William Randolph Hearst was among the most important American titans Churchill hoped to add to his network. His twenty-eight newspapers reached 10 percent of the American population on weekdays, 20 percent on Sundays, and dominated West Coast markets, giving him an enormous influence on American public opinion and, by extension, the nation’s politics. He owned the outlets to which most statesmen sought and needed access, and he had the money to pay them well for their literary output—in 1931 he paid Benito Mussolini $1,500 for each of twelve articles.
His newspapers ran articles by Eleanor Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, and a series of pieces compiled by Shaw to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Beethoven’s death. Because Hearst was losing ground to some competitors, he decided to add to his papers a “March of Events” column, featuring “noted writers” on “world topics.” He could and did pay top dollar to such as Mussolini, Lloyd George, Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and Churchill.
In short, Hearst met both of Churchill’s criteria for entry into the Churchill American network—handsome commissions and politically alert audiences to be persuaded of his policy views. And a proprietor interested in world politics. And an introduction to new links: Hearst’s many friends and colleagues. One biographer notes, “Hearst employed the power of the media to set the national political agenda . . .” Just the sort of publisher that would appeal to Churchill, even though the views favored by “the Chief,” as Hearst was known by those who worked for him, did not coincide with his own.
Hearst also had the advantage of being not only a press baron but also one of Hollywood’s moguls, a man pursued by celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, and by others ready and able to provide venues at which Churchill could conveniently meet the rich, famous, and merely entertaining, extending his network into movieland. There was some overlap with the financial worlds of New York and San Francisco, the latter the city from which the Troupe was traveling, but Hearst largely traveled in different cultural and financial circles.
Churchill’s relationship with the film industry did not begin when he arrived at San Simeon, and did not end when he returned to Britain in 1929. He had an early fascination with the media. In 1899, when he was to cover the impending war in South Africa for the London Morning Post, he proposed taking along a film operator to make a film of the war, but abandoned the plan when told an American company already was on the way to do just that.
Later, in 1927, when Churchill was chancellor of the exchequer preparing his second budget, the Cinematograph Films Act was introduced to protect British and British Empire filmmakers from Hollywood films. This was to be accomplished by a tax on the profits of American filmmakers, and a quota on American films. He said at the time that he had learned from news reports that “25 millions [sic] a year is taken out of this country by American Film Producers.”
Whether Churchill expected any problem from the fact that he had included in his budgets a tax on profits from American films, and subjected them to quotas to protect Britain’s domestic film industry, we do not know. He might have countered by pointing out that as chancellor he had overridden officials who wanted to tax American citizens temporarily resident in Britain, explaining that he did not want to discourage visits by wealthy Americans who spent substantial sums in the “sporting counties.” In the event, UK restrictions on American films did not dampen the extraordinarily warm reception Winston received from owners of Hollywood studios and California’s governor. In his usual disarming manner, Churchill told his California hosts, “I have only one regret, only one pang which racks my bosom, and that is that I have never been here before.”
Hearst’s San Simeon Castle was situated on 240,000 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was constructed by a man who, at age ten on a tour of England with his mother, saw Windsor Castle and told her, “I would like to live there.” Churchill, who had seen great houses in his day, described San Simeon in a letter to Clemmie, “The whole place is astonishing . . . oriental hospitalities.” He could not fail to be impressed by the 68,500-square-foot, Mediterranean Revival–style castle, even though its mere 115 rooms were fewer than the 187 in the house in which he was born, Blenheim Palace. The California castle had thirty-eight bedrooms and forty bathrooms. Blenheim is situated on 2,000 acres with pleasant views. San Simeon, reported an awed Randolph in his diary, sits on 300 square miles, 35 along the sea, and Casa Grande, the main house was “chock full of works of art obtained from Europe. They are insured for 16 million dollars.” Winston characterized them as “not vy [sic] discriminating,” while Johnny noted, “Inside the building were copies of tapestries at Blenheim. . . . Hearst’s swimming pool was the only item which did not seem to be copied from anything. It was probably original.” He was wrong. The Roman Pool, indoors, designed to have heated water, was “like the caldaria of Roman baths.” As for the Neptune Pool, outside, “a residential adaptation of beaux arts display architecture. If the lords of the Roman Empire were transported from their villas to the Neptune pool, they would feel right at home.”
Churchill had no difficulty settling into his four-day visit at San Simeon. Churchill had been published in Hearst’s Cosmopolitan magazine since 1924 (continuing through at least 1931), and had met Hearst in 1928, probably on one of the latter’s tours of Europe. Hearst and his acknowledged mistress, Marion Davies, were fine hosts, and Winston had no problem with the fact that Hearst openly lived with Davies when in California and with his wife, Millicent—a Catholic who would not consider divorce and with whom he had five sons—when in New York. He described the situation to Clemmie as “two magnificent establishments, two charming wives; complete indifference to public opinion . . .” Churchill was also relaxed about the relationship between General Eisenhower and his “attractive [American] driver,” Kay Summersby. He always included Miss Summersby with any dinner invitation to Ike, and when going to Ike’s he asked that Summersby be seated at his table. Churchill is quoted as saying, “Now tell Kay to come . . . I want to see her.”
At a later visit to Davies’s beach house, called “Ocean House,” Randolph also found the arrangement acceptable. Davies, he wrote, is “delightfully stimulating.” And Winston admired the many butterflies, asking Johnny to “collect all the species in sight but I refused.” Studying butterflies was one of Churchill’s endearing, lifelong hobbies. Johnny and Randolph “were butterfly-chasing . . . paying court to several of the charming women guests,” which might explain his churlish refusal to collect the real thing.
Guests at Hearst’s Castle were required to assemble for cocktails, two-per-person limit, promptly at seven, with dinner following whenever Hearst and Davies, hostess of his West Coast events, appeared. The dinners were lavish, followed by games played or entertainment by the guests, and then a move to the private theater for the showing of a prerelease film to those guests who chose not to go to bed until after their hosts had ascended the elevator to their private quarters. The routine included transport for departing guests. “The train that takes guests away leaves after midnight, and the one that brings new guests arrives early in the morning, so you have dinner with one lot of people and come down to breakfast the next morning to find an entirely new crowd.” Because Davies was an alcoholic, no alcoholic beverages were allowed in the bedrooms and waiters were instructed to stop serving anyone who seemed to be drinking to excess. “The wine flowed like glue.”
Winston found time to paint, which created an amusing incident, told to W. A. Swanberg by Hearst’s personal attorney, John Francis Neylan. A meeting between client and counsel was interrupted by an excited maid screaming, “Mr. Churchill is fainting. He wants some turpentine.” Hearst and Neylan, the story goes, rushed to the terrace, where Churchill was “placidly . . . puffing at a cigar as he painted a landscape. It turned out that he had asked a gardener for turpentine to thin his oils, and when the gardener relayed his message to the maid she thought he had said Mr. Churchill was fainting, not painting.”
On September 18 the boss at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Louis B. Mayer, joined Hearst in sponsoring a luncheon for Churchill at the MGM Studio, with a welcoming address by Governor C. C. Young. Jack, Johnny, and Randolph came along to share in the festivities. The New York Daily News dubbed it “the big feed . . . [with] more than a hundred leading citizens of Los Angeles, to say nothing of pretty chorus girls and movie stars [who] will try to make the visiting Britisher feel at home.”
More important to Churchill, almost anyone who mattered in Los Angeles financial and entertainment circles was on the list of some 200 attendees published by the press, a very impressive listing. As part of the entertainment Lawrence Tibbett sang “The Road to Mandalay,” with words by Rudyard Kipling and no doubt familiar to Churchill. Later the song was memorably recorded by Frank Sinatra.