Lord Of San Simeon


Another huge expense was the crew of twenty or more gardeners under Hearst’s English horticultural expert, Nigel Keep. Many of the plantings had to be blasted from solid rock. A whole row of fully grown cypresses was moved thirty miles over the mountains from Paso Robles, and it cost thousands to move each of several oaks that were in the way of construction— Hearst could not bear to see a tree cut down. Once Miss Morgan sighted along a line of plum trees and shook her head. “That one is three inches out of line,” she informed Keep. His men moved it three inches.

Hearst kept eyeing the bare hill to the landward, where the reservoir was located. “Mr. Keep, that bareness bothers me,” he said. “Could you plant pines there?”

Keep knew better than to tell him something could not be done. “I can try, Mr. Hearst,” he replied, “but it will be costly.”

“Never mind the cost. Do it.”

A road had to be built through the wilderness and up the hill, and the pines had to be dragged on sleds by tractors. Though Keep shuddered at the expense, the job was finally completed.

Although Hearst and Mayer remained friends, both he and Miss Davies became increasingly dissatisfied with the roles she had been getting at MGM. The studio believed her talent best suited for light comedy, but she wanted more demanding roles. Many believed that Miss Davies, with her stutter, would be finished by talking pictures. But she trained hard with tutors and managed to make the leap, although some felt that there was a hesitation and lack of spontaneity in her diction.

Unfortunately for her dramatic aspirations, Miss Davies had to compete for stories with such stars as Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford, and the friction grew heated. When her contract with MGM ended, Miss Davies did not renew it. Instead, Hearst made a deal with the Warner studio in Burbank. It was somewhat like the end of a queen’s reign when the famous Bungalow was separated into three sections and hauled out of Culver City on its way to nearby Burbank.

Miss Davies’ move furnished Hollywood with gossip for months. Now she was queen at Warner’s, and it was said that she would soon emerge as a dramatic actress. Instead, she was starred with Dick Powell in a couple of light semi-musicals, Page Miss Glory and Hearts Divided.

Of an evening, the cast of the Davies movies would often be invited along with other movie and newspaper people to the beach house at Santa Monica, where Hearst would employ “name” bands and even join in the dancing himself. At one dinner party to which some seventy-five film notables had been invited, Miss Davies did not appear, for she could find nothing in her vast wardrobe to please her. She telephoned a dress shop proprietor, who unlocked her store and brought dozens of gowns for her to try on. Meanwhile, the agitated maid, who had turned on the water in the bathtub for her mistress, forgot about it as she helped with the dresses. The seventy-five guests waiting downstairs were aware that something was wrong when water began trickling down the dining room walls, hung with paintings of Miss Davies in her film roles.

There was one incurable drawback to the beach house: it was finished. Hearst, a frustrated architect, occasionally tore out a room or two just for the pleasure of redesigning them and installing more paneling from Europe. But this gave only limited scope for his compulsion to build. He had a splendid time constructing a “Bavarian village” at Wyntoon—three great buildings plus several smaller ones, facing a green studded with statuary and a fountain imported from Bavaria. But this, too, was almost finished.

He was happiest at San Simeon, for there he was like an eager painter with an acre of canvas only half-filled. Over weekends, and when Miss Davies was between pictures, they hurried to the castle (they called it “the ranch”), to which they invited house guests by the hundreds.