Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House


Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his legendary California estate occupy a place in the public imagination through Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, but Kane's brooding Xanadu was merely a caricature of Hearst's exuberant castle at San Simeon. This new book sets the record straight and proves that, for once, truth is better than fiction.

Here for the first time is the real story of Hearst Castle, and of the productive 28-year-relationship between hearst and his architect, ...

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Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his legendary California estate occupy a place in the public imagination through Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, but Kane's brooding Xanadu was merely a caricature of Hearst's exuberant castle at San Simeon. This new book sets the record straight and proves that, for once, truth is better than fiction.

Here for the first time is the real story of Hearst Castle, and of the productive 28-year-relationship between hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, who collaborated on the magnificent 165-room estate set on 250,000 breathtaking acres near the remote seaside hamlet of San Simeon, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Drawing on previously unpublished correspondence, and illustrated with never-before-seen historic photographs as well as more than 157 stunning color pictures, Victoria Kastner chronicles the evolution of this extraordinary hilltop, with its two spectacular pools and its astounding collections of fine art and antiques. Sprinkled throughout with stories of the famous parties hosted by Hearst and his companion, movie star Marion Davies, and their celebrated guests, this book brings to life America's most glamorous country house.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his legendary California estate occupy a place in the public imagination through Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, but Kane's brooding Xanadu was merely a caricature of Hearst's exuberant castle at San Simeon. Hearst Castle sets the record straight and proves that, for once, truth is better than fiction.
Library Journal
Hearst Castle in San Simeon, now a California state park, offers a glimpse of the high life lead by William Randolph Hearst. Though originally planned as a small bungalow at the family's favorite campsite, Hearst's building project grew and grew. Julia Morgan, the renowned San Francisco architect, gracefully coped with the continuous revisions to the project. Hearst had a love of art and style and the money to follow his fancy. Kastner, a member of the Hearst Castle staff and a student of its art, combines the history of the castle with details about its inhabitants and its builders in this splendid book. The pages are peppered with historic photos, architectural drawings, correspondences, and details of the castle's features and its art. You can practically smell the opulence of the place. Strongly recommended for regional collections and large public libraries across the country. (Final photos and index not seen.)--Karen Ellis, Nicholson Memorial Lib. Syst., Garland, TX Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Bill Goldstein
Hearst Castle offers a lively narrative documenting the unusually collaborative relationship between Hearst and Julia Morgan, the ''first woman architect of prominence in America,'' according to Kastner, a member of the San Simeon staff. ... The architectural plans, drawings and contemporary photographs that document both the growth of the house and life with Hearst and Davies are accompanied by unusually informative captions that offer an entertaining supplement to the main text.
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810934153
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 344,662
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 12.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Interviews & Essays

Q&A with Victoria Kastner
Author of Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House

Q: Why this book now?

A:Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House is the first widely-distributed book to fully treat the subject, as incredible as that may seem for an estate that has been open to the public since 1958 and has hosted more than thirty-two million visitors. It quotes extensively from more than four thousand letters that were exchanged between William Randolph Hearst, his architect Julia Morgan, and their staffs, correspondence which until fairly recently has been unknown to scholars. This historic archive richly documents the Castle's 28-year construction history, from 1919 through 1947. Next year will be the 501 anniversary of William Randolph Hearst's death. It is time to examine the 20th century's most glamorous country house and discover the ways it reflects American tastes into the 21st century.

Q: Who were some of the more famous guests at the Castle's legendary parties?

A: Nearly all of the parties were hosted by Marion Davies, the film star who lived with Hearst and enlivened the Castle with her warmth and charm. The book draws on the reminiscences of many of the Castle's former guests, including Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, P.G. Wodehouse, Bernard Shaw, Jean Paul Getty, David Niven, and many other Hollywood movie stars.

Q: What was the nature of the relationship between Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan?

A: While there was no special romance between them, there is no question that Hearst and Julia Morgan had a very special relationship. They were first introduced by Hearst's mother, and worked together on several smaller projects before Morgan began designing San Simeon in 1919. She was America's first prominent woman architect. Julia is best known today for her work at San Simeon, but she designed over 700 additional buildings in her career, many of them while the Castle was under construction.

Q: Who was most responsible for the way Hearst Castle looks? William Randolph Hearst or Julia Morgan?

A: The Castle was a rare, true collaboration between a client and his architect. Hearst was much more involved than the usual client, in picking the art objects, determining their locations, and selecting the plants for the gardens. Morgan in turn had job duties far beyond those of the usual architect: She hired the staff, arranged for the shipment of art objects, paid the bills (a perpetual challenge, since Hearst continually overspent even his most ample budgets), and designed shelters for his collection of zoo animals. It is significant that, unlike most other American country houses, there was neither a decorator nor a landscape architect on the staff. Hearst and Morgan made those decisions together.

Q: How close is the film Citizen Kane to the story of Hearst and the Castle?

A: Citizen Kane's preeminent greatness as a film comes from its use of metaphor, but it took great liberties with the truth. It cast Hearst as a tormented egoist who was scarred by childhood neglect; in fact, Hearst radiated confidence, surely in large part because he had one of the most indulged childhoods imaginable. The film painted Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander Kane, as an untalented opera singer, a hopeless alcoholic who was a virtual prisoner in the dark and foreboding Xanadu. The public -- and intellectuals and critics in particular -- have assumed ever since that Hearst was an empty-hearted tyrant, Marion Davies was an actress who couldn't act, and Hearst Castle itself was a brooding and cavernous mansion full of meaningless junk. In the book I quote Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst, and Marion Davies herself on Citizen Kane and establish that it is time to look at the facts of the story, rather than merely rely on a fictional portrayal that now is 60 years old.

Q: How much did Hearst Castle cost?

A: The grand total spent on the estate's creation comes to well under ten million dollars. It would be impossible to put a current dollar value on a collection that contains so many objects that would never be available for purchase today, underscoring the rarity of the Castle and its collections, particularly its decorative arts and architectural antiques.

Q: How did Hearst choose the art at San Simeon?

A: William Randolph Hearst bought nearly all of San Simeon's objects himself in New York City, from art dealers and in auction gallery showrooms that flourished after World War I. Hearst spoke of San Simeon as a museum and clearly felt he was creating such a setting for his purchases. His collection includes, among other things, antique ceilings, textiles, pottery, silver and Renaissance furniture.

Q: Why are you the person to write about Hearst Castle?

A: I have been employed at the Castle for twenty years, and in the course of my research I have become a world authority on the topic. I have examined every one of ten thousand architectural drawings; transcribed the complete correspondence between Hearst, Morgan, and their staffs; and studied San Simeon's art collection extensively. I have tracked down never-before-published historic photographs and have had access to the Castle at all hours and in all weathers.

Q: What role did Marion Davies play at the castle?

A: Marion Davies animated the Castle with her lively spirit. Hearst never divorced his wife, Millicent Hearst, but from the early years of the Castle's construction, they informally separated and she and their five sons lived in New York, while Marion lived with Hearst in the west coast. It created a scandal difficult to appreciate in our more relaxed social era. Hearst was trying to avoid disgracing his family with a divorce, but his public separation took its toll on everyone involved. Marion was beloved by the staff and guests alike, and with her as his hostess Hearst launched a social tradition at San Simeon that is familiar enough in our era but quite rare in the 1920s. They rejected the moneyed wealthy families of the east coast in favor of associating with business associates and movie stars. I quote reminiscences of Louise Brooks, Aileen Pringle, Eleanor Boardman, Cecil Beaton, Anita Loos, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, and many more Hollywood celebrities, bringing the Castle's exuberant spirit to life once again.

Q: Does Hearst Castle pay for itself in admissions?

A: Seven years after William Randolph Hearst's death in 1951, the Hearst Corporation and Hearst family presented Hearst Castle as a gift to the people of California. It has been administrated by the Department of Parks and Recreation ever since. It has 800,000 visitors a year, but its revenues go towards supporting all of California's state parks, rather than to the upkeep of the Castle exclusively. Therefore fund raising for restoration and other Castle projects is extremely important. All royalties from this book will go to the Friends of Hearst Castle, a non-profit group that raises money to support one of the most extraordinary expressions of the American twentieth century.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2001

    A Step Into The Life Of Hearst And His Castle

    Victoria Kastner has done a splendid job amassing archival as well as current photographs of Hearst Castle, best known as San Simeon. The life of Mr. William Randolph Hearst, the rise of his media empire and collapse as well as avid collector of art, is well portrayed. While this could be phrased a 'coffee table' pictoral, it is much more. Inside is a glimpse into the many years of construction required to build San Simeon and the rise of San Francisco female architect Julia Morgan from obscurity to prominence. The book maintains a delicate balance between depicting the Hearst history and the man, development of San Simeon and the present San Simeon maintained as a State of California treasure. The book brings to life the man, his dream and his castle.

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    Posted December 7, 2008

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