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William Randolph Hearst, the man who inspired ‘Citizen Kane’

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America’s first multimedia tycoon, pioneer of “yellow journalism” and struggling politician are all titles wrapped into one man dubbed the real-life “Citizen Kane.” William Randolph Hearst landed a lot in history as an example of triumph and trial as he explored the darker side of wealth and fame.

At the helm of his empire, he changed – and helped define – 20th century America’s media landscape in a way that still echoes into today. 

Magazines like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Good Housekeeping were once under his thumb. Newspapers that belonged to Hearst once widely circulated around major U.S. cities like Chicago and Boston, feeding narratives to the public. And, while vowing to make actress Marion Davies – his mistress – a star, he ventured into the film industry.

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William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst became America’s first multimedia tycoon, but financial struggles eventually led to waning power. (FOX Nation/Screengrab)

“Before Hearst, newspaper publishers published newspapers, magazine editors [and] publishers did magazines. The newsreels were a separate operation. Radio was a separate operation. Hearst brought them all together,” David Nasaw, author of “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst,” said of his reach.

In exploring his story in the second installment of FOX Nation’s “American Dynasty” series, his ability to shift between media forms becomes apparent.

He transferred Cosmopolitan magazine’s success into film, showcasing just how he could translate between media forms as he created Cosmopolitan Productions to turn magazine stories into feature films. 

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Marion Davies and Clark Gable

Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies, pictured with ‘Gone with the Wind’ actor Clark Gable in ‘Cain and Mabel.’ (Bettmann / Contributor)

“He invented this way of using talent across different media. He moves from platform to platform. From medium to medium, parlaying his wealth and his influence every step of the way,” Nasaw continued.

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But Hearst’s success waned during the Great Depression, at the behest of Roosevelt policies that taxed America’s wealthiest, multiple bank loans that came calling and a decline in circulation as he insisted on publishing his own unpopular opinions.

As his debts spiraled out of control, he was forced to turn over control of his finances to a trustee approved by his creditors, losing control of his empire.

Citizen Kane Orson Welles

Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) makes a stirring campaign speech before a larger-than-life portrait of himself in a scene from Citizen Kane. (Bettman/Contributor)

Up-and-coming filmmaker, Orson Welles, who used Hearst as inspiration for the leading character in his debut film “Citizen Kane,” posed another challenge – prompting Hearst to fight back against the film and flex the power of media by branding Welles a communist sympathizer.

To further explore the life and legacy of William Randolph Hearst subscribe to FOX Nation and start streaming season 2 of “American Dynasty” today.

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