Cover image for The chief : the life of William Randolph Hearst
The chief : the life of William Randolph Hearst
Nasaw, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Physical Description:
xv, 687 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Z473.H4 N37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



David Nasaw's magnificent, definitive biography of William Randolph Hearst is based on newly released private and business papers and interviews. For the first time, documentation of Hearst's interactions with Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, and every American president from Grover Cleveland to Franklin Roosevelt, as well as with movie giants Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, and Irving Thalberg, completes the picture of this colossal American. Hearst, known to his staff as the Chief, was a man of prodigious appetites. By the 1930s, he controlled the largest publishing empire in the country, including twenty-eight newspapers, the Cosmopolitan Picture Studio, radio stations, and thirteen magazines. As the first practitioner of what is now known as synergy, Hearst used his media stronghold to achieve political power unprecedented in the industry. Americans followed his metamorphosis from populist to fierce opponent of Roosevelt and the New Deal, from citizen to congressman, and we are still fascinated today by the man characterized in the film classic CITIZEN KANE. In Nasaw's portrait, questions about Hearst's relationships are addressed, including those about his mistress in his Harvard days, who lived with him for ten years; his legal wife, Millicent, a former showgirl and the mother of his five sons; and Marion Davies, his companion until death. Recently discovered correspondence with the architect of Hearst's world-famous estate, San Simeon, is augmented by taped interviews with the people who worked there and witnessed Hearst's extravagant entertaining, shedding light on the private life of a very public man.

Author Notes

David Nasaw is currently a professor of history and director of the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, he lives in Manhattan.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A maker and spender of money on a megalomaniacal scale, publishing potentate William Randolph Hearst provoked no neutral opinions during his extravagant life: biographies of him were either excoriations or exaltations. After a 40-year hiatus in the genre, Nasaw here revives Hearstiana with a balanced, estimable chronicle of the man and the headlines, opinions, mistresses, profits, debts, newspapers, parties, yachts, and real estate that passed through his head or through his hands over 88 years. Whatever drove Hearst, money was not his principal motivation, as he was the only child of one of the richest men in 1880s California. But his father was absent and neglectful and never answered William's letters, often pathetic bids for paternal attention. Nasaw, blessedly, eschews psychobiography, shrewdly implying that compensatory attention-seeking was one of Hearst's lifelong motivations. Attention he certainly got, beginning with the toy his father gave him in 1887 following his expulsion from Harvard: the San Francisco Examiner. What became the yellow press began there: a purient puree of sensationalized sex and crime, combined with an editorial posture of outrage at the powers-that-be. These were Hearst's radical years, which Nasaw's prose makes as rambunctious as they must have seemed to the purchaser of his penny papers, which clamored for war with Spain or thumped the drum for Hearst's presidential ambitions. Nasaw also reconstructs Hearst's private life, covering his relationship with actress/consort Marion Davies, his fantasy estate at San Simeon, and his virtual bankruptcy in the late 1930s. As an autocratic, capitalist opinion-maker beholden to no one (except to his mother, who controlled his finances until age 56), Hearst's image persists in popular imagination--at least for viewers of Citizen Kane. Nasaw's thorough account reveals a more interesting and less monstrous Hearst. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

It has been 40 years since the last major Hearst biographyÄthus this new volume has inherent value in portraying anew the great forerunner of Rupert Murdoch and other modern-day media moguls. This long-winded tome, however, often bogs down in trivial details of Hearst's tangled personal and professional life. Nasaw (Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements) is the first to have had access to the formerly closed Hearst archives, but he doesn't really offer any surprises. On the big questions, the author only confirms what we already knew: that it was a lack of academic diligence that lay behind Hearst's failure at Harvard; that, like countless other well-heeled young men of his generation, he kept a mistress before marriage; that he was na‹ve in his dealings with Hitler. Neither is it a revelation that Hearst's financial collapse in the late 1930s was the result of spendthrift habits combined with the dour economic climate of the times. But the Hearst whom Nasaw portrays in such extraordinary (and excessive) detail is still the fascinating figure we've known for years: the self-absorbed genius equally addicted to power and possessions, the press baron interested not just in reporting news but in making and manipulating it. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC alternate selection. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The outsized life of William Randolph Hearst is a challenge to any biographer. The son of a miner who made a fortune in Western gold fields, he transformed American journalism as a publisher. He was a force in Hollywood's first golden age, and Marion Davies, his longtime mistress, was an early star. In politics, he served in Congress and sought the presidency, an office Franklin Roosevelt attained with the help of Hearst, who then became an arch-critic while corresponding with world leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler. As a collector, he filled warehouses with art objects he could not fit into the castles he built and bought. It may be inevitable that no biography could do full justice to each aspect of such a life, but CUNY historian Nasaw (Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements) has done an admirable job. Enjoying the cooperation of family members and access to new primary sources, Nasaw has written a richer biography than the previous standard, W.A. Swanberg's Citizen Hearst (LJ 10/15/93), and a comparable book to Ben Proctor's two-volume work-in-progress, of which William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years (LJ 4/1/98) is Volume 1. Highly recommended for general collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/00.]DRobert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Prefacep. xiii
I. Great Expectations
1. A Son of the Westp. 3
2. To Europe Again and on to Harvardp. 23
3. "Something Where I Could Make a Name"p. 39
II. Proprietor and Editor
4. At the Examinerp. 67
5. "I Can't Do San Francisco Alone"p. 82
6. Hearst in New York: "Staging a Spectacle"p. 95
7. "How Do You Like the Journal's War?"p. 125
III. Publisher, Politician, Candidate, and Congressman
8. Representing the Peoplep. 145
9. "Candidate of a Class"p. 168
10. "A Force to Be Reckoned With"p. 186
11. Man of Mysteryp. 202
12. Party Leaderp. 214
13. Hearst at Fifty: Some Calm Before the Stormsp. 227
IV. Of War and Peace
14. "A War of Kings"p. 241
15. "Hearst, Hylan, the Hohenzollerns, and the Habsburgs"p. 260
V. A Master Builder
16. Building a Studiop. 277
17. Builder and Collectorp. 287
18. Marion, Millicent, and the Moviesp. 303
19. A Return to Normalcyp. 315
20. Another Last Hurrahp. 328
VI. The King and Queen of Hollywood
21. "Do You Know Miss Marion Davies, the Movie Actress?"p. 337
22. Family Manp. 351
23. Dream Housesp. 362
24. Businesses as Usualp. 377
25. A New Crusade: Europep. 398
26. The Talkies and Marionp. 409
VII. The Depression
27. "Pretty Much Flattened Out"p. 423
28. "An Incorrigible Optimist"p. 437
29. The Chief Chooses a Presidentp. 452
VIII. New Deals and Raw Deals
30. Hearst at Seventyp. 469
31. Hearst and Hitlerp. 488
32. The Last Crusadep. 500
IX. The Fall
33. The Fallp. 527
34. "All Very Sad, But We Cannot Kick Now"p. 543
35. Citizen Kanep. 564
36. Old Agep. 575
Epiloguep. 604
Notesp. 609
Indexp. 657