Hearst, William Randolph, Jr.
Hearst, William Randolph, Jr.
Hearst was the second of five sons born to the publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, Sr., and his wife Milli-cent Veronica Willson. Hearst’s childhood was marked by wealth and social privilege. As a child he split his time between the family’s luxurious apartment on New York’s Riverside Drive and his grandmother’s home in Pleasanton, California. The Hearst family fortune had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century when Hearst’s grandfather George Hearst, a silver-mining tycoon, was elected a U.S. senator from California and took ownership of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper, supposedly as payment for a gambling debt.
At an early age Hearst showed an interest in his father’s newspaper business by working as a fly boy (a boy who takes off the sheet from the tympan as the pressman turns it up) at the presses of the New York Mirror while on summer vacation from the military school he attended in San Rafael, California. In 1925 he entered the University of California at Berkeley and joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, but he left after only two years of liberal arts study to pursue a career in journalism. In 1928, at the young age of twenty, Hearst joined the staff of the New York American, one of his father’s newspapers, as a police reporter, but soon was promoted to a managerial position as assistant city editor.
In 1936 Hearst was made publisher of the New York American by the Hearst Corporation management, undoubtedly with the approval of his father. The magazine, because of company financial problems, soon merged to form the New York journal-American. Hearst played a prominent role in the reorganization of the family’s newspaper properties during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a time in which 40 percent of the company’s holdings were sold. He also modernized the newspapers by emphasizing more local news stories, objective reporting, a new layout, and a revamping of the editorial policies.
Hearst was a World War II correspondent in Europe from 1943 to 1945. His father often edited his reports from the front before they were published. At the end of the war, having finally won the confidence and approval of his father, he was appointed publisher of two Sunday newspaper supplements, Puck— the Comic Weekly and the flagship American Weekly, while still acting as publisher of the New York Journal-American.
On 29 July 1948 Hearst married the society gossip columnist Austine McDonnell. They had two sons, William Randolph III and Austin, both of whom were to follow him into the family business, William Randolph III as publisher of the Examiner and Austin as president of Hearst Entertainment and Syndication. Hearst’s previous two marriages, to Alma Walker in 1928 and Lorelle McCarver in 1933, had ended in divorce with no children.
In the 1940s, after the release of the popular 1941 Orson Welles film Citizen Kane, William Randolph Hearst, Sr., was criticized for his scandalous relationship with the actress Marion Davies. Hearst valiantly protected the honor and privacy of his mother while publicly defending his father as well, especially against what he considered to be an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of his father in the movie, which neither he nor his father ever saw.
In August 1951 William Randolph Hearst, Sr., died. Hearst and his four brothers were among the thirteen trustees who gained voting control of the company following his father’s death, although not a majority control, which followed the directives of the elder Hearst’s will by leaving managerial control in the hands of his longtime business associates and appointees. Hearst was then named president of Hearst Consolidated Publications and vice president of Hearst Publishing Company. In 1955 he became chairman of the executive committee of the privately held Hearst Corporation and succeeded his father as editor in chief of the Hearst newspapers, a position his father had held for more than fifty years.
In January 1955 Hearst was given permission to visit Moscow, along with the International News Service columnists Frank Conniff and J. Kingsbury-Smith. Their goal was to observe and write about daily life in the Communist capital of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, Hearst planned to report on a diverse range of subjects including Soviet attitudes toward Americans, religious issues, and the working conditions of Soviet women. Hearst scored a journalistic coup while in Moscow when he and his colleagues conducted interviews with important Soviet officials including Defense Minister Georgi Zhukov, Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov, and Communist party secretary Nikita Khrushchev. The series of eight articles that Hearst, Conniff, and Kingsbury-Smith wrote about the interviews and visit were well received by the American public and published widely. The series gave Americans their first indication of what post-Stalin Soviet leadership was going to be like.
In 1956 Hearst won the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for the Moscow series, an award made ironic by the fact that it was Joseph Pulitzer, his father’s primary rival in the publishing business for many years, who had established the prize. In 1957 Hearst won the Overseas Press Award for the Moscow reporting and in 1960 published his book about the trip, Ask Me Anything: Our Adventures with Khrushchev.
For more than forty years Hearst wrote the “Editor’s Report” column that appeared each week in the Sunday edition of the Hearst newspapers. Politically Hearst carried on where his father left off. Hearst was bitterly anti-communist and supported Senator Joseph McCarthy’s redbaiting tactics even after they had been discredited.
In 1991 he published his memoir, The Hearsts: Father and Son, a book in which he wrote openly about his complex relationship with his father and the history of the Hearst family. In 1974 Hearst was subjected to the media spotlight when his niece Patricia Hearst was kidnapped and held for ransom by the radical terrorist group the Symbi-onese Liberation Army. While she was held captive she joined the group and was later arrested for bank robbery and imprisoned. Though Hearst was fond of nightlife and socialized regularly with celebrities, the Patty Hearst episode caused him to retreat from public life. He died at age eighty-five of cardiac arrest in New York City. He is buried in the Hearst family mausoleum at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.
Hearst’s career as a journalist and publisher spanned more than sixty years, a period of time in which he presided over the decline of much of the corporate empire his father had built. Although much of his professional life was spent in the shadow of his flamboyant and domineering father, Hearst’s own influence on the world of publishing and journalism remains significant. “I don’t need a title,” he once said, referring to his last name. “My father gave me one when I was born.”
The William Randolph Hearst, Jr., papers are held at the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley. Hearst’s memoir, written with Jack Casserly, is The Hearsts: Father and Son (1991); extensive biographical material is also in Judith Robinson, The Hearsts: An American Dynasty (1991). See also Current Biography 1955; Debra Gersh, “A Journalism Legend Revisited,” Editor and Publisher 124, no. 50 (1991): 14-20; and “William Randolph Hearst, Jr.,” in Perry J. Ashley, ed., American Newspaper Publishers, 1950-1990 (1993). Obituaries are in the New York Times and San Francisco Examiner (both 15 May 1993).