Sunday, March 09, 2008

Worst than Hearst?

Citizen McCaw had its long awaited premiere Friday night to a sold out Arlington and it lived up to the hype--capturing the essence of the sad destruction of a once solid newspaper. If you want details of the event or the film, go see fine reports in the usual fine places--The Average Man, Craig Smith's Blog, Aguayo Shed. Or see the film's own website, which will tell you about other opportunities to see the flick on the big screen.

I just want to be the film geek I am and point out that the film's title is far from a mean-spirited push. And I mean that about "poor" William Randolph Hearst, of course, as Citizen Kane, as a fictional film, took enough of his life to make it clear the film was based on him, but also changed enough to make him rightfully mad. In particular the film is nasty to Marion Davies, who was far more talented than Susan Alexander Kane. Of course, it might not be a stretch to imagine the Nipper doing some lame floor show at the El Rancho some day, but that's a different story....

That said, the title of the film Citizen McCaw is actually suggested by McCaw's lawyer Barry Cappello. He's the one in the film saying, "So if the publisher wants to be a William Randolph Hearst and start a war in Cuba, they can do it," a moment immortalized in the fictional version of Hearst's life when Kane dictates a telegram that says, "Dear Wheeler, you provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war."

Now, let's ignore the fact that a publisher of a paper in the size of a town like Santa Barbara better not be able to start a war (Judith Miller's "reporting" in the New York Times and Iraq, that's a different story). What's sadly true is that one can insist McCaw has started a war--on anyone who disagrees with her, and in this case one of those anyone's happens to be the truth.

But there's another scary parallel to Hearst and McCaw beyond the scope of the movie. This is according to Pauline Kael's The Citizen Kane Book--it turns out two years after Kane, the film's screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz fell into Hearst's nasty hands. Driving home drunk (as was his wont), he hit a car right at the gates of Marion Davies' house, while Hearst was inside. The driver was Lee Gershwin, Ira's wife, and while her two passengers were just shook up, she had to get several stitches. Mankiewicz got hauled down to the police station, wasn't particularly good there. He did go over the Gershwin's later with flowers to apologize. But that wasn't enough for Hearst, of course. According to Kael:

Hearst's persistent vindictiveness was one of his least attractive traits. Mankiewicz was charged with a felony, and the minor accident became a major front page story in the Hearst papers across the country for four successive days, with headlines more appropriate to a declaration of war....Mankiewicz had to stand trial on a felony charge. And although he got through the mess of the trial all right, the hounding by the Hearst papers took its toll, and his reputation was permanently damaged.

Can't imagine someone in our town trying to pull something like that, can you?

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