Mank: Who Was William Randolph Hearst?

In ‘Mank’, director David Fincher (‘The Social Network’) creates a complex story about Hollywood’s golden age through remarkably visceral black-and-white camera work. The film revolves around Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), a renowned scriptwriter who teams up with 24-year-old Orson Welles to create one of the most important films of all time, ‘Citizen Kane.’ According to the film, when Welles first approached Mank about writing the script, he was bedridden, having endured a severe accident recently.

The sun has already started setting on his once glorious career, so when Welles offers him the final opportunity to leave his mark on entertainment history, he immediately agrees. Only a cursory reading is enough for people to realize after whom Kane is modeled. As a Hollywood insider, Mank has spent years as part of the court of the unofficial royalties of Hollywood, William Randolph Hearst, the biggest media mogul of the time, and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

The invaluable information he has harvested in those years helps him build up his story. Most of these characters’ real-life counterparts behaved exactly the same way as depicted in the film. Hearst tried his best to suppress the film. However, he failed, and the rest is history. In Fincher’s adaptation, Charles Dance (‘Game of Thrones’) portrays the role of Hearst. Here’s everything you need to know about him!

Who Was William Randolph Hearst?

Image Credit: National Museum of American History – Smithsonian Institution

William Randolph Hearst was a fascinating individual. Born to wealth and affluence, he entered the publishing business with his father’s money and gradually established himself as the most influential and powerful newspaperman in the world. In the history of journalism, Hearst is most known for popularising sensational and over-the-top yellow journalism. He then entered politics, where he experienced modest success.

He won two US House of Representatives elections as a Democratic candidate representing a left-wing platform. Still, his bids for US Presidency in 1904, Mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, and Governor of New York in 1906 ended in failure. Hearst subsequently moved to Los Angeles, where he started producing films starring his mistress through his production house, Cosmopolitan Productions.

William Randolph Hearst’s Wife

Hearst was married only once. In 1903, he exchanged wedding vows with Millicent Willson (1882–1974) in New York City. She was a 21-year-old chorus girl at the time. They went on to have five sons: George Randolph Hearst Sr. (1904–1972), William Randolph Hearst Jr. (1908–1993), John Randolph Hearst (1909–1958), and twins Randolph Apperson Hearst (1915–2000) and David Whitmire Hearst (1915-1986). After Hearst’s affair with Davies became widely known, the estrangement between him and Millicent became permanent. She left Los Angeles in 1926 and went back to New York. However, they never officially divorced.

William Randolph Hearst’s Mistress

Image Credit: Collection SFMOMA | Gift of Lisa and John Pritzker

It was 1916 that Hearst saw Davies for the first time in the theatre scene in New York. He was 53, and she was 19. They began an affair after she signed a film contract with Cosmopolitan Productions. In the ensuing decade, she became Hollywood’s biggest female star, starring in hit projects like ‘When Knighthood Was in Flower’ (1922) and ‘Little Old New York’ (1923). Her box-office success earned her the title “Queen of the Screen” from a theater-owners association in 1924.

Owing to the Great Depression, Davies’ acting career declined, but she and Hearst still continued to host lavish parties. They allegedly had a daughter together, Patricia Lake (between 1919 and 1923-1993), who was brought up by Davies’ sister Rose and her first husband. While neither Hearst nor Davies confirmed that Lake’s parentage, they were heavily involved in her upbringing. Right before her death, Lake reportedly told her family that she was Hearst and Davies’ daughter, but this is disputed by Hearst’s estate.

William Randolph Hearst’s Net Worth

According to estimates, William Randolph Hearst was worth $3.11 billion (equivalent to $30.6 billion in 2020) at the time of his death

William Randolph Hearst’s Death

Hearst witnessed the resurgence of his company during World War 2. His health began failing in the late 1940s, predominantly due to his advanced age. Shortly before his death, he had to endure several cerebral vascular accidents. Hearst subsequently slipped into coma and passed away on August 14, 1951. He was 88 years old at the time. Davies was with him till the end.

Read More: Where Was Mank Filmed?