This article taken from the January 27, 1941 issue of Time magazine was written shortly after the movie was completed, but a good three months before the theatrical release on May 1st, 1941. The article, written after the initial press screening of Citizen Kane describes the very initial reaction of William Randolph Hearst’s “Cinecolumnist” Lolly Parsons after she sees a private screening of the film with her two lawyers and chauffer. RKO’s first screening of the film included invitations to Hollywood’s “journalistic elite” with the notable exception of Hearst’s representatives. This raising an initial suspicion, compelled Ms. Parsons to insist on a special showing for her review. Though told by Orson Welles that the movie was not about Mr. Hearst, she noted obvious similarities and appealed to RKO to halt the release of Citizen Kane. Hearst’s papers made no mention of the film. The article was written before the official release date was set and claims that RKO has decided to release it in the following month of February. I was also written before Hearst’s famous $800,000 offer to offset the production costs and halt the release.
This article is a fascinating account of the first weeks of the memorable Hollywood clash of Hearst vs. RKO regarding the release of Welles’s potentially libel-generating film Citizen Kane. There are many obvious similarities between Charles Foster Kane and William Randolph Hearst, and Hearst, among others is assumed to be a main inspiration for the movie and the famous character. Ms. Parsons, Hearst’s film columnist, cites the most obvious comparisons to be the multiple relationships Kane has with different women in his younger years and the “wholesale grabs of Europe’s artistic offscourings.” Because of temporal limitations, the article only touches the very beginning of the altercations between Hearst, RKO and Welles. The Hearst newspapers make no mention of the film, it is never reviewed, and eventually he makes an $800,000 offer to keep the film off the market. The 25-year-old Orson Welles reaches – as many consider – his peak. From here, he has a rapid falling out of Hollywood and mainstream cinema for many years.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1997.C51173 W35 2004
According to this source, at a meeting between Hearst and his team of writers revealed that Hearst was willing to pay upwards of $1 Million dollars to obtain all the original materials associated with Citizen Kane in order to ensure the film was never released and was destroyed forever. As he could not expect the offer to go through, he took measures to blackmail Schaeffer and Welles in his paper, running a series of highly exaggerated articles about Schaeffer’s “corrupt” breach of contract with a dissatisfied client – which turned out to be a non-event settled out of court for very little money – and made a series of outrageous claims that Welles was a communist for over two weeks after Welles did a radio show with some controversial material in it. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the citation of an interview done in 1982 in which Welles alleged that Hearst and his men had planted a 14-year-old girl in his hotel room one night with camera men in the closet ready to blackmail him had he not been tipped off that night. Though the claim seems exaggerated, the author makes a compelling argument that this is the type of stunt that Hearst was quite capable of arranging.
Ultimately, the chapter continues, Schaeffer holds a meeting outlining the importance of refusing Hearst’s offer and releasing what he expects may be the highest grossing movie of all time, as no film had ever received so much pre-release publicity.
Churchill, Douglas. "ORSON WELLES SCARES HOLLYWOOD :His 'Citizen Kane' Draws the Fire of W.R. Hearst, and Thereby Hangs a Tale -- the Hays Censors Ride Again." New York Times 19 Jan. 1941. ProQuest. 9 Apr. 2008
This is an original article published in the heat of the controversy over the release of Citizen Kane when it is still uncertain what action William Randolph Hearst will take against Welles, RKO, and even Hollywood as an institution if the film was released. The article outlines the development in the first ten days of the controversy, and at that time, it was entirely uncertain whether or not Welles’ film would reach an audience.
According to the article, at this point William Randolph Hearst had threatened all of Hollywood with some “embarrassing publicity” and had already launched several private investigations into some of the major individuals responsible for the film, including Welles and the head of RKO. Hearst also mandated that all of his Hearst publications delete any and all mention of RKO and its product from its columns as a result of the controversy. Furthermore, as the result of Hearst’s threats against RKO and those that supported the film’s release, it is suggested in this article that some major players in Hollywood were considering turning against the film out of fear of retribution. This would pose further problems to RKO due to needed cooperation between studios in order to survive in Hollywood, claims the article.
By 1941, Hitchcock was considered by pop culture to be in the same league as Frank Capra and Orson Welles as being a recognizable personality as well as filmmaker. Hitchcock had begun to receive some autonomy on his films of this periods from studios like RKO (who also afforded the same courtesy to Welles). However, while Welles’s autonomy came contractually, Hitchcock’s came from people’s dislike of confrontation with the standoffish director. With RKO unsatisfied with the progress of one of his projects, they began to seek more direct involvement. Hitchock responded by leaving the studio after the projects completion, with David O. Selznick helping him work out a deal with 20th Century Fox.
Unused to and unaccepting of studio interference, Hitchcock’s brief stint at 20th Century Fox saw Hitchcock having to deal with studio head Zanuck over many of the elements of production. Zanuck’s biggest issue with Hitchcock was his slow production pace. It took twenty weeks for a script for Lifeboat to be produced. A short production schedule was imposed on Hitchcock which was ignored. Zanuck constantly sent letters complaining of the inefficiency of Hitchcock’s shooting scenes in sequential order and wanted cuts to be made to keep the project under budget, with Hitchcock frequently never responding. Hitchcock disliked the even stronger studio interference then in his earlier projects, and Zanuck disliked Hitchcock’s disregard for the budget. With Hitchcock’s value to the studio questionable, a second film for Fox was not produced (as originally intended).
Leff also notes that although Hitchcock sought after Steinbeck, he still hesitated working with The Grapes of Wrath author. Familiar with Steinbeck’s work, Hitchcock was afraid of the “political baggage” that would be brought to the film that was meant to be a technical challenge above all. Ironically, Steinbeck’s original work was far less politically controversial then Hitchcock’s eventual film. Even in interviews after filming, Hitchcock denies any reading of the film other then a political one. Leff states this as being the film’s chief weakness. Instead of focusing on the development of real characters, Hitchcock is more concerned with the allegory of political ideal and ideals colliding.