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Citizen Hearst: An AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Special

William Randolph Hearst (undated photo)
Courtesy of Library of Congress
William Randolph Hearst (undated photo)

Encore Wednesdays, Oct. 20 and 27, 2021 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents “Citizen Hearst,” an insightful biography of one of the most fascinating and powerful men of the 20th century.

By the 1930s, William Randolph Hearst controlled the largest media empire in the country: 28 newspapers, a movie studio, a syndicated wire service, radio stations, and 13 magazines. He used his communications stronghold to achieve political power unprecedented in the industry, then ran for office himself.

A man of prodigious appetites and the model for Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane,” his castle, San Simeon, was a monument to his extravagance.

While married to his wife Millicent, with whom he had five sons, he also conducted a decades-long affair with actress Marion Davies, his companion until death.

By the time Hearst died in 1951 at the age of 88, he had forever transformed the role of media in American life and politics.

Based on “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst,” David Nasaw’s critically acclaimed biography, “Citizen Hearst” premiered September 2021.

Related Articles: The Boy Who Collected Comics / William Randolph Hearst and McCarthyism / When the Newsies Took on William Randolph Hearst

About the Participants:

  • Robert Chiles is a lecturer in the department of history at the University of Maryland.
  • Lara Gabrielle is a film historian and the author of an upcoming biography of Marion Davies.
  • Steven Hearst is W. R. Hearst’s great-grandson.
  • William Randolph Hearst III is W. R. Hearst’s grandson.
  • Jeet Heer is a national affairs correspondent at The Nation.
  • Gary Kamiya is an author, journalist and historian of San Francisco.
  • Victoria Kastner has written three books on the history of William Randolph Hearst’s grand estate at San Simeon. Her new book, about San Simeon architect Julia Morgan, will be published in October 2021. 
  • Chenjeral Kumanyika is an assistant professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies. 
  • Erik Loomis is an associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island.
  • David Nasaw is the author of "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst."
  • Alexandra Nickliss is the author of "Phoebe Apperson Hearst: A Life in Power and Politics," about W. R. Hearst’s mother.
  • Andie Tucher is a professor at Columbia Journalism School and author of "Not Exactly Lying: Fake News" and "Fake Journalism in American History," to be published in the fall of 2021 by Columbia University Press. 
  • Greg Young is co-host of the podcast “The Bowery Boys,” about New York City history.


Part 1: Encore Wednesday, October 20 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Trace the rise of William Randolph Hearst, who built the nation's largest media empire by the 1930s. Born into one of America's wealthiest families, he used his properties to achieve unprecedented political power, then ran for office himself.

Part 2: Encore Wednesday, October 27 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Follow William Randolph Hearst's continued rise to power and expansion into Hollywood. The model for "Citizen Kane," he had a decades-long affair with actress Marion Davies, built an enormous castle at San Simeon, and forever transformed modern media.

Filmmaker Quote

“In today’s polarized media landscape, the explosion of false narratives seems to undermine the very concept of what qualifies as news,” said Cameo George, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE executive producer. “This incisive examination of William Randolph Hearst, and the unprecedented power he wielded through his media empire, couldn’t be more timely.”

Watch On Your Schedule:

Part 1 is on demand through Oct. 25, 2021

Part 2 is on demand through Oct. 26, 2021

Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Join The Conversation:

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter. #AmericanExperiencePBS


AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is a production of GBH Boston. Episode 1: Produced / Directed by Amanda Pollak. Written / Produced by Gene Tempest. Original Music by Gary Lionelli. Narrated by Peter Krause. Edited by Josh Melrod and Jota Mun. Episode 2: Written / Directed by Stephen Ives. Produced by Amanda Pollak and Gene Tempest. Original Music by Gary Lionelli. Narrated by Peter Krause. Edited by Josh Melrod. Executive Producer: Cameo George.

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