- Historic Sites
The Forty-year Run
November 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 7
In 1917 he maneuvered his man, John F. Hylan, into the New York mayor’s office, which would make Hearst one of New York’s most powerful “bosses” for several years. But at the Democratic State Convention in Saratoga, Hearst was eliminated as a nominee for anything when someone introduced a resolution directly aimed at him. It called for the party to “repudiate every truckler with our country’s enemies.”
Meanwhile, two things were happening in Hearst’s personal life that would have lasting impact. In 1919 Phoebe Hearst died, leaving her son an estimated $11 million. And her heir was deeply in love. In 1917 Hearst had seen a young girl in the Ziegfeld Follies chorus who, it was said, inspired him to attend the show every night for eight weeks running. Her name was Marion Davies, and she would become his lover for the next thirty-four years. Hearst also began his “movie career,” a combined effort to make Miss Davies America’s most beloved star and to become as dominant in this new medium he was in his old one.
And his newspaper network was still building; in 1917 he added the Washington Times to his stable. The Hearst papers supported Al Smith for governor in New York in 1918, but shortly after Smith took office, Hearst attacked him for the “milk scandal,” charging that Smith’s failure to do anything about the price of milk (over which the governor had no control) was resulting in “starving babies” in New York. When the roar of the Hearst press became unendurable, Smith hired Carnegie Hall and challenged Hearst to a debate. Hearst failed to show up, so Smith took the podium alone and delivered a brutal attack, calling Hearst “this pestilence that walks in the darkness.” Smith emerged from Carnegie Hall a presidential candidate.
In 1920 the Democrats nominated James M. Cox of Ohio, and Hearst offered to support him in return for beine appointed Secretary of the Navy. Cox would not commit himself. Hearst also went to Chicago to try to help start a third party. Smith was defeated for re-election as governor that year but was a candidate again in 1922, as was Hearst, who, in anticipation, bought two upstate papers, the Rochester Evening Journal and the Syracuse Evening Telegram . Negotiations in the smokefilled rooms at Syracuse became byzantine. Charles F. Murphy, the powerful party boss, tried to force Smith to run for the Senate to enable him to give the gubernatorial nomination to Hearst. But Smith, still smarting from Hearst’s efforts to paint him as a childmurderer, refused to run on the same ticket and threatened another Carnegie Hall speech on the floor of the convention. Hearst withdrew.
In 1924, with President Coolidge, who had replaced Harding, a shoo-in for the Republican nomination, Hearst did not attend the Republican convention. At the Democratic convention he mostly engaged himself in trying to stop Smith. He also opposed the nominee, John W. Davis, but again offered his support in exchange for the Navy cabinet job and again got no commitment. On the basis of his past record, he certainly should have supported the Progressive movement headed by Wisconsin’s senator Robert La Follette. But by now Hearst was in his sixties and finally more preoccupied with the never-ending job of building San Simeon than he was with politics. Although he considered both Coolidge and Davis too conservative, he supported Coolidge. La Follette was “a little too radical.”
By 1928 Hearst was living permanently in California and apparently had become a Republican. His man at the Republican convention that year was a fellow millionaire, Andrew Mellon, who took a no-nonsense attitude about keeping taxes low. But when Mellon faded, Hearst supported Hoover, who won easily with the support of the Hearst papers.
By 1932 Hearst could tell a colleague that if anyone offered him a public office, he would consider it grounds for “justifiable homicide.” Thus, ironically, he was ready for his greatest political coup.
After four years Hearst had become violently rlisenrhanterl with the man he had supported in 1928. When it became clear that Hoover would be nominated again, Hearst shifted his attention to the Democratic convention, although he did not attend it. His man was the former member of the “Hearst brigade” in Congress, Texas’s Jack Garner. Hearst went on NBC radio to campaign for him, saying that what we needed in 1932 was a man whose guiding motto was “America First.”
Overnight Garner became a serious candidate, which prompted the frontrunner, Franklin Roosevelt, to make a speech declaring that he was not an internationalist. But Hearst had started a boom for Garner that would win the Texan the California delegation, sending Garner to the convention with two powerful blocs of votes.