Hearst and The United Press

The new biography of William Randolph Hearst (The Chief by David Nasaw) touches on United Press in several places.

William Randolph Hearst

The Associated Press refused to serve Hearst's newspapers in the 1890s, just as they refused to serve E.W. Scripps' newspapers, because these two gentlemen were trying to break into the then lucrative newspaper business. To get around the exclusion, Hearst bought a newspaper, the New York Morning Advertiser, which had an AP franchise, and merged it with his own New York Morning Journal. Later Hearst set up his own wire service, the International News Service.

The Chief has a lot of fascinating information about Hearst and is money. His father was a mining engineer who made millions in the West and owned vast properties, including huge ranches in California, Montana and in Mexico. The elder Hearst wanted to be a U.S. Senator. Although he was nearly illiterate and knew nothing about anything except mining, he "bought" his election by bribing the California Legislature. At the time senators were elected by state legislators.

William Randolph also became a buy-in politician. He was elected to Congress in 1902 and carried on several campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, using his newspapers blatantly in these campaigns and paying for it all himself (his mother paying the bills). William Randolph was a pampered youth, got everything he wanted from his father, was sent to Harvard but didn't give a damn for studying, threw huge parties and pranks, and was eventually thrown out although the Harvard people tried desperately to get him through, because of his money.

When the father died, knowing his son appeared to be a profligate, left all his money to his widow, Phoebe. She also indulged William and staked his purchase of the San Francisco Examiner, his first newspaper. As he spent furiously, buying newspapers, castles in Europe, ancient art etc., Phoebe kept cautioning him but would always pay off his huge debts. One associate of W.R. said he was "the only man I know who needs $10 million a year spending money." He did not come into any money of his own until he was 52.

Hearst at first paid his top employees very generously. When he wanted a writer he offered to double the person's pay. One of those he got was Karl von Wiegand, who had been a top United Press correspondent in Germany and became one of Hearst's leading writers and advisers. Later he grabbed Unipressers like Westbrook Pegler and Benito Mussolini.

Yes, Mussolini worked for UP, writing political stories. Hearst, who liked the Italian Fascist, sent his representative to hire him for articles. Being told Benito had a contract with UP, Hearst bought the stories from UP, which Nasaw describes as then being Hearst's main competitor. Hearst finally got Mussolini to himself for $1,750 an article (about $17,500 in today's money). An interesting aspect of the deal was that the Italian leader agreed to let Hearst select the topics. As it turned out, the articles were mainly written by Margherita Sarfatti, Mussolini's mistress. And they turned out to be so ponderous, so poorly written, so late delivered and so off-topic that Hearst's editors had to discard some and continually tell Margherita she wasn't fulfilling their contract. But Hearst liked what Benito was doing in Italy and kept paying.

Hearst also tried to get Adolph Hitler to write for him. He thought Hitler was doing a good job of getting Europe out of the tangle that resulted from World War I. According to The Chief, at one point United Press salesmen were selling in Europe by telling prospects that Hitler paid Hearst a half-million dollar bribe -- which was not true. However, at least one INS correspondent was on Hitler's payroll.

The newspaper magnate's only interest, besides his newspapers, politics, and Marion Davies of course, was collecting. He roamed through Europe, Greece, Latin America, buying art treasures, always on credit. He bought a monastery in Spain and had it shipped back to the U.S. stone by stone. The only factual lapse that I noticed in The Chief was that Nasaw says the monastery was lost. In fact, the stones were piled for years unprotected and deteriorating behind a museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Just this month a small band of monks up in Northern California disclosed that they had acquired the monastery remains some yars ago and were restoring it up in a remote area.

Hearst bought and leased warehouses all over the world to store his acquisitions. He moved shiploads of stuff from Europe and hired dozens of rail cars to move things between New York and California. He never would sell anything, even when bankruptcy loomed. When he finally had to pay some debts or lose his newspapers, he owned the largest private collection of art in the world. His trustee had to carefully time auctions so that the market would not be flooded suddenly.

Like Karl Bickel of UP, Hearst was interested in going into radio. He kept giving orders for his minions to get into it, but they were largely ignored.

Hearst did get into motion pictures and newsreels, mainly to promote his paramour, Marion Davies. He bought studios and ordered all his newspapers to feature her and her movies. He was the money behind Louis B. Mayer and MGM. Marion stuck with him to the end of his life, once loaned him a million dollars when his credit was dead. He wrote a will giving her not only all his money but control over the Hearst publication empire. Marion, a hopeless alcoholic, eventually was pressured to give over control of the company to its management. Hearst didn't trust his five sons because they were either dumb and/or playboys who didn't want to pay attention to the business. So he established a board of directors numbering 13 people.

From talking about this book to one of my neighbors here I was told that Marion was not W.R.H.'s only extra-marital flame. My neighbor, who lived in swank Hillsborough, Calif., said Hearst had a place there. He did not invite women to that home but used the residence of a nearby friend for sexual assignations. Hearst's wife, Millicent, had long-since learned to live with the situation. Summers were spent in Europe, touring with Marion and a caravan of friends and associates in seven cars. When he visited a castle, he tried to buy it, sometimes succeeding.

Winters in San Simeon saw regular train excursions from Hollywood bringing scores of guests, including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, all the important movie directors and whatever starlets who were big at the time. Cocktails were at 7 and each guest was supposed to get only one (some of the servants were bribed for more). If you found your bags packed at the doorway the next day, you knew your decorum had offended the Chief in some way. Elephants, giraffes and other assorted creatures greeted the arriving guests on the ranch, which is now a tourist site owned by the state of California. (The surrounding cattle acreage and miles of seashore are still owned by Hearst.)

Once after Hearst had a minor operation he got a call from somebody at UP who thought he had died. He sent Roy Howard a telegram:

"What in Hades is the matter with your fellows, Roy. A couple of months ago I had a small operation about as important as having your tonsils removed and today one of your myrmidons telephoned up to ask me if I was dead. I had to leave a tennis game to tell this gink that I was alive and then I do not think he believed it. Now Roy stop this damned nonsense. I have never been sick in my life nor dead either. Moreover if you want to participate in a little light humor I will bet you one thousand dollars that I attend your funeral."

Later, on Hearst's 78th birthday UP sent him a congratulatory message. He responded:

"Thank you, but I am not having any more birthdays. Or if I do, I will have them in reverse, beginning at seventy-eight and going back to twenty-one. I appreciate your courteous congratulations, but please save them until I get back to twenty-one. Congratulating a man on being seventy-eight is like felicitating him on being in an airplane accident. He may survive, but it is not exactly an enjoyment."

Hearst liked boxer Jack Dempsey because he was a true-blue American. When UP in 1927 bought exclusive rights to broadcast of the Dempsey-Tunney fight, Hearst scolded his people for letting this happen.

This biographer, Nasaw, obviously had access to and spent a lot of time studying the recorded material on Mr. Hearst. -- Dick Harnett