The Real William Randolph Hearst


The Real William Randolph Hearst


WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST was born in San Francisco in 1863, went to the public schools and then entered Harvard University. He was tall, strong, pale, smiling, bashful, but mad for practical jokes. He was an indifferent student, although he showed ability whenever he chose to concentrate on any subject. But he had an incurable levity, a feverish love for pranks.

He became the business manager of the student paper, the Lampoon, and made money so rapidly that the students had to have frequent banquets to keep the surplus down.

When Grover Cleveland was elected President Mr. Hearst hired many bands of music, bought wagon-loads of beer, set off fireworks in all directions and raised such a red-blazing, ear-splitting, rip-roaring, all-night racket as to scandalize old Cambridge and almost cause his expulsion from Harvard. It was the first outburst of that Hearstian genius for fireworks, brass bands and hurrahing spectacularity which has startled and entertained the country so many, many times since.

An unappreciated practical joke resulted in Mr. Hearst’s suspension by the Harvard faculty, and he went back to San Francisco as shy, gentle and smiling as ever.

Senator Hearst eyed his tall, handsome son gravely and stroked his grey beard.

“My boy,” he said, “I assume that you are not content to live simply as a rich man’s son, but that you want to get out and do something for yourself.”

“That’s right, father.”

“I have great ranch properties which you might develop.”

The young man shook his head vigorously.

“Mines ?”

Another emphatic shake of the head.

“What do you want ?”

“I want the San Francisco Examiner.”

“Great God!” cried the senator, throwing up his hands. “Haven’t I spent money enough on that paper ? I took it for a bad debt and it’s a sure loser. Instead of holding it for my own son, I’ve been saving it up to give to an enemy.”

But Mr. Hearst’s gay and successful experience as manager of the Lampoon had bitten deeply into his soul. He was only twenty-three years old and, to his adventurous, prank-loving nature, journalism was an enchanted playground in which giants and dragons were to be slain simply for the fun of the thing; a Never Never Land with pirates and Indians and fairies; a wonderful, wonderful rainbow, with uncounted gold at the other end of it.

In the end Senator Hearst reluctantly surrendered his own judgment that a newspaper was an interesting game but a “damned poor business,” and his son became the proprietor and editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

San Francisco smiled at the notion that the long-legged, soft-voiced, frivolous youth, whose gorgeous cravats were the wonder of the city, and whose personal escapades had provoked the frowns of even that liberal community, was to assume the dignities and responsibilities of editorship. It was a public joke.

But San Francisco was mistaken. Mr. Hearst threw himself into the work of reconstructing his newspaper with a vigor, intelligence and courage that astonished everybody. He brought to his task a personality hitherto unsuspected. He attacked abuses, proclaimed radical democracy, introduced a sort of typographical violence in the make-up of the paper, and smashed all journalistic traditions in his effort to arrest public attention. The circulation of the Examiner increased by leaps and bounds. Mr. Hearst stuck to his task, working harder than any of his subordinates, seldom leaving the office before midnight. He made the members of his staff his chums and showered presents on them. He courted the applause of the crowd, and invited the opposition of the hated railroad despotism and its allies. He championed labor unionism. He even got one of his women writers to pretend to faint in the street and be taken in an ambulance to a hospital, in order to tell the story of her terrible experiences and expose the inefficiency and corruption of the public hospital service.

He had all sorts of ways of varying his life. He built the Vamoose, a $60,000 yacht that steamed twenty-eight miles an hour, the fastest thing afloat, and, finding that he could not take it from New York to San Francisco, sold it for $22,000. He made flights through Europe, collected antiquities and made thousands of photographs, even catching with his camera bats flying in the underground tombs of Egyptian kings.

Before Mr. Hearst had spent $750,000 in his new venture the Examiner had been converted from a newspaper wreck into a profitable business and a recognized power on the Pacific Coast. Then the humorous smile faded from the face of San Francisco, and the tall young editor with the pale blue eyes and almost feminine smile was denounced as a clever but unscrupulous sensationalist.

Even in those adolescent days, when Mr. Cleveland’s ponderous utterances were the wonder and delight of the Democracy newly restored to power, Mr. Hearst monotonously repeated his prediction that unless the Democratic party had the courage to be “really democratic” it would be swept from office. But nobody paid much attention to the personal views of the young “freak journalist,” in spite of his success.

When Senator Hearst died in 1891 he bequeathed his fortune to his widow. It has been commonly supposed that his possessions were worth $40,000,000, and some estimates have been as high as $80,000,000. The truth is that the estate left by Senator Hearst was worth about $17,000,000.

Mr. Hearst wanted to own a newspaper in New York. San Francisco had grown too small for him. His desire to burst into the metropolis became an overpowering passion.

There can be no doubt that at this time Mr. Hearst had no desire either for political leadership or for public office. The excitements and romance of newspaper life satisfied him. He avoided political attachments and reveled in the society of working newspapermen. His bashfulness was extreme and he shrank from personal publicity.

It is hard to recognize the nervously demure W. R. Hearst of those days in the William Randolph Hearst whose name is printed in big type several times a day in his own newspapers and screamed from the very housetops by his agents.

Mr. Hearst wanted to conquer New York in a newspaper sense, to make a grand splash, to build up “the biggest circulation in the world” and be the acknowledged master of sensational journalism. Politics were merely incidental to this iridescent ambition.

He came to New York in 1895 and bought the Morning Journal, a cheap and amusing, although somewhat discreditable, sheet published by Albert Pulitzer. He paid $150,000 for the paper; but, before he reached the climax of his activities, he invested more than $7,000,000 in this single enterprise, with its various editions.

At first Mr. Hearst’s New York paper was bright, enterprising, full of clever pictures and striking cartoons, saucy, but without malice or ruffianism. It caught the fancy of the crowd and won friends. Its raw and abusive politics were developed later on.

Mr. Hearst’s great opportunity came in 1896 when Mr. Bryan was nominated for President. The New York press was bitterly antagonistic to the free silver movement and all its concomitants, and the great eastern newspapers bolted the Democratic ticket.

Mr. Hearst was not a free silver man, and never has been, but he at once took up the abandoned Democratic cause and made a campaign for Mr. Bryan which astonished the country by its dash and brilliant audacity. He hired the ablest writers he could get and spent money in a way to make the richest New York newspaper proprietors gasp. His expenditures were so lavish that the salaries of newspaper men on most of the rival journals were raised to keep them from Mr. Hearst; and the present large incomes of American newspapermen are to some extent due to the pace which he has set.

It was in the long struggle to arouse the United States to armed interference with the cruel and bloody rule of Spain in Cuba that Mr. Hearst showed the terrific power of sensational journalism backed by wealth. His frantic and vulgar methods of attracting attention to his newspaper disgusted conservative journalists; but underlying the screaming headlines and crazy illustrations there was a note of moral earnestness that steadily made itself felt. The Journal did things. It proclaimed itself as the protagonist of “the journalism that acts.”

Mr. Hearst was not content merely to print news : he felt it to be a proper part of journalism to make news.

So, when Evangelina Cisneros, a young Cuban girl, was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment for having resisted the vile attentions of a Spanish officer, Mr. Hearst spent thousands of dollars in cabling petitions for the girl’s release to the Queen Regent of Spain, and he even secured the intercession of the Pope by cabling petitions to the Vatican, until the Spanish Government was beside itself with helpless anger.

And in the end Mr. Hearst sent Karl Decker to Cuba to rescue pretty Evangelina by sheer jail-breaking. When the friendless fugitive reached New York, he had her dressed like a princess, set her in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and had a military parade, a mass meeting of a hundred thousand persons in Madison Square and a reception at Delmonico’s, all in her honor and all at his own expense.

It was a tremendous advertisement for his newspaper, and he was shrewd enough to see its sordid bearings; but it was a genuine stroke for the oppressed Cubans, the hardest struck before the destruction of the battleship Maine; and, besides, Mr. Hearst was entertained, and sometimes thrilled, by the mere excitement and romance of it.

Frederick Remington, the famous artist, was sent to Cuba, with instructions to remain there until the war began. After a few days Mr. Remington sent this telegram from Havana :

W. R. Hearst, New York Journal, N. Y.:

Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return.


This was the answer he got : Remington, Havana : Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.


The outbreak of the Spanish-American War found Mr. Hearst in a state of proud ecstasy. He had won his campaign and the McKinley Administration had been forced into war. His newspapers broke into a new madness of big type and red-ink appeals to public passion. He spent $500,000 above ordinary expenses in covering the news of the short campaign. He went to Cuba himself and made notes of the fighting under fire.

One of the Journal’s correspondents was shot down at El Caney. Mr. Hearst knelt in the grass beside him and took down his story of the battle.

“It’s fun, isn't it ?” he said, as the bullets whinged past his head. “I’m sorry you’re hurt; but wasn’t it a splendid fight ! We must beat every paper in the world.

After the sinking of Cervera’s ships by the American fleet Mr. Hearst, who was near at hand, lowered a steam launch from his own ship—he had already armed and presented his yacht to the Government —and ran to the Cuban shore, where he found a party of surviving Spanish bluejackets huddling on the beach. Pulling off his trousers and drawing his revolver Mr. Hearst leaped into the surf, drove twenty-six prisoners into his launch and delivered them to the nearest American warship.

Mr. Hearst pays $122,000 a year for the services of three men in his New York office. That is exactly the sum which the United States pays for the services of President Roosevelt and the nine members of his cabinet. The highest salary paid by Mr. Hearst is $52,000, the next $40,000 and the next $30,000. Besides this he has five assistants who receive $20,000 a year each. This makes $222,000 a year for eight captains of yellow journalism, just $100,000 more than the total income of the President and his whole Cabinet.

These are Mr. Hearst’s principal lieutenants :

Solomon Solis Carvalho, general manager of all the Hearst newspapers; a highly trained journalist and shrewd business man; said to be a descendant of a famous Portuguese statesman. Mr. Carvalho owns a notable collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Evening Journal and writer of its remarkable editorials. He is the son of Albert Brisbane, disciple of Fourier, the French socialist, and was one of the most highly-paid writers for Charles A. Dana and Joseph Pulitzer.

Samuel S. Chamberlain, managing editor of the New York American and supervising editor of all the Hearst newspapers. He is a recognized master of bright and entertaining "make-up” in a newspaper, a brilliant news-feature editor. He is the son of a former chief editorial writer on the World and Herald, and was for many years the friend and secretary of James Gordon Bennett.

Morrill Goddard, editor of the New York American Sunday Magazine and the inspirer of its lurid and fantastic sensations.

Max F. Ihmsen, Mr. Hearst’s political manager; once a member of the New York Herald’s staff.

Clarence Shearn, Mr. Hearst’s lawyer and the thinker-out of his costly injunction suits and other litigations against corporations and "oppressors of the common people.”

With more than fifty editors and hundreds of political agents working out his instructions and with two million copies of his newspapers drifting over the face of society every day, it might be supposed that Mr. Hearst lives in a state of perpetual excitement. The truth is that he is the most placid of humans and finds plenty of time for play. It is hard to believe that this smooth-faced, soft-spoken and tranquil young man of forty-three years who idles in the restaurants, lolls amiably in automobiles, and generally studies the American people from the standpoint of the vaudeville theatre, is the master-mind of a movement that keeps a large part of the nation in an uproar.

In the midst of a great tumult stirred up by the Hearst papers, a friend called on Mr. Hearst. He found the editor stretched on a bed beside his infant son, holding a milk bottle, at which the child tugged vigorously. Now and then the baby would utter a loud squall, whereat Mr. Hearst would kick up his heels delightedly, and cry, "Uxtry ! Uxtry ! Uxtry edition !”

It was only natural that the son of a man whose money carried him into the United States Senate should in time develop political ambitions. The Senator was an easy-going and docile party man. But his son has always been impatient of restraint and cannot abide the discipline and limitations of regular party service. He must lead, never follow. It was that lawless, uncontrollable spirit that made Tammany Hall distrust him and, even after he had helped to elect the notorious Van Wyck mayor of New York, Tammany shut him out of its councils. Boss Croker could never understand him, and when Mr. Hearst, on the eve of a permanent revolt against Tammany, sent word that he would continue his support on condition that the organization’s pledge to spend more money on the public schools should be carried out, the wily old Tammany leader spat on the ground, wagged his head and announced that no man in the world was so green as to swallow such a tale as that. And yet the beginning of a sensationally grand public school movement was Mr. Hearst’s real object. He is a fanatic on the subject.

“When we have more and better schools,” he said, “the time will come when men like Croker must fall from power.”

Mr. Hearst was, in a furtive and half-hearted way, a candidate for second place on the ticket with Mr. Bryan in 1900. But the very men who have been shrieking Mr. Hearst’s name from one end of the country to the other laughed at the editor’s pretensions. Even Mr. Bryan looked upon the matter as a jest.

Mr. Hearst had not yet learned to discard his fashionable clothes and change his straw hat with its gay ribbon to a “black slouch.” He was still W. R. Hearst and as yet did not dream of the resounding and stately William Randolph Hearst. But he was President of the National Association of Democratic Clubs, and his experiences in that presidential campaign taught him that political organizations are, after all, largely made up of noise and boasting, and that most of the men who do the real work among the voters can be controlled by any one with boldness enough to proclaim himself leader and pay for the printing, music and red fire.

He had a terrible awakening in 1891 when President McKinley was assassinated. His newspaper rivals recalled the fact that the Evening Journal had once printed an editorial saying that assassination was sometimes a good thing, and that the Morning Journal had published this quatrain :

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast Cannot be found in all the west. Good reason—it is speeding here To stretch McKinley on his bier.

It did not matter that these and other things had been printed without Mr. Hearst’s knowledge and against his wish. It made no difference that he had stopped the presses when he read the assassination editorial. A cry of rage sounded across the continent and Mr. Hearst was burned and hung in effigy, while bonfires fed by his newspapers were lighted north, south, east and west. It is doubtful whether any American has ever faced such a wild storm of passion as that which burst over the head of the hapless young editor. He was everywhere denounced as a murderer, anarchist and scoundrel.

It would be unfair to refer to this terrible incident without also recording the fact that, months before the President was slain, Mr. Hearst sent a representative to Mr. McKinley to express his regret that his newspapers, in the heat of active political warfare, had been led into excess of personal attack, and offering to exclude from its pages anything that the President might find personally offensive, but also pledging him hearty support in all things as to which Mr. Hearst did not differ with him politically.

The President seemed deeply touched by this wholly voluntary offer and sent a message of sincere thanks. The writer of this article was the bearer of the President’s message. These facts are given as an explanation of the actual terms upon which Mr. Hearst and Mr. McKinley were living when Czolgoz fired the fatal shot.

In less than three years after this appalling experience, Mr. Hearst worked up a Presidential boom for himself which carried the Democratic conventions of California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and Hawaii, with parts of the delegations of Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, West Virginia, Indian Territory, Oklahoma and Porto Rico.

All was forgotten in the roaring passion aroused by his newspapers and agents. Yet, in spite of the fact that the most active men in this unprecedented campaign were his own employees, working through his National Association of Democratic Clubs and through political leaders anxious to gain the favor of his newspapers, there was some evidence that Mr. Hearst had touched the hearts and gained the confidence of a great multitude, and that he was beginning to be honestly taken as an unselfish and unterrified champion of the poor and the helpless.

It has been said that he spent more than $2,000,000 in that attempt to be nominated for President. The fact is, that, outside of the salaries and ordinary expenses of his regular employees, he paid out not more than $150,000—practically all for printing, fireworks, hall-hire, banners, badges, music and transportation. He had spent as much for Mr. Bryan.

Mr. Hearst’s campaign for mayor of New York was carried on without the support of any political party. He was nominated by petition, the arrangements being made by his employees, and he paid his own expenses. Mr. Odell, the New York Republican leader, informed Mr. Hearst’s representative, when an attempt was made to unite the Republicans, Hearstites and the Citizens’ Union on a mayoralty candidate, that a legitimate campaign, supported by disciplined organization methods, would cost, without a dollar for bribery, at least $400,000. Mr. Hearst had no party and a mere pretense of organization, known as the Municipal Ownership League, yet he came within a fraction of being elected mayor at a cost of about $65,000.

That amazing and passionate struggle awakened the country to a new view of Mr. Hearst and a realization of the fact that, whatever his merits or demerits, Hearstism is a political and social force that must be reckoned with in earnest.

Hardly had Mr. Hearst’s industrious but stealthy campaign to capture the governorship of New York been under way for a month when the signs of his political strength caused the bitterist of the anti-Bryan Democratic leaders to unite in a loud cry for Mr. Bryan to come back to America and save the conservatives from Mr. Hearst and, apparently by a previous arrangement, several Democratic state conventions endorsed Mr. Bryan for President two years in advance of the national convention.

There was a time when Mr. Hearst would tremble and grow pale at the bare thought of making a speech. That was before he found out that an American political leader must do his own talking. His devices for avoiding speeches excited laughter and jeers. It was said that everything that appeared over his name was written by employees, that he was too shallow to think and too dull and shamefaced to talk.

But in his mayoralty campaign he developed powers of oratory and slashing, original, straightforward attack, that surprised everybody. And ever since he has shown an almost incredible love for public speaking, and a growing mastery of the art of extemporaneous cajolement of the poor but honest citizen who has a vote.