Randolph Hearst was the most formidable press tycoon. As illustrated by Orson Wells in “Citizen Kane”, he was a killer, a ruthless businessman, a conqueror that backed down for nothing.
North of Los Angeles, he built a most extravagant castle in San Simeon, amongst the green hills. The façade was that of a Mexican cathedral, the pool was decorated with a real roman temple. On could find in his castle remains from every century, every civilization with an unmatched degree of luxury and splendour. The passage of time over this jigsaw of civilization rendered it even more beautiful and noticeably more romantic.
Romantic – Randolph Hearst was everything but that. He had dated the most famous actress of the time, the queen of silent film, Marion Davies, but had been terribly jealous. He suspected Marion of having an affair with Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was hence invited, along with many other guests, for one of Randolph Hearst’s fabulous weekends. The host incessantly spied on the beautiful Marion.
One night, he thought he glimpsed her in the arms of Charlie Chaplin. With no hesitation, he shot the man he believed to be the famous actor. The man fell to the ground, killed on the spot. Only he was not Charlie Chaplin and the woman was not Marion Davies.
Randolph Hearst, thanks to his billions, arranged for the story to be covered up. No lawsuit, no accusation. There was an epilogue, which Kenneth Anger recounts in his famous publication on Hollywood’s best-kept secrets. There had been a witness, a voyeur, one of the guests, who spied on the lovers for her own pleasure. Randolph Hearst had found out, summoned her and offered her a column in all his newspapers for life. Hence the voyeur became one of the most famous columnists in the history of American press.
There may have been no lawsuit, but there were consequences. The victim, a man killed by mistake, cried for justice¬ – or rather his ghost did. Since then, he appeared to, or at least was felt by, all the staff members of the castle. All the guides sensed his presence and assured me that he was more present near the pool than anywhere else.
Indeed, when we visited this immense blue and gold mosaic room, with transparent water and this extraordinarily sumptuous setting, I felt that the presence happened to be there. Maybe the ghost will find peace only when justice has finally been done.