#145 William Randolph Hearst

Summary Notes


In the comprehensive biography "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst" by David Nasaw, the story of the media titan unfolds, revealing a man whose ambitions and achievements in publishing and politics were as vast as his financial recklessness. William Randolph Hearst, a name synonymous with publishing empire and political influence, began his ascent in San Francisco, expanding to New York, and eventually commanding a nationwide audience. His innovative synergy of media properties, including newspapers, magazines, radio, and film, was unprecedented, paralleling the industrial dominance of figures like Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller, and Edison. Despite his professional success and a readership of 20 million at its peak, Hearst's personal indulgences and mismanagement led to a near-collapse of his empire during the Great Depression. His story is one of a pioneering yet flawed figure, whose life was marked by both extraordinary influence and extravagant excess, culminating in a forced retreat from his beloved San Simeon, never to return.

Summary Notes

William Randolph Hearst's Early Ambitions and Achievements

  • Hearst expressed early intentions to his father to enter publishing and politics.
  • He became a powerful publisher and a significant political figure, serving two terms in Congress.
  • Hearst's influence extended to San Francisco, New York, and the national stage.
  • His approach to business predated the concept of synergy, integrating his magazines, film studio, newspapers, and radio.
  • Hearst's media dominance was likened to the influence of major figures in other industries such as Carnegie in steel and Rockefeller in oil.

"When Hearst was in college, he wrote his father that he intended to do something in publishing and politics, and he did, becoming San Francisco's, then New York's, and finally the nation's most powerful publisher."

This quote highlights Hearst's early ambition and the fulfillment of his goals in publishing and politics, establishing his national influence.

Hearst's Media Empire and Political Influence

  • Time magazine estimated Hearst's newspaper audience at 20 million in the 1930s.
  • His newspapers were influential in shaping public opinion, attracting contributions from prominent figures like Hitler, Mussolini, and Churchill.
  • Hearst's multifaceted media approach included newsreels and radio broadcasts.
  • His life was characterized as more fascinating upon deeper research, with Churchill finding him an interesting and complex individual.

"At the peak of his power in the middle 1930s, Time magazine estimated his newspaper audience alone at 20 million of the 120,000,000 plus men, women, and children in the nation."

This quote emphasizes the vast reach of Hearst's newspapers and his significant role in shaping public opinion during his peak.

The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

  • The book discussed is "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst" by David Nassau.
  • The book is a comprehensive biography, over 600 pages, detailing Hearst's life.
  • Nassau also wrote a biography on Joseph P. Kennedy, showcasing his expertise in writing epic biographies.

"About today, which is the chief. The life of William Randolph Hearst and was written by David Nassau."

The quote introduces the book being discussed, which is a detailed account of Hearst's life and career.

George Hearst's Influence on William Randolph Hearst

  • William Randolph Hearst's success was built on the financial and entrepreneurial foundation laid by his father, George Hearst.
  • George Hearst's mining ventures made him one of the richest in the U.S. and a senator, providing a wealth base for his son.
  • The book draws parallels between the Hearsts and the Hughes family in terms of generational wealth and influence.

"There would be no William Randolph Hearst if it wasn't for the accomplishments of his father, George Hearst."

This quote stresses the importance of George Hearst's success in mining and politics as a precursor to William's accomplishments in publishing.

William Randolph Hearst's Childhood and Education

  • Hearst's childhood was marked by instability, with frequent school changes and a distant relationship with his father.
  • His mother, Phoebe, was the most consistent figure in his life, though she also disappointed him at times.
  • Hearst's father, George, was tough on him, emphasizing the need to face the "rough and tumble" world.

"Willie might as well learn to face it."

This quote from George Hearst to Phoebe regarding Willie's education encapsulates the tough-love approach that would shape William's character.

William Randolph Hearst's Early Publishing Experience

  • At Harvard, Hearst took over the Harvard Lampoon, improving its financial standing through aggressive advertising and marketing.
  • His business acumen was evident early on, as he increased the Lampoon's circulation and revenue significantly.
  • Hearst displayed indifference to public opinion, focusing on his own judgments and decisions.

"But Hearst, instead of subsidizing the lampoon out of his own or his parents' pockets, engaged in a full-scale advertising and marketing campaign to make the journal self-sufficient."

This quote demonstrates Hearst's early initiative and business strategy, which would later be applied to his larger publishing ventures.

George Hearst's Business Philosophy and Relationship with William

  • George Hearst's business philosophy was characterized by hard work and resilience, recovering from financial losses to regain wealth.
  • William's father was often absent due to his work in the mining industry, leading to a lack of a close relationship between them.
  • George was critical of William's requests for financial support, expecting him to earn his own success.

"Though George was not about to let his son give up on Harvard. He abhorred quitters."

This quote reflects George Hearst's values of perseverance and his desire for his son to complete his education despite William's eagerness to enter the publishing business.

William Randolph Hearst's Transition to Publishing

  • Hearst was expelled from Harvard but used his time there to study Joseph Pulitzer's methods and plan for taking over the San Francisco Examiner.
  • He advocated for investing in talent, as seen in his advice to his father about hiring skilled individuals for the newspaper.
  • Hearst's strategy included learning from successful publishers and applying those lessons to his own ventures.

"I've begun to have a strange fondness for our little paper. A tenderness like unto that which a mother has for a sick child."

This quote illustrates Hearst's growing attachment to the publishing industry and his desire to apply his knowledge to improve the San Francisco Examiner.

Hearst's Vision for the Examiner

  • Hearst wanted to make the Examiner original and clip only from leading journals like the New York World.
  • He aimed to hire active, intelligent, and energetic young men to achieve this.
  • Hearst proposed immediate and noticeable changes to attract attention and comments.

"It would be well to make the paper as far as possible original, to clip only some such leading journal as the New York world, which is undoubtedly the best paper of that class to which the examiner belongs."

The quote outlines Hearst's strategy to model the Examiner after successful papers like the New York World, focusing on original content and rapid transformation to gain publicity.

Hearst and Pulitzer: A Comparison

  • Pulitzer was resourceful due to lack of funds, while Hearst was perceived as sloppy but had a wealthy background.
  • Hearst's father was a wealthy senator, adding pressure for Hearst to succeed.
  • Hearst and Pulitzer both faced the challenge of proving themselves independently.

"Pulitzer was forced. He had no money. He was forced to be resourceful."

This quote highlights the contrast between Pulitzer's financial constraints and resourcefulness and Hearst's perceived sloppiness due to his wealthy background.

Hearst's Ambition and Commitment

  • Hearst aimed to escape the shadow of a successful father and sought to revolutionize journalism in the Pacific slope.
  • His commitment was evident as he spent most of his time at the Examiner, which had a smaller circulation than its competitors.
  • Hearst's focus shifted significantly once he took charge of the Examiner.

"Hearst spent most of his waking hours at the Examiner and commuted back and forth across the bay by boat."

The quote demonstrates Hearst's dedication to the Examiner, indicating a change in his behavior and commitment to the newspaper industry.

Strategy for Talent and Content

  • Hearst lacked the necessary talent initially and decided to syndicate content from the New York Herald.
  • He focused on expanding the paper's reach beyond San Francisco, identifying the need for more talent and engaging content.
  • Hearst's strategy included importing journalistic techniques from Pulitzer.

"Willhurst had not returned to his hometown to publish a provincial newspaper... He intended to work a revolution in the sleepy journalism of the Pacific slope."

The quote reflects Hearst's ambition to transform the Examiner into a revolutionary paper by adopting successful strategies from other journalists like Pulitzer.

Expansion and Innovation

  • Hearst expanded the Examiner's circulation by delivering papers to nearby cities, increasing the potential market.
  • He reduced the number of stories, increased headline size, and introduced illustrations, which made the paper more visually appealing.
  • Hearst applied Pulitzer's techniques but aimed to outperform him.

"Illustrations do not simply embellish a page. They attract the eye and stimulate the imagination."

This quote shows Hearst's understanding of the visual appeal in newspapers and his strategy to attract readers through illustrations and layout changes.

Yellow Journalism and Sensationalism

  • Hearst increased the amount of crime reporting in the Examiner to 24% of its content.
  • He exposed corruption and other crimes in San Francisco, which appealed to the public's interest.
  • Critics later argued that Hearst's primary contribution was using money to influence the newspaper industry.

"The crimes of corruption were legion. They were jury tampering, murder, cover up, bribery, kidnapping, all waiting to be exposed by the examiner."

The quote illustrates the sensational nature of the content Hearst focused on, which was a key factor in the Examiner's increased circulation and public interest.

Financial Backing and Criticism

  • Hearst's father, George Hearst, initially lost money on the Examiner but supported Will Hearst's plans to improve the paper.
  • Critics and family members expressed concern over Hearst's spending and reliance on his father's wealth.
  • George Hearst's death left Hearst without direct financial support, raising questions about his independence.

"His father's a hard ass. After I had lost about a quarter of a million on the paper, my boy will came out of school and said he wanted to try his hand at the paper."

This quote from George Hearst reflects the financial challenges and expectations surrounding the Examiner, as well as the pressure on Hearst to make the paper profitable.

Hearst's Future Aspirations and Challenges

  • Hearst aspired to expand beyond San Francisco and eyed New York City as his next venture.
  • Despite growth in circulation, the Examiner was not yet profitable and Hearst's financial independence was uncertain.
  • Hearst's father left the estate to his wife, complicating Hearst's access to funds and control over his personal and business affairs.

"It was time to look beyond San Francisco to the larger world. For Hearst, just as it had been for Joseph Pulitzer a decade earlier, New York City was a logical step."

The quote indicates Hearst's ambition to grow beyond the local market and emulate Pulitzer's move to a more prominent media landscape in New York City.

Early Career and Family Dynamics

  • William Randolph Hearst's early career involved asking his mother for financial support.
  • Hearst had to agree to certain conditions, such as breaking up with his girlfriend, to secure financial assistance.
  • Hearst's mother eventually loaned him money to enter the New York newspaper scene.

"At the time, there was something almost pathetic in 30-year-old Will Hearst asking his mother for a regular salary." "He breaks into New York, interesting enough, by buying the paper founded by Joseph Pulitzer's brother."

The quotes illustrate Hearst's reliance on his mother's financial support and his strategic entry into the New York newspaper market by purchasing a paper related to his competitor, Joseph Pulitzer.

Newspaper Strategy in New York

  • Hearst's strategy in New York mirrored that of Joseph Pulitzer.
  • He kept the price of the Morning Journal at a penny, offering more content than Pulitzer's World at half the price.
  • Pulitzer had set a precedent by providing more content for the same price as competitors when he entered the New York market.

"His strategy was simple, and given the competitive situation in New York, probably the only one possible."

This quote summarizes Hearst's business strategy of offering more value at a lower price to compete in the New York newspaper market.

Staff Recruitment and Management Style

  • Hearst poached Pulitzer's staff by offering job security, a rarity in the newspaper industry at the time.
  • He offered large multi-year contracts to experienced newspapermen to join his venture.
  • Hearst's management style was calm and polite, which was in stark contrast to Pulitzer's fiery temperament.

"To persuade experienced newspaperman to join a venture everyone was convinced would fail, Hearst had to offer more than just big salaries."

This quote highlights Hearst's innovative approach to recruiting and retaining talented staff by offering job security in an uncertain industry.

Personal Life and Social Standing

  • Hearst focused on his inner scorecard, disregarding societal expectations of the upper class.
  • He did not participate in upper-class society functions, rent a box at the opera, or attempt to marry into wealth.
  • Hearst preferred the company of chorus girls and felt more comfortable in nightclubs than high society events.

"He did not care what people thought of him, and he despised society."

The quote reflects Hearst's indifference to societal norms and his preference for a lifestyle that was unconventional for someone of his social standing.

Rivalry with Teddy Roosevelt

  • Hearst and Teddy Roosevelt had a competitive relationship, both hailing from wealthy families and attending the same school.
  • Hearst felt overshadowed by Roosevelt's accomplishments and was driven by a need to compete.
  • Hearst's newspapers influenced the Spanish-American War, and he took an active role as a war correspondent.

"In this case, Hearst felt that Teddy was his competition."

The quote captures Hearst's perception of Roosevelt as a rival and his desire to outdo him in accomplishments.

Financial Challenges and Doubts

  • Despite his success, Hearst experienced periods of intense doubt and depression.
  • His depression was partly due to comparing himself to others, particularly Roosevelt.
  • Hearst's financial management was poor, leading to significant debts and reliance on family wealth.

"I guess I'm a failure, he wrote to his mother about this time."

The quote reveals Hearst's personal struggles with self-doubt and perceived failure, despite his professional achievements.

Extravagant Spending and Financial Mismanagement

  • Hearst's newspapers were popular but not profitable, leading to further financial strain.
  • He was known for his extravagant spending habits, which were unsustainable and led to mounting debts.
  • Hearst's mother played a significant role in financing his ventures and forgiving his debts.

"His newspapers were now the largest selling dailies in the city, but they were also losing more money than ever."

This quote underscores the paradox of Hearst's business success in terms of circulation, contrasted with financial losses due to his spending habits.

Political Career and Public Persona

  • Hearst had a political career, serving as a congressman and running unsuccessfully for various political offices.
  • His political ambitions diverted attention from his businesses, exacerbating financial issues.
  • Hearst maintained a mysterious public persona, avoiding informal interactions with the press.

"He serves two terms, I think, as a congressman. He runs unsuccessfully for the mayor of New York City, unsuccessfully for the governorship of New York City, and I think he fails to get the nomination for president as well."

The quote summarizes Hearst's political endeavors and the impact of his political focus on his business operations.

Decline and Loss of Control

  • Hearst's financial mismanagement eventually led to the loss of control over his empire.
  • His inability to curb his spending resulted in bankruptcy and reliance on creditors.
  • Hearst's mother's death removed the last restraint on his spending, leading to further financial ruin.

"Imagine being 70 years old and not having any money anymore after being one of the quote-unquote wealthiest people in the world."

This quote reflects on the dramatic fall from wealth and power that Hearst experienced later in life due to his financial irresponsibility.

Ownership and Control of Property

  • The state of California owns the majority of a property previously characterized as a cattle ranch, with a few exceptions.
  • The family associated with the property retains access to a small portion that was excluded when given to the state.
  • There is a private runway on the property that the family does not own.

"It was a cattle ranch when I took the tour." "I think the state of California owns everything, except there's like a few houses on the property." "And I know they said there's like a Runway for their private jets that they don't own."

The quotes discuss the ownership and control of a large property, which has largely been transferred to the state of California, with some limited access retained by the family.

The Building of an Empire

  • The individual in question is an "empire builder" who aggressively acquires more properties.
  • This behavior is described as both a gift and a curse, leading to financial strain.
  • The media empire built still exists, generating significant revenue, but it was also a drain on resources.

"And he is like an empire builder." "But the empire, the media empire he built, which still exists to this day, by the way." "It's still a privately held company by his heirs."

These quotes characterize the individual as ambitious and expansionist, having created a lasting media empire that continues to be profitable despite past financial difficulties.

Financial Discipline and Constraints

  • The individual lacks financial discipline, leading to precarious financial situations.
  • Despite poor execution, the decision to build the empire was ultimately correct.
  • Creditors had the legal right to take assets but chose not to, allowing the individual to regain control.

"But it was, in the long run, a good idea to do that." "He didn't have the financial discipline, and he never had the ability to watch." "Had the legal right to take his."

These quotes highlight the individual's lack of financial prudence and the risks taken, which could have led to loss of control over assets, but due to various circumstances, the individual maintained control.

The Impact of the Great Depression

  • Approaching the age of 70, the individual was overleveraged and faced the Great Depression.
  • There was a lack of capital for investments, and the individual's spending habits exacerbated the financial strain.
  • An "incorrigible optimist," the individual failed to recognize the severity of the Depression and its impact on his empire.

"You're almost 70 years old, you're over leveraged, and you're going into the depression." "He was an incorrigible optimist, it says." "It's going to be fine."

The quotes describe the individual's dire financial state during the Great Depression and his unwavering optimism, which was at odds with the economic reality and further endangered his financial stability.

Political Influence and Public Perception

  • The individual's anti-communist and anti-Roosevelt stance led to a loss of circulation and advertising.
  • The refusal to reduce spending and the continued lavish expenditures on real estate and art worsened the financial situation.
  • There was a public perception that the individual was out of touch with the economic reality.

"The result of the chief's anti communist, anti Roosevelt crusade had been a loss of circulation and advertising." "Readers forced to choose sides between the president and the publisher had voted twice at the ballot box for Roosevelt and at the newsstands against Hearst."

These quotes illustrate the negative consequences of the individual's political positions on his businesses and the public's choice to support Roosevelt over him, leading to financial losses.

Financial Collapse and Intervention

  • The individual's financial situation was dire, with massive debts to banks and paper mills.
  • Joe Kennedy, among others, reviewed the accounts and found the financial state to be worse than anticipated.
  • The belief that debt was a "magic ingredient" led to a near-bankruptcy situation.

"Kennedy and some of his associates poured over his accounts." "They also owed $78 million to banks." "Debt was, on the contrary, the magic ingredient that had made it possible to build his castles and buy his art collections."

The quotes discuss the revelation of the individual's enormous debts and the misguided belief that leveraging debt was beneficial, which ultimately brought him to the brink of financial ruin.

Loss of Control and Legacy

  • Creditors took control of the individual's finances, demanding that someone else be put in charge.
  • The individual's extravagant spending habits and refusal to acknowledge financial reality led to the liquidation of assets.
  • Despite these challenges, the individual's media empire survived, and he regained control before his death.

"The reality was that Chase National bank and Hearst's other creditors were now in charge." "He'S no longer in control." "By early 1945, after almost eight years in exile, William Randolph Hearst, at 82 years old, was again in control of his finances."

These quotes detail the loss and eventual regaining of control over the individual's empire, demonstrating the resilience of the business despite the financial mismanagement that had occurred.

Personal Life and Relationships

  • The individual's personal life was tumultuous, including leaving his wife for a younger actress and reducing family allowances.
  • His children, accustomed to allowances and lacking work experience, faced significant challenges.
  • The individual's refusal to acknowledge the severity of his situation led to public humiliation and the creation of the film "Citizen Kane."

"He winds up leaving his wife. This is before, decades before the story." "They've never had a job, never held." "The lines between the fictional and the."

These quotes reveal the complexities of the individual's personal life and the impact of his financial decisions on his family and public image, culminating in the creation of a film that paralleled his life story.

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