Gather Ye Rosebuds: 'Citizen Kane' To Screen At Hearst Castle The film by Orson Welles was inspired by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who hated it with a passion. But this weekend, the film was finally shown at Hearst's legendary California castle.
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Gather Ye Rosebuds: 'Citizen Kane' Screened At Hearst Castle

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Gather Ye Rosebuds: 'Citizen Kane' Screened At Hearst Castle

Gather Ye Rosebuds: 'Citizen Kane' Screened At Hearst Castle

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

"Citizen Kane" has been called the best film ever made. It was also at the center of an epic battle of egos. The main character was modeled after the media titan William Randolph Hearst, who in real life tried ruthlessly to keep the movie from being released. Almost 75 years later, there's been a truce of sorts. This weekend, "Citizen Kane" was screened for the first time inside the millionaire's legendary home, the Hearst Castle. Melissa Jaeger-Miller has the story.

MELISSA JAEGER-MILLER, BYLINE: It was 1941, and the boy wonder Orson Welles was about to release his first feature film. RKO studios had given the 26-year-old director the keys to the castle cinematically; complete creative control to make whatever movie he wanted. And the movie "Citizen Kane," the story of power hungry and tragic Charles Foster Kane, and his castle on the hill, Xanadu.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CITIZEN KANE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Newsreel Man) Like the pharaohs, Xanadu's landlord leaves many storms to mark his grave. Since the pyramids, Xanadu is the costliest monument a man has built to himself.

JAEGER-MILLER: Everyone knew that Charles Foster Kane was a stand in for William Randolph Hearst. And Xanadu, Hearst's castle in San Simeon on the California Coast, it was a place that defined the word decadent - 165 rooms, 1/4 million acres, entire 15th century ceilings imported from Europe, packed with art and once home to the world's largest private zoo. Wild zebras still roam the grounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CITIZEN KANE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Character) News on the march.

JAEGER-MILLER: Newspapers, magazines, newsreels and movies, Hearst was the first media mogul. And while he started his career on the left, by the 1930s, Hearst had Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler as paid columnists and was trying to destroy the New Deal. He became a villain to the new generation of lefties including Orson Welles.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CITIZEN KANE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Character)...Girls delightful in Cuba STOP. Could send you prose poems about scenery, but don't feel right spending your money STOP. There is no war in Cuba signed Wheeler. Any answer?

GEORGE ORSON WELLES: (As Kane) Yes. Dear Wheeler, you provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Character) That's fine Mr. Kane.

JAEGER-MILLER: When word got out that Welles had taken aim at Hearst, Hearst fired right back. First an advertising blackout. And in that era, long before TMZ, they threatened worse than a blackout. Bad publicity for RKO studios movie stars. David Nasaw is the author of "The Chief: The Life Of William Randolph Hearst."

DAVID NASAW: They said look, if you show this film, we are going to tell the life stories of lots of RKO people. And we're going to take the same liberties when we tell those stories as Welles is taking with Hearst.

JAEGER-MILLER: Yet, after all that, the student took the plunge. "Citizen Kane" was released and was a hit with critics but pretty much bombed at box office. But back to San Simeon at a party Friday night for the San Luis Obispo Film Festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Welcome to this once in a lifetime event at the spectacular Hearst Castle.

JAEGER-MILLER: "Citizen Kane" was shown down at the bottom of the hill at the visitors' center a few years ago. But to play the movie inside Hearst's lush private theater - never. His great grandson was the one to give the thumbs up. Stephen Hearst is the vice president for the Hearst Corporation, and agreeing to a screening came with a lot of questions from people who knew about the famous feud.

STEPHEN HEARST: I mean, one of them hit me straight out and said, do you think your great-grandfather would be rolling in his grave? And I let him know that based on my current responsibilities, I also have control of the mausoleum and if necessary, I can check.

JAEGER-MILLER: Hearst's descendants still get to use the castle - the Roman pool, the tennis courts. And the name still No. 6 on the Forbes list of America's most wealthy families. But the estate is now, of all things, a state park. And about 750,000 non-Hearsts come to ogle the place every year. No surprise, it takes a lot of resources to maintain. The party's $1,000-a-pop ticket sales are going in part towards that. And while he agrees the movie is a classic, Hearst biographer David Nasaw says the Charles Foster Kane and William Randolph Hearst shouldn't stay linked in the public imagination.

NASAW: One of the reasons why "Citizen Kane" is dreadful biography and dreadful history is that it presents Hearst as a failure, as a bitter, nasty old man. Hearst had a great life. I mean, he made lots and lots of enemies, but along the way, he had a grand time.

JAEGER-MILLER: And his castle, still not a bad spot for a party. For NPR News, I'm Melissa Yeager-Miller.

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