a million by spending enough money to beat the aging Joseph Pulitzer's World at its own sensationalist (scandalous) game. Sometimes Hearst hired away the World 's more aggressive executives and reporters; sometimes he outbid all competitors in the open market. One of Hearst's editors was paid twice as much in salary as the sale price of the New York World.

Hearst attracted readers by adding heated reporting of sports, crime, sex, scandal, and human-interest stories. "A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut," said Hearst writer Arthur James Pegler. Hearst's slam-bang showmanship attracted new readers and nonreaders.

During the last five years of the nineteenth century, Hearst set his pattern for the first half of the twentieth century. The Journal supported the Democratic Party, yet Hearst opposed the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (18601925) in 1896. In 1898 Hearst backed the Spanish-American War (1898; a war in which the United States aided Cuba in its fight for freedom from Spanish rule), which Bryan and the Democrats opposed. Further, Hearst's wealth cut him off from the troubled masses to whom his newspapers appealed. He could not grasp the basic problems the issue of the war with Spain raised.

Entering politics

Having shaken up San Francisco with the Examiner and New York City with the Journal, Hearst established two newspapers in Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago American in 1900 and the Chicago Examiner in 1902; a newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts, the Boston American; and a newspaper in Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Examiner in 1904. These added newspapers marked more than an extension of Hearst's journalistic empire, they reflected his sweeping decision to seek the U.S. presidency. Perhaps his ambition came from a desire to follow in his father's footsteps. His personality and fortune were not suited to a political career however.

In 1902 and 1904 Hearst won election to the House of Representatives as a New York Democrat. Except, his journalistic activities and his $2 million presidential campaign left him little time to speak, vote, or answer roll calls in Congress. His nonattendance angered his colleagues and the voters who had elected him. Nevertheless, he found time to run as an independent candidate for mayor of New York City in 1905, and as a Democratic candidate for governor in 1906. His loss in both elections ended Hearst's political career.

Personal life

In 1903, the day before his fortieth birthday, he married twenty-one-year-old Millicent Willson, a showgirl, thus giving up Tessie Powers, a waitress he had supported since his Harvard days. The Hearsts had five boys, but in 1917 Hearst fell in love with another showgirl, twenty-year-old Marion Davies of the Ziegfeld Follies. He maintained a relationship with her that ended only at his death.

When Hearst's mother died, he came into his inheritance and took up permanent residence on his father's 168,000-acre ranch in southern California. There he spent $37 million on a private castle, put $50 million into New York City real estate, and put another $50 million into his art collectionthe largest ever assembled by a single individual.

Hearst publications

During the 1920s one American in every four read a Hearst newspaper. Hearst owned twenty daily and eleven Sunday papers in thirteen cities, the King Features syndication service (organization that places featured articles or comics in multiple papers at once), the International News Service, the American Weekly (a syndicated Sunday supplement), International Newsreel, and six magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Harper's Bazaar.

Despite Hearst's wealth, expansion, and spending, his popularity with the public as well as with the government was low. Originally a progressive Democrat, he had no bargaining power with Republican Theodore Roosevelt (18591919). Hearst fought every Democratic reform leader from Bryan to Franklin Roosevelt (18821945), and he opposed American participation in both world wars.

In 1927 the Hearst newspapers printed forged (faked) documents, which supported an accusation that the Mexican government had paid several U.S. senators more than $1 million to support a Central American plot to wage war against the United States. From this scandal the Hearst press suffered not at all.

In the next ten years, however, Hearst's funds and the empire suddenly ran out. In 1937 the two corporations that controlled the empire found themselves $126 million in debt. Hearst had to turn them over to a seven-member committee whose purpose was to save what they could. They managed to hold off economic failure only by selling off much of Hearst's private fortune and all of his public powers as a newspaper owner.

William Randolph Hearst died on August 14, 1951, in Beverly Hills, California.

For More Information

Davies, Marion. The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Pizzitola, Louis. Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Swanberg, W. A. Citizen Hearst, a Biography of William Randolph Hearst. New York: Scribner, 1961. Reprint, New York: Galahad Books, 1996.

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Hearst, William Randolph

HEARST, WILLIAM RANDOLPH


"Yellow journalism" was a phrase coined in the early twentieth century to describe a type of journalism that was principally developed by William Randolph Hearst (18631951). The term described a newspaper that focused on sensationalism to sell papers, including frenzied reporting of sports, crime, sex, and scandal. Writer Arthur James Pegler said, "A Hearst Newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." But this legacy does not begin to describe the complex and talented William Randolph Hearst.

George Hearst made a fortune in the California gold rush, bought huge tracts of land, and became a U.S. Senator. His wife Phoebe Apperson Hearst gave birth to their son, William Randolph Hearst, on April 29, 1863, in San Francisco. A schoolteacher, Hearst's mother ensured her son received the best education his father's wealth could buy. Young Hearst went to private schools, had private tutors, and was given tours of Europe. Eventually, Hearst entered Harvard University, but he was expelled from the school for misconduct after only two years.

While at Harvard, Hearst was the student editor of the Lampoon, spent time at the Boston Globe, and afterward served as a cub reporter for Joseph Pulitzer (18411911) at the New York World. Hearst's father had purchased the financially ailing San Francisco Examiner in 1880. In 1887 the younger Hearst asked his father for ownership of the paper, and it was given to him. This newspaper was William Randolph Hearst's start as a newspaper mogul. At the Examiner, Hearst began his run at faking news and using sensationalism to sell papers. He paid top wages, attracted the best journalism talent, and sold newspapers.

Moving his base of operations to New York City in 1895, Hearst took a $7.5 million gift from his mother (taken from his father's estate) and purchased the failing New York Morning Journal. Within a year, Hearst's style of shock news ran the circulation from 77,000 to over one million. In New York he continued his penchant for paying top dollar for talent. Hearst supported the Democratic Party with his newspapers, although he had little in common with either his newspaper's readers or the party's candidates and workers. Hearst opposed Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan (18601925) in the presidential campaign of 1896, and backed the Spanish-American War in 1898. During that war, Hearst spent a half million dollars covering the news of military actions.

In 1900 Hearst established the Chicago American and, in 1902, the Chicago Examiner. He added the Boston American and Los Angeles Examiner in 1904. His media empire was expanding rapidly, but by this time the acquisition of newspapers was more than a business ploy. It was an attempt to control the news to further Hearst's rising political ambitions. William Randolph Hearst wanted to be president of the United States. Hearst won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902 and 1904 as a Tammany Democrat, but he was not a good congressman. Chronic absenteeism from Congress, which he found necessary to run his newspaper business and campaign for president, cost him his political support. He ran for mayor of New York in 1905 and for governor of New York in 1906 but lost both races. These loses finished him as a candidate in politics. Hearst then went on to use his newspapers and wealth to influence political decisions as best he could behind the scenes.

Hearst married Millicent Willson in 1903. He was 40; she was 21 years old. They had five boys, several of whom followed their father into journalism. But in 1917 Hearst followed his father's lead of unfaithfulness and took a young mistress, 20-year-old actress Marion Davies. Hearst continued his relationship with Davies until his death, and settled her in the castle he built on his father's land at San Simeon, California. The $37 million castle, which he stocked with many pieces of his $50 million art collection, was an ostentatious display of wealth, even for the flamboyant newspaper publisher. Hearst used the castle for opulent parties, wining and dining the rich, famous, and powerful. (After his death, the Hearst family gave the castle to the State of California, who operates it as a public park, providing guided tours of the castle and its mostly intact art collection.)

At the height of his career in 1935, Hearst owned 26 daily and 11 Sunday newspapers in 19 cities, with nearly 14 percent of the total U.S. daily circulation. He owned the King Features syndication service and the International News Service. He owned a Sunday supplement, the American Weekly, and International News Reel. He owned six magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, and Good Housekeeping. He had lesser holdings in radio stations, and had spent millions in Hollywood, much of it to promote the career of Davies. Hearst possessed over $50 million in New York real estate, the castle at San Simeon, and homes in several locations. His art collection was the largest ever assembled by a single individual.

Hearst turned more conservative in his older years. He fought with progressive Democrats, though he had little to do with Republicans either. He fought against an emerging writers' union, the American Newspaper Guild and opposed U.S. involvement abroad until the Japanese attach on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, changed his mind. Hearst was strongly anticommunist.

Scandal, including a famous 1927 incident where Hearst newspapers printed, unchecked or unverified forged documents alleging Mexican government bribery of U.S. Senators, made no dent in Hearst's empire. But the Great Depression (19291939) did have an enormous impact on the Hearst holdings. By 1937 Hearst's two corporations were $126 million in debt. He had to relinquish control of his empire in order to save it, and he lost much of his personal fortune in the process. He died on August 14, 1951, with his newspaper holdings down to just eight papers. Breaking with their father, his five sons, who continued in the newspaper business, worked to give the remaining papers credibility and shed the yellow journalism label. The Hearst Foundation continues to provide scholarships to journalism students.

See also: James Gordon Bennett, Muckrakers, Joseph Pulitzer

FURTHER READING

Bowman, John S., ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, s.v. "Hearst, William Randolph."

Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1998, s.v. "Hearst, William Randolph."

The Media in America. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1995.

Street, Sarah. "Citizen Kane." History Today, March 1996.

Swanberg, William A. Citizen Hearst. New York: Scribner, 1961.

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Hearst, William Randolph

William Randolph Hearst, 1863–1951, American journalist and publisher, b. San Francisco. A flamboyant, highly controversial figure, Hearst was nonetheless an intelligent and extremely competent newspaperman. During his lifetime he established a vast publishing empire that included 18 newspapers in 12 cities and 9 successful magazines. Although he sometimes manipulated the news, Hearst was not afraid to espouse unpopular causes even at great cost in money and popularity.

In 1887 Hearst persuaded his father, George Hearst, to place him in charge of the San Francisco Examiner, where he experimented profitably with flamboyant pictures, shrieking typography, and earthy, mass-appeal news coverage; the paper remained in Hearst Corporation hands until 2000. In 1895 Hearst invaded New York City with his purchase of the Morning Journal and began a bitter war with Joseph Pulitzer's World and the city's other yellow, or sensational, journals. Hearst provided aggressive news coverage, bought distinctive talent, enticed employees of other papers from their jobs with higher salaries and greater prestige, and increased the size of his paper while cutting its price to a penny—a move his competitors were forced to follow. Into the circulation battle between the rival newspapers Hearst brought wild reports of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain. Other papers replied with further lurid accounts. Leaving the truth behind, the papers' anti-Spanish outcry fanned public sentiment and helped to drive the United States to war with Spain (1898).

By the time Hearst had established his supremacy in "penny journalism," his funds were almost exhausted, but he had gained a foothold for the great newspaper empire he was to erect. The publisher's holdings eventually embraced not only his newspapers and magazines (which included Good Housekeeping,Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Bazaar) but also the American Weekly syndicated supplement and services supplying news, features, and photographs.

Hearst served in the House of Representatives (1903–7) but was defeated as candidate for mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909 and for governor of New York in 1906. While a congressman he sought the Democratic party's presidential nomination without success. His papers originally supported public ownership, antitrust laws, and legislation favorable to labor unions. Support for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal gave way, however, to vigorous opposition to the president's policies on taxes, trusts, and labor, and Hearst became stridently conservative.

Hearst's castle at San Simeon, Calif., erected from 1919 on, won fame for its huge art collections, which often overflowed into warehouses. At his estate Hearst entertained friends in the motion-picture industry, which he had entered as a financier on a large scale. The property was presented to the state as a museum after Hearst's death. His media legacy remains an enduring one, and the corporation he created owns numerous newspapers, magazines, television stations, and Internet outlets, produces television programming, and also has investments in cable networks and electronic and interactive media.

See biographies by J. Tebbel (1953), W. Swanberg (1961), D. Nasaw (2000), and K. Whyte (2009).

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Hearst, William Randolph

Hearst, William Randolph (1863–1951) US media tycoon. He built a nationwide publishing empire that included newspapers, magazines, news services, radio stations, and film studios. With his rival, Joseph Pulitzer, Hearst practised sensational journalism and promoted the Spanish-American War. His career inspired Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane (1941).

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