Return To Xanadu

One of the rooms at Hearst Castle, San Simeon AP

This segment originally aired May 6, 2001.
High on a hill overlooking the central California coast stands the massive and myth-filled estate known as San Simeon. It is largely unchanged from the way media mogul William Randolph Hearst left it more than half a century ago, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

Today, it is part of the California State Park system, a marvel still for its architecture and vast art collection.

Amazing, too, for the lives that played out there, personalities who socialized in lavish style at Hearst Castle, the sprawling retreat caricatured as Xanadu in the movie "Citizen Kane."

Victoria Kastner is a Hearst scholar and the author of "Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House", a richly detailed book on Hearst and the place he called his country house. In it, we meet his wife, Millicent; his mistress, Marion Davies, and his architect, Julia Morgan who, when it came to San Simeon, eclipsed all others.

The relationship between Hearst and Morgan, says Kastner, "could be called a passionate one, as long as hastily say that I don't mean in the sense of a romantic passion. But William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan did indeed have a passion of the mind. One of her employees said you could watch those two bent over a drawing and almost see the spark traveling from one to the other of their foreheads."

Those sparks created an estate that, over time, came to look like an ancient Mediterranean hill town.

Says Kastner, "Julia Morgan had traveled to Paris and had been the first woman to graduate from the world's finest school of architecture and that was the Ecole des Beaux Arts. And so she had sophisticated understanding for art and for European traditions of building."

The Esplanade at the castle is a long ribbon of a walkway that connects the three guest houses to one another and to the main building. The rooms, in all, are graced by 20,000 art objects. Three cottages, each situated for its perfect view of the sea, mountains, or sunset, nestled benade. This is the long, kind of ribbon walkway, that connect the three guest houses to one another and to the main building.

And there are not one but two swimming pools: the above-ground Neptune pool and the jaw-dropping underground Roman pool with its tiles set to look ancient rather than perfect.

Hearst and Morgan could not have been more different. She was tiny, he was huge. She wore gray, he wore big hats and splashy hand-painted ties. She was private, he was very public and opinionated.

And, yet, for 28 years, they worked side-by-side on San Simeon, most likely because Morgan was able to deal with Hearst's every whim, no matter how outrageous.

Kastner notes, "She did say this about Hearst as a client. She said, 'Mr. Hearst does suffer from a great changeableness of mind. But he compensates by allowing me to change mine now and then.'"

Hoyt Fields, chief curator of the Hearst Castle, has been through 10,000 of Morgan's drawings and plans, including those for a window detail from a guest cottage, the mantle and tapestries in the Assembly Room, as well as its mosaic entry, and he says, "The collaboration of the two of them was just, just fantastic, just really fantastic."

Each evening, guests would gather in the Assembly Room for a drink before dinner. And that's all the house rules permitted: one drink, even though cocktail hour started at six and dinner wasn't served until nine. In some ways, Hearst was a stickler for decorum. but not without a sense of humor.

Says Kastner, "As a matter of fact, guests would be asked to stand up and do something in the time of the art of conversation, to recite a poem or tell a humorous anecdote or sing a song. Hearst amazed everyone once by trucking the dance where you waddle your foot in this rhythmic tempo all the way down the long table… And he was a large man, with the grace, said Francis Marion, on the dance floor, of a circus elephant."

The house parties Hearst put on for his celebrity guests were legendary. Everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Jimmy Stewart to Cary Grant came to visit.

And, contrary to what you might expect, the music that serenaded the diners was country and western, Hearst's favorite. In the beginning, their hostess was Hearst's wife, Millicent, often with some of their sons. Later, the lady of San Simeon was Hearst's true love and longtime mistress, movie star Marion Davies.

"Hearst felt that being open about his alliance with Marion Davies was better than trying to keep it hidden," explains Kastner. "But it did shock people that he had a wife in New York and a girlfriend in California."

A girl named Pat Lake was publicly known as Davies' niece and a particular favorite of Hearst. But the likelihood is that she was, in fact, the daughter of Davies and Hearst, a family connection Hearst is said to have acknowledged on her wedding day and one that Pat Lake herself acknowledged in a statement released after her death.
Even after his death, the Hearst name and his beloved castle could not avoid notoriety. In 1976, a bomb exploded on the balcony of one of the guest cottages. It happened at the same time Hearst's granddaughter patty was on trial for a bank robbery connected to her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The explosion caused $1 million damage.

Since it opened to the public in 1958, about 30 million people have visited the Heart Castle – astonished, no doubt, by the splendor of the architecture and the art, and what it all means.

Says Kastner, "At the end of the day, I think this was a monument to the creative spirit of two people, and that's William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan. And I think it was that creativity and pasion that got it together, and, of course, it's a very romantic spot. It's just drenched in romance. It was the site of a great love story. As a matter of fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a more romantic spot in all of North America than San Simeon."

San Simeon was William Randolph Hearst's dream. But it was a dream left unfinished, a castle incomplete. In the end, this most powerful of men was confronted by the reality of every man. He ran short of money. And then he simply ran out of time.


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  • Ellen Crean

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