New Book Confirms Hearst’s Involvement in Citizen Kane Smear Campaign

Author Harlan Lebo chats with The Guardian.

In this 75th anniversary year of Citizen Kane’s 1941 release, a couple of momentous events are already etched on the calendar.

On March 6, the last member of the cast still living, Kathryn Popper, passed away at the age of 100. She was Welles’ personal assistant and appeared briefly towards the end of the film as a photographer.

And next month, a new book by Harlan Lebo, Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey, will arrive in bookstores April 26. The author’s research confirms that William Randolph Hearst and senior Hearst executives were aware and involved in attempts to publicly discredit Welles at the time of the film’s production and release. In a piece this week in The Guardian, Lebo provides a colorful reminder of the grimy ways of the era’s tabloid press:

On a lecture tour before Citizen Kane’s release, Welles was warned 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.” But the director at the time blamed a “hatchet man” from a local Hearst paper.

Indeed, one of the most interesting revelations in Lebo’s book is the idea that Welles believed at the time that William Randolph was not connected to the smear campaign. The author also hints in The Guardian interview that there are more stories to be mined from the Welles archives at Indiana University.

Jacket cover courtesy: MacMillan

Previously on FishbowlNY:
Citizen Kane Meets Xanadu
The Henry Jaglom-Orson Welles Tapes