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The Hearsts: Father and Son.

The Hearsts: Father and Son. William Randolph Hearst Jr., Jack Casserly. Roberts Rinehart Publishers, $29.95. It's hard to resist savaging this book by a son of the Hearst, the mythic media mogul, and Jack Casserly, a speechwriter for President Gerald Ford. Turning the pages is like turning on the lights in a Lower East Side tenement kitchen. The cliches, like cockroaches, dance everywhere.

William Randolph Hearst Jr., whose preface is addressed to "my fellow Americans," tells us that he has "thought long and hard," "lived in the lap of luxury," and "looked death in the face." His father, we learn, "called a spade a spade." San Simeon's architect possessed "a steel-trap mind and a will of iron."

As for content, this timid tome, which bills itself as a firsthand peek at Hearst Sr., never gets near him. That's not entirely Junior's fault. As a child, while his parents lived in a mansion-sized New York apartment filed with museum-quality furnishings, he and his four brothers were relegated to a nearby apartment with cousins. After Hearst Sr., age 55, began seeing--then living with--mistress Marion Davies, age 21, the son's access to his father was again limited. But Junior sees his father with the unquestioning eyes of a loyal son.

WRH, Jr., the 83-year-old editor-in-chief of Hearst newspapers, says his dad's anticommunist crusade, though it callously pilloried many Americans who were not Red, "has finally been vindicated." He cannot bring himself actually to view Citizen Kane, which portrays a Hearstian newspaper mogul, but he attacks the movie as superficial and inaccurate. He defends the fortune--today it would be valued in the billions--that his father squandered on San Simeon, saying, "It was his money."

While Junior writes a weekly column and won a Pulitzer Prize along with Joseph Kingsbury-Smith and Frank Conniff in 1956, in writing this book he seems to have forgotten the reporter's duty to dig for details and insights. The book settles instead for platitudes a publisher might spout--about, say, highway safety--to a Rotary Club luncheon.

That shouldn't be surprising. Hearst Jr. admits to an early career as publisher of New York's Journal-American, during which he would arrive at the office barely in time for an advertiser lunch and then go night-club-hopping until two or three a.m. Perhaps his life's "most important work," he says, was giving speeches for the President's Committee for Traffic Safety.

The book does have three redeeming features. First, titillating snippets: Ernest Hemingway, whom Hearst Jr. dismisses as "a pompous stuffed shirt," decked him with a quick left fist. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's leader, is both an "imperious, arrogant" racist and "a pompous, petulant little boy." Marion Davies, to help Hearst pere through a crisis, lent him $S 1 million. Toward his end, during one of her drunken dazes, she approached him with scissors in her hand, screaming, "I'm going to cut your balls off."

Second, the book recalls some fascinating tales from the Journal-American newsroom. Samuel Crowther III, a snobby souse on rewrite, was asked by City Editor Eddie Mahar to obtain a telephone interview with an escaped convict holding a family of seven hostage. Crowther, amazingly, got throung to the convict. The story, with banner headlines, made the paper, Hearst Jr. recalls, "champ for a day." Within hours, however, the police killed the convict and learned that he was a deaf mute. When Mahar demanded an explanation, Crowther could only whimper, "Gee, Eddie, the guy never told me that."

Third, Hearst Jr. comes across as a fair, hardworking, modest man--without his father's drive but with a commendable sense of decency. He wants to be remembered by his family as someone who did his best. I imagine he will be. But, when it comes to writing history, his best fails.
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Author:Ghiglione, Loren
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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