Procter (History/Texas Christian Univ.) completes his two-volume biography of the man whose ego and empire and sense of entitlement ballooned to proportions so vast that it took the Great Depression and time’s stiletto to puncture them.
Throughout, Procter (William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1901, 1998) is kind to his subject. Hearst was a genius (or nearly so), a wonderful cook, fiercely loyal to both women in his life (his wife and the actress Marion Davies), highly creative and innovative with a “seemingly inexhaustible work ethic.” He loved art and amassed one of the greatest collections ever. Procter reminds us of Hearst’s innovations not only in journalism but in Hollywood. He created The Perils of Pauline (and wrote scripts for the serial); he insisted on historical accuracy in sets and costumes. Hearst also had ferocious political ambitions. He served two terms in Congress but failed repeatedly to win the White House and seemed to have a genetic incapability of backing a winner in state or national elections. He believed in “America First” and urged the country to stay out of both world wars. He had an audience with Hitler in the early 1930s and came away very impressed, says Procter. The author does show Hearst’s great weaknesses, principally his inability to control spending. If he wanted it (a rare work of art, an English castle, a private compound at San Simeon, whatever), he bought it. For years, he invested $50,000 per month in the construction of a San Simeon property. Frequently, he took long and luxurious trips to Europe with dozens of his closest friends.
Procter does not ignore Hearst’s ruthless dishonesty, his reptilian professional and personal ethics, but the author does sometimes succumb to the subject’s celebrity and toxic charm.