William Randolph Hearst – The Story That Hasn’t Been Told – Mr. Magazine’s™ Interview with Director and Film Maker Leslie Iwerks and her new documentary – “Citizen Hearst.”April 18, 2013
Not too many media companies remain privately owned in this day and age. The Hearst Corporation is one of the few remaining privately owned media empires, and the folks who led and continue to lead this empire, continue in the same footsteps as the founder of the company William Randolph Hearst. His focus, as is with the Hearst Corporation focus today, was, is and will always be on the people, from the people, and to the people.
So who is better to tell the inside story of Mr. Hearst and the empire he has built than Leslie Iwerks. Ms. Iwerks is a third generation filmmaker and with her latest venture “Citizen Hearst” she explores William Randolph Hearst and his empire from the beginning and up to the present, something that hasn’t been done before. Iwerks’ film focuses on the achievements of the man and his extraordinary company, rather than the controversies.
One man and one vision that has continued to be carried out, with each successive generation and administration, long after his death. Hearst focused on the human element and paid attention to detail. He was a man who cared deeply about the quality of work and content attached to the Hearst name, and a man who undoubtedly belongs among the names of individuals that were seminal in the foundation and evolution of the media industry. William Randolph Hearst’s legacy lives on with the Hearst Corporation still going strong on the eve of its 126th anniversary
And now for the lightly edited transcript for the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Leslie Iwerks on her new documentary, “Citizen Hearst.” The documentary airs on Tuesday April 23 on the Bio. channel, 7:00 p.m. central.
Samir Husni: Why should people watch this documentary on William Randolph Hearst? What’s in it for them?
Leslie Iwerks: I think it’s a story that’s never really been told. It’s a film about William Randolph Hearst, but also about the company that he founded and what’s happened since his passing. He was the foundation that built the empire, the multi-billion dollar media empire that exists today. And that story, from the time that he died through today, has never been told. And given that Hearst is a private company, they’ve often been very private about what they do and how they do what they do. But I think for their 125th anniversary there was cause to celebrate and enlighten audiences as to how impactful their media enterprises have been over the years and how much it’s grown since the days of William Randolph Hearst.
Samir Husni: My recollection of Hearst and his empire was that he always focused more on the people rather than the platforms. Do you agree and if so, do you think that has continued?
Leslie Iwerks: I agree whole-heartedly. That’s why we called it “Citizen Hearst” because his focus really was toward the common man in those early years and we focused on whatever the entity was; whether it was newspapers, or television, or radio, it was really having the most important information out to people in these various platforms and he didn’t feel like that news was for the masses. It was for the masses, but he used to put a lot of time and energy into crafting and approving and renewing; he had a real hand in so much concerning the editorial information that was disseminated across all his media platforms.
Samir Husni: After doing the film, do you think that William Randolph Hearst’s craftsmanship has continued at Hearst?
Leslie Iwerks: Yes, I do. I had the opportunity to kind of wander around and meet a number of people on the different floors of the Hearst Tower that were editors or writers or photographers. That attention to detail is still there – even the people that I work with at Hearst are extremely quality- driven. You don’t always see that at every corporation. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve worked with a number of very large companies that are all extremely quality-oriented like Disney and Pixar. That kind of quality and that kind of dedication to customer experience is not something that can be taken for granted – it is something that makes these companies as successful as they are because not every company is like that.
Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise for you during the making of this movie?
Leslie Iwerks: That’s a good question, and one that I could answer in a number of different ways. I’m always interested in really good business stories. When I tackled this project, it was a huge undertaking because of the amount of material and the number of subjects that we had to cover. I was surprised by the level of dedication and the service that people have given to Hearst over the years. The leadership and strength is unparalleled. I’ve been trying to think of all the other leaders in the world who have been so popular and so beloved – like Walt Disney – people that have been such a figurehead that people want to please them.
I think Frank Bennack and his leadership was something that really moved me. He is very much understated and yet so powerful in his accomplishment. I think he is the much-kept secret or hidden gem that people don’t realize about Hearst. This leader has been so forceful in propelling the company beyond anyone’s imagination after William Randolph Hearst’s death – from his investments in cable to expansion of enclosure in some regards to newspaper and his strength in content and really developing and respecting quality content.
Samir Husni: And of course, my next question: What was your most unpleasant surprise?
Leslie Iwerks: I think the most unpleasant part for me was having to cut so many things that I wish I wouldn’t have had to. There were so many great stories and great quotes. If I had the opportunity to do a documentary on news in general, I could have made it even better given the amount of material and the amount of time it took to film, shoot, edit and actually put it into a 90-minute film. That was my biggest disappointment, realizing there was so much material that we could have used that got left on the cutting-room floor.
Samir Husni: You speak so highly about Hearst and the Hearst Corporation – even the name “Citizen Hearst,” people are going to get the reference to “Citizen Kane.” Are you a hopeless romantic with the Hearst Corporation or do you feel that this is the real Hearst Corporation?
Leslie Iwerks: It’s really funny because I don’t really see myself as a hopeless romantic toward Hearst. We dealt with the controversies with Citizen Kane and Marion Davies and we could have gone into all sorts of things with William Randolph Hearst if we would have done a 90-minute film on him. There was a lot of controversy about the William Randolph Hearst days, but those stories have already been told. People already know that he visited Hitler and about his misjudgment in the war and things like that. But honestly, people already know that and I didn’t want to reprint history; the real story is what happened after that.
You delve into some of those things like the strike and some other things that I think were the challenges for them. I’ve done a number of films where you have politics within the company and things like that, but heavy politics don’t make a great film. Every company has its politics and its scandals – Patty Hearst would have been a great one to talk about – but the reality is that it didn’t have a lot to do with the company itself. Anyway, there were a lot of things I feel really shined for the company over the years and as with any company it had its struggles. I think the film does a good job capturing those struggles in the media and dealing with those over the years.
Samir Husni: My final question to you: In a nutshell, why should people watch this documentary on Tuesday?
Leslie Iwerks: People will learn something about a media company that has pioneered so many things that we don’t really realize. It has shaped culture through Cosmopolitan Magazine and through Harper’s Bazaar. It has cultivated some of the top fashion designers in fashion. Richard Avedon came from Harper’s Bazaar and you’ve had some of the top newspaper men in journalism come from there. Radio and newsreel and television and cable sprouted largely from Hearst. Comic strips came from Hearst. There are just so many things that I don’t think the audience realizes stems from this one entity and this one man who had a strong vision, which has been carried forward 75 or so years later under Frank Bennack’s leadership. From the standpoint of watching a strong business and creative story combined, I think people will find it interesting.
Samir Husni: Thank you.
Watch “Citizen Hearst” trailer below…