The full extent of the media mogul William Randolph Hearst’s plot to derail the movie ‘Citizen Kane’ and discredit its director and star Orson Welles is to be revealed in a new book.
It’s claimed that the plot was 'much more complicated and dark than has been recognised before’, involving allegations of extortion, harassment and plans to frame and discredit Welles in the media.
It’s said that on one occasion, Welles was told by a police investigator: “Don’t go back to your hotel. They’ve got a 14-year-old girl in the closet and two photographers waiting for you to come in.”
Hearst famously tried to block Hollywood studio RKO from making and releasing the 1941 movie, as he considered its lead character, the fictional media mogul Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, to be based on him after receiving warnings from his staff who had seen early footage.
Using previously unpublished documents, 'Citizen Kane: A Filmmakers Journey’, by Harlan Lebo and due out next month, has now lifted the lid on the lengths that Hearst and his staff, who were said to be keen 'to show the boss that they were on the ball’, went to to try and kibosh the production.
Welles’ lawyer and manager Arnold Weissberger warned his client ominously in letters, saying: “This is not a tempest in a teapot, it will not calm down, and the forces opposed to us are constantly at work.
“[Hearst] may decide to use all his legal machinery to harass RKO.”
It’s also suggested that Richard Berlin, one of Hearst’s leading players in his media empire, was trying to frame Welles as a communist at a time when it was extremely dangerous to be a communist in the US.
Speaking to The Guardian, Lebo said: “It’s typically been assumed that Hearst probably didn’t know about it and it was probably just his lackeys trying to protect the boss. But it’s clear he knew about it the entire time.”
The organisation banned all mention of the film across its 26 newspapers, 16 magazines and 11 radio stations, and also threatened distributors with lawsuits if they planned to screen it.
Today, it’s widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time.
Image credits: RKO/Deadline