“Welcome to the San Simeon premiere of ‘Citizen Kane,” said Victoria Kastner, author of the Marion Davies biography “The Times We Had” in remarks before the film screened Friday night before about 300 at the Hearst Castle visitors center.
The San Luis Obispo Intl. Film Festival programmed the event as “Hollywood to Hearst Castle,” sharing the proceeds with the Friends of Hearst Castle org — which helps fund restoration and upkeep of the art collection.
When the film was released in 1941, Hearst banned advertising for it in his papers and villified Welles but the passage of seven decades cooled those resentments among Hearst’s descendants. In “The Times We Had,” Welles’ praised Davies’ talent as an actress and apologized for how she was portrayed in the film.
Wendy Eidson, fest exec director, recalled at a news conference Friday that she first broached the idea with museum director Hoyt Fields. “We’d been trying to do an event with them for years and when I suggested showing ‘Citizen Kane’ as kind of a joke, he didn’t laugh,” she said.
Fields notified great-grandson Steve Hearst, a veep of Hearst Corp., via an email that began “don’t say no yet” and found that Hearst was good to go. He’s been promoting the event as a way of placing “Kane” in its proper context and noted that only one of the other 62 Hearst descendants has expressed any reaction — via an email saying “that was a good quote.”
“‘Citizen Kane’ is a classic American film but is in no way a historically accurate depiction of William Randolph Hearst or his favorite place in the world, his ranch,” he said Friday at the news conference. “I didn’t see it as that big a deal. My first reaction to the idea was ‘why not?'”
Hearst recalled that he first saw “Kane” at school as a seventh grader when he was 11 and was told by his parents that it wasn’t accurate depiction. He’s seen it five other times and believes that it gives the incorrect impression on two fronts — Davies being portrayed as talent-free (“That was a pretty sharp blade”) and Xanadu being a dark, forbidding locale (“It’s where I had fun in the summer, swimming in the Neptune pool”).
Hearst said his favorite scene is when Kane’s first wife (played by Ruth Warrick) admonishes him by saying “people will think…” and he finishes the sentence “what I tell them to think” because it marks a profound shift in the character.
The event and another screening Sunday has raised about $10,000. About 100 attendees — including Drew Carey — went on a tour guided by Fields at sunset with snacks and Hearst wine served at the indoor Roman pool.
Longtime showbiz photographer Timothy White received the fest’s Spotlight award with a video tribute from Harrison Ford, who was precluded by weather from flying into the castle’s airfield to attend festivities.
Hearst added that he would be open to another “Kane” screening. “If it raises money for the Friends of Hearst Castle, I’m in,” he added.
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, grandson of “Kane” screenplay writer Herman Mankiewicz, reminded the audience that although the film’s not a biopic, it was certainly perceived as one. He recalled that in the wake of the original release, Hearst’s Los Angeles Herald-Express was the only local paper covering his grandfather being accused — and acquitted — of drunk driving following a fender-bender.
Mankiewicz had spent time at Hearst Castle during its heyday before the film opened. His screenplay won the film’s only Oscar.