4 things you probably didn’t know about the Hearst family

Celine Bellegarda/Staff

It seems like every corner of the UC Berkeley campus is branded with their name: Hearst Mining Circle, Hearst Memorial Gymnasium, Hearst Greek Theatre, Hearst Avenue — you get the picture. Lots of people know that the Hearst family was a major benefactor of our university, but few know how eccentric and, frankly, bizarre their family history is. Here are four things you might not have known about the family that helped build this university.

  1. Phoebe Hearst is more of a boss than we thought.

Though the most well-known Hearst is likely William Randolph Hearst, perhaps the most important to UC Berkeley is his mother, Phoebe. Phoebe’s husband, George, was a very successful miner, and Phoebe used a lot of their fortune to help fund the University of California. She’s the namesake of Hearst Memorial Gymnasium and the founder of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Kroeber Hall, and she was the first female regent of the university.  

  1. William Randolph Hearst helped spark the Spanish-American War.

William Randolph Hearst inherited his parents’ fortune, which he used to kick-start his career as a newspaper tycoon. The success of his newspapers was partly due to his use of yellow journalism, or dramatized and embellished reporting to increase readership. Hearst’s publications often reported on atrocities (based on little evidence) committed by Spain during the Cuban War of Independence, which incited outrage among readers. When the USS Maine sunk in Havana’s harbor in 1898, headlines in Hearst’s New York Morning Journal overstated Spanish involvement in the incident, riling many Americans up for going to war with Spain. For that reason, many people attribute American support of the Spanish-American War in large part to William Randolph Hearst’s exaggerations.

  1. Patty Hearst was abducted from her apartment on Benvenue Avenue.

Patty Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1970s. On Feb. 4, 1974, a domestic terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA, broke into Patty’s apartment on Benvenue Avenue and abducted her. Knowing Patty came from a wealthy and powerful family, the SLA planned to hold her ransom in hopes that the Hearst family would help aid its cause. After two months of captivity, Patty allegedly agreed to join the SLA. She remained with the group for another 17 months as an active member before being arrested for bank robbery in 1975. Patty was pardoned of all crimes years later by President Bill Clinton under the assumption that she had been brainwashed and coerced into SLA activity. 

  1. “Citizen Kane” is based on William Randolph Hearst’s life.

The original screenwriter of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed movie “Citizen Kane,” Herman J. Mankiewicz, had once been friends with William Randolph Hearst. However, Mankiewicz eventually severed the relationship, calling Hearst power-hungry and manipulative. Mankiewicz used his experiences with Hearst as inspiration when writing the movie. When Hearst found out that his character might be attacked in the film, he tried to sabotage “Citizen Kane” by banning his newspapers from even mentioning it and many theaters from playing it. Though Hearst’s attempt to squash the movie’s success might have made a dent in the box office revenue of “Citizen Kane,” the film is still considered one of the best in cinematic history. 

Next time you walk past their name on campus, you’ll know that the Hearsts were more than just big UC donors. Crime, controversy, more money than you can imagine and the first female regent of the No. 1 public university in the world — what a family history.

Contact Margo Salah at [email protected].