Citizen Kane

by Drake Witham

"Any man who has the brains to think and the nerve to act for the benefit of the people of the country is considered a radical by those who are content with stagnation and willing to endure disaster."
-- William Randolph Hearst.

"Citizen Kane." No doubt every film lover has heard about this "film of films," even if he hasn't seen it. The renowned American Film Institute has rated this Orson Welles picture number one on its list of All-Time Greatest Movies, and the film is equally revered by other authoritative film organizations. A documentary included on the DVD version, Reflections on Citizen Kane, boasts, "Today, Citizen Kane is the standard by which all other films are measured."

Welles's first film tells the story of a reporter sent out on a mission -- to find out about the mysterious life of dead newspaper baron, Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles himself), and especially to discover the secret behind "Rosebud," the final word uttered by Kane just before his death.

We witness this fascinating deathbed scene at the film's beginning and then a newsreel covering highlights from the newly deceased publisher's public life. It shows various newspaper headlines from around the globe announcing Kane's death, such as this one from the Chicago Globe: "Death Calls Publisher Charles Kane -- Policies Swayed World -- Stormy Career Ends for 'U.S. Fascist No.. 1.'" (Strangely, he is labeled a communist in another headline.) In New York's Union Square, we see a politician urging a crowd to boycott Kane shouting, "He is today what he has always been -- and always will be -- a Fascist!" Later, the newsreel shows another crowd burning an effigy of Kane, and even Kane meeting with Hitler on a balcony.

Kane's character was largely modeled after the life of multi-millionaire newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst (who consequently tried to prevent the movie from being shown). After the newsreel, the film flashes back to Kane as a young man newly embarking on his ruthless quest to build up a media empire and taking over the fledgling New York Daily Inquirer with his Jewish manager and right-hand man, Bernstein. (This character seems to have been a creation imposed by Hollywood, not resembling any known Hearst associate.)

Kane begins to give the newspaper a more sensationalist tone in order to boost sales, exaggerating, manufacturing, and even faking news. In one scene, the elderly and mistreated editor-in-chief, Carter, admonishes Kane, saying: "It is not our function to report the gossip of housewives. If we were interested in that type of thing, Mr. Kane, we could fill the paper twice over" -- to which Kane replies, "That's the kind of thing we are going to be interested in from now on."

Later, Kane consolidates his empire by the simple route of buying up the competition's best writers. He also starts up an extramarital affair with a modestly talented singer, Susan Alexander (played by the illustrious Dorothy Comingore), and shamelessly promotes her with his millions in her pipe dream of becoming an opera star, even going so far as to build her an entire opera house. (Kane's mistress was loosely modeled after Hearst's real-life mistress, actress Marion Davies.) Eventually Kane runs as an independent candidate for governor.

I won't give the ending away for those who haven't seen it, but the moral of the story seems to be, "Don't be like Kane or you'll be sorry." One of the final scenes is memorable for its ridiculousness -- we see a ballroom filled with White couples dancing to smiling negro jazz musicians, seemingly celebrating Kane's demise.

There's no question that, from a technical standpoint, Citizen Kane is quite brilliant and was far ahead of its time with its experimental innovations, such as the deep-focus shots, multiple flashbacks, and unconventional use of light and shadow. Its aesthetic attractiveness is largely due to the cinematography of Gregg Toland, who apprenticed under the German expressionist pioneer, Karl Freund ("The Last Laugh"). Philip Hartung wrote in Commonweal that although average American moviegoers "might overlook Gregg Toland's photography, even they cannot miss its beauty." For those interested in the craft and history of filmmaking, "Citizen Kane" is worth seeing. Otherwise, with Hearst having become a nearly forgotten historical footnote, the film's story has lost a lot of its punch and will not captivate the way it did in 1941.

Icon-smashing was unheard of back in those days and, even before its release, the movie attracted national attention. William Randolph Hearst had gotten word of the film's story early on, and he immediately started a campaign to suppress it. The ensuing controversy polarized the progressives and the conservatives, the young and the old. Hearst initially banned any mention of "Citizen Kane" in his newspapers and later attacked it viciously. Partly due to his campaign and partly due to "Citizen Kane's" avant-garde artistic style, the movie made no money at the box office. It was pulled from its premier at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, and, although it received many nominations and won Best Screenplay, it was greeted with boos and hisses at the Academy Awards at each mention of its name. "Citizen Kane" created "the biggest brouhaha in the history of cinema," and this controversy is now something of a legend. Entire productions have been made about this subject --The Battle Over 'Citizen Kane' and RKO 281.

So who was William Randolph Hearst and why would Hollywood go so far out of its way to vilify him? Was it solely due to his extravagant wealth and questionable journalistic ethos? As expected, the answer turns out to be more political than anything else.

Hearst was born in San Francisco in 1863, heir to a vast mining fortune. In 1887, he took over the San Francisco Examiner from his father and would go on to amass a nationwide media empire of 28 newspapers, 13 magazines, and 2 radio stations. He developed a reputation for hiring the best journalists available, including Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and Mark Twain.

Hearst is generally credited with being the first to sensationalize the news with the introduction of promotional stunts, banner headlines, and lavish illustrations, giving rise to the term "yellow journalism." Some have even made the claim he somehow singlehandedly initiated the Spanish-American War of 1898 in order to boost newspaper sales.

Hearst became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1903-1907) but was unsuccessful in his campaigns for mayor of New York City and governor of New York. While nowhere near in stature to England's brilliant fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, Hearst was, like him, an upper-class public figure who underwent a similar political metamorphosis, evolving from progressive to nationalist.

In the early years of World War I, the Hearst press maintained positions that were mildly pro-German, with editorials foretelling victory for the Central Powers. In October 1916, the British and French barred Hearst's organization from using their cables and mails, while Canada completely outlawed distribution of his newspapers. He softened his stand once the United States entered the war.

After the Armistice in 1918, Hearst actively opposed American entry into the League of Nations and was instrumental in blocking U.S. participation in the World Court. Father Coughlin began to receive favorable publicity in the Hearst press and in 1932 was Hearst's guest at his San Simeon palace. Hearst shared his hatred of communism and internationalism as well as his opposition to F.D. Roosevelt. Huey "The Kingfish" Long, the Louisiana populist legend, was another figure that interested Hearst, and he looked upon Long as a potential Presidential candidate. While Hearst never fully embraced national socialism or fascism, he did take a sympathetic interest in both ideologies, mostly due to their fervent opposition to communism, which he hated.

Hearst admired Mussolini and characterized Hitler as an "extraordinary man," publishing editorials favorable to them in his newspapers. In 1934 he accepted an invitation to visit the Führer in Berlin. During his trip, Hearst was photographed with Nazi leaders and remarked to the German press, "If Hitler succeeds in pointing the way of peace and order...he will have accomplished a measure of good not only for his own people but for all of humanity."2

Throughout his media empire Hearst continued to disseminate his anti-communist, pro-family views. The American Federation of Teachers in 1936 passed a resolution labeling Hearst as the "chief exponent of Fascism in the United States".2 In the book, Lords of the Press, Ernest L. Meyer (Jew) wrote, "Mr. Hearst in his long and not laudable career has inflamed Americans against Spaniards, Americans against Japanese, Americans against Filipinos, Americans against Russians."

Although Hearst remained staunchly anti-communist in the 1940s, his views began to take a turn for the worse. He had never properly addressed the Jewish question, and, like many, fell victim to wartime Jewish propaganda -- publishing exaggerated accounts of Jewish massacres, promoting rescue attempts in editorials, and even supporting the Emergency Conference to Save the Jews. Later, Hearst supported the founding of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Despite all of this Semitically-correct pandering, the name William Randolph Hearst still manages to incur the ire of Jews and their leftist cohorts today. An example is the leftist HEMP -- Hall of Conspiracy website, which complains that "William Randolph Hearst hated minorities, and...used his chain of newspapers to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity. Hearst especially hated Mexicans. Hearst papers portrayed Mexicans as lazy, degenerate, and violent, and as marijuana smokers and job stealers." Rumor has it that in 1924, Hearst caught his mistress kissing the Jewish communist comedian, Charlie Chaplin (born Israel Thonstein), and shot at him, accidentally hitting and killing film producer, Thomas Ince. (Too bad he missed.) In the campaign to stop showings of "Citizen Kane," Hearst threatened to alert the American public to the overly high proportion of Jews in the film industry.

That there was an overly high proportion of Jews behind the scenes of "Citizen Kane" should come as no surprise, with such tremendous acclaim for the picture coming out of Hebraic Hollywood. Orson Welles (a Gentile) made the film under contract for RKO Radio Pictures, which was founded in 1929 by David Sarnoff (Jew) and Joseph P. Kennedy (father of the future President). George Schaefer (Jew) was the head of RKO at the time. He granted Welles creative freedoms unusual for that time, but of course Schaefer was still the one giving the final stamp of approval (not to mention the funding). Herman Mankiewicz (Jew) supposedly co-wrote the screenplay (he sued Welles in order to get the film credit); it originally had the rather vindictive title of "American."

Mankiewicz was an odd character: starting out as a left-wing radical (he had written an anti-Hitler screenplay in the early '30s), he moved on to become increasingly anti-communist and isolationist -- even making statements that the Nazis were right about the overdominance of Jews -- while simultaneously sponsoring Jewish emigrés as they arrived in America. Mankiewicz apparently reverted to his earlier ways for Citizen Kane. Incidentally, he was an occasional guest at Hearst's ballroom parties, until his notorious drunken behavior got him disinvited. Due to the screenplay's negative portrayal of the thinly-veiled Kane, Hearst characterized Mankiewicz as a backstabber of the worst sort. Another prominent Jew involved was composer, Bernard Herrmann, who is most remembered for his score to Hitchcock's "Psycho." (In typical Hebraic fashion, the familiar theme with screeching violins was plagiarized from Sibelius' symphonic poem "Pohjola's Daughter" Op. 49.) Unfortunately, Herrmann's soundtrack for "Citizen Kane" can only be described as dull and unmemorable. (Perhaps more song-stealing could have helped him here?) "Citizen Kane's" film editor was Robert Wise, who would later go on to gain fame as a director himself. Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Wise was not actually Jewish. However, he might as well have been, considering such films as his "Sound of Music," which takes a strange and incongruous turn from charming musical to anti-Nazi propaganda in its second half.

In spite of his Jewish help, Orson Welles seems to have been the main creative talent here, singlehandedly directing and producing the film, co-writing the screenplay, and acting in the starring role. Welles's sordid life is worth a look.

It got off to a sad start when his parents decided to christen him George Orson Welles, after a famous gay couple, George Ade and Orson Wells, "the first of many gay men who had an influence on Welles at crucial points in his life."1 He was born in 1915 in Kenosha, Wis., to creative and eccentric parents, who formally separated when he was six. Thereafter, he lived with his mother and her lover, a wealthy Jew named Dr. Maurice Bernstein. When his mother died in 1924, he became the ward of Bernstein, who, of all his relatives, "had the greatest influence on the young Orson."1 This makes sense in light of the type of plays and films Welles would come to produce.

Welles began acting, writing and directing for theater in his teens and established himself early on as a radio actor. He made the inevitable move to New York City and, in 1935, began working with John Houseman, then director of the Negro Theater division of the Federal Theater Project. Together in 1936 they produced the Afro-Shakespearean theater production, Voodoo Macbeth (!), which ran in Harlem. Said Harrison Grey Fiske in the Saturday Evening Post, "It proved to be a shameless degradation of the cosmic tragedy, the scene of which was transferred to Haiti, and its profound metaphysical background was converted into a frenzied voodoo jamboree. Not a vestige of the power, beauty, and meaning of the titanic work remained."

Welles wanted to follow this up with an interracial Romeo and Juliet, complete with black Montagues and white Capulets. Thankfully, this was never realized. The next year, they staged an "activist opera," The Cradle Will Rock by Marxist homosexual Jew, Marc Blitzstein. This extremist production caused Welles and Houseman to lose their federal funding, and they then started their own company, The Mercury Theatre, which they proceeded to fill with a plethora of Jews, communists, and homosexuals. In 1937, they produced a modernized version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar set in Mussolini's Italy with (of course) anti-Fascist overtones. In 1938, Welles and Houseman incited nationwide panic with their famous radio broadcast, The War of the Worlds (intended as a Halloween prank).

Welles eventually moved to Hollywood and became engaged to a Mexican, the movie actress Delores Del Rio. Later in life, Welles would date Negress Eartha Kitt, whom he called "the most exciting woman in the world." In 1940 Welles and Houseman produced the play, Native Son, adapted from the novel by Negro and one-time Communist Party member, Richard Wright. (Wright popularized the phrase "Black Power.") The "hero" of Native Son is a young black man who kills the daughter of his philanthropist employer and then his girlfriend. Jew Irving Howe called it "a blow at the white man" and said that "the novel forced him [the White man] to recognize himself as oppressor."1

In the early 1940s, Welles went to South America to direct "It's All True," a semi-documentary meant to help the Allied war effort by countering Nazi propaganda in Latin America. His last forty-some years were comparatively unproductive, and what screen appearances he had were mainly in cameo roles for other directors and Gallo TV advertisements. Fittingly, Orson Welles died on the same day as his Hebrew compatriot, Yul Brynner in 1985.

After the release of "Citizen Kane," the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a file on Orson Welles that it was not to close until the end of the '50s. Ironically, it is perhaps the FBI who sums up this "Greatest Movie of All-Time" best: "Citizen Kane was inspired by Welles's close associations with communists over a period of years. The evidence before us leads inevitably to the conclusion that the film Citizen Kane is nothing more than an extension of the Communist Party's campaign to smear one of its most effective and consistent opponents in the United States."



1. Callow, Simon, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu. Viking, 1996.

2. Swanberg, W.A., Citizen Hearst. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961.

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