By Donna Polizzi
When was the last time that you visited Hearst Castle? Our Keys 2 the Coast crew took a tour recently and learned a few things that most don’t know. I’ve always told my kids listen to your elders. To practice what I preach, we sought out a couple of ladies who have literally worked at Hearst Castle longer than I have been alive. What we learned made our jaws drop and we laughed to the point of belly aches.
It all takes place in San Simeon – where William Randolph Hearst the eccentric media tycoon built Hearst Castle – which is also known as the Enchanting Castle.
This magical place holds many untold stories and Keys 2 the Coast learned the inside scoop about the mischief at the Castle, that I’m guessing you haven’t heard before.
First, let me remind you of a little background. William Randolph Hearst’s father made his fortune during the 1849 Gold Rush. His mom was a teacher. In 1903, he married Millicent Willson. She was a stunning showgirl, twenty years his junior and together they raised five boys.
Most do know how incredibly successful William Randolph Hearst was. His journalistic success was due to exposing sensational stories on scandals, crime, and sex. He is quoted as saying “ news is something somebody doesn’t want to be printed; all else is advertising.”
In 1919, William hired Julia Morgan to build what he originally called, La Questa Encantada. Together they spent 28 years and $36 million dollars building the magnificent 127-acre Spanish-Mediterranean, 165-room estate. He also spent another $50 million, yes million, on the largest private art collection held by one person. The castle also featured the largest private zoo in the world.
Everyone’s bucket list should include a visit. It’s a trip back in time, to the heyday of the roaring 20s and 30s. You’ll be spellbound by the art and architecture. The Egyptian Artifacts are some of the oldest pieces in the collection. The Castle is brimming with ostentatious, interesting art, Persian rugs and white marble statues, sculptures and 17th century paintings. The gardens are spectacular and the unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean is magnificent.
Now for the escapades that you will never hear from historians, docents, or tour guides.
Let’s talk about the hanky-panky. In 1917, Hearst gave his heart to Marion Davies, a twenty-year-old showgirl, at the time. His wife refused to give him a divorce, so they lived together for a couple of decades in the castle, while Millicent lived on the East Coast.
One of the long-time employees made our day with this reveal. “There was a time, when Cary Grant flew in an airplane with William Jr., the castle and threw sacks of flour all over the castle. Yes, Cary Grant ‘flour-bombed’ Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst was angry. When Cary Grant returned, he was asked to leave and his bags were packed.”
Young William’s mischievous capers began at an early age, so I’m surprised that his guest’s escapades weren’t better received. More than once, he was expelled from school for being a prankster. In those days there was no indoor plumbing and people often put pots under their beds to relieve themselves at night. William was once expelled from Harvard for sending engraved silver chamber “pots” to his professors.
Joan Baker shared, “One time, Harpo Marx was a guest here at the castle. There are vaults under the castle and Harpo snuck down on a snowy night to the vault and took out the stored mink coats. He proceeded to dress the statues throughout the gardens, in fur. The guests woke up to Harpo’s prank and Hearst’s displeasure at the shenanigans.”
The Hearst family willed the castle to Berkley University but they couldn’t afford its maintenance. Then, the family bequeathed the castle and 282,000-acres in 1941, to the California Parks Authority. The family maintains ownership of the lands of the cattle station.
William died on Aug. 14, 1951 in Beverly Hills, Calif. It’s interesting to know that Hearst left his entire fortune to Miss Davies and she sold it all back to the Hearst family for one dollar. Many view their relationship as scandalous, others see it as a magnificent love story.