Book Reveals Hearst’s Plot Against Orson Welles Was Bigger Than Suspected

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The story of 1941’s Citizen Kane is legend, and not just because it’s such a great film. It’s legend because Orson Welles’ masterpiece creates a damning portrait of a media tycoon whose life mirrors almost exactly that of William Randolph Hearst. Because of this, a smear campaign was undertaken by employees of Hearst’s media empire, seriously hamstringing the release of the film and tarnishing Welles’ career. A lot of our assumptions about this anti-Welles crusade have now been proven true — and perhaps too forgiving — by documents uncovered in a new book by Harlan Lebo.

As reported in The Guardian, Lebo’s book provides evidence to back up what had, until now, been largely unsubstantiated (and logical) rumor. According to Lebo, even Welles wasn’t sure that Hearst was involved. “It’s typically been assumed that Hearst probably didn’t know about it and it was probably just his lackeys trying to protect the boss. But it’s clear he knew about it the entire time,” he said to the paper.

Welles was in such disbelief about Hearst’s involvement that, when he was warned by a police officer of a 14-year-old girl and two photographers were waiting in his hotel room — on orders from Hearst — he dismissed the tip-off as a ploy from one of Hearst’s competitors. There’s also new evidence to suggest that the entire smear campaign was brought on when two of Hearst’s writers, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, saw the film.

Lebo said, “As the story goes, Hopper, after seeing a rough cut … alerted the Hearst organization to the ‘dangers’ of Citizen Kane, and Parsons, who wrote for Hearst, then saw the film and took up the Hearst cause.”

It’s fascinating stuff, especially for anyone who loved the recent behind-the-scenes maneuverings of Hail, Caesar! Head over to The Guardian for more from their interview with Lebo. His book, Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey will be released April 26, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the release of the film.