Citizen Kane: Welles’ Masterpiece First Screening at Hearst Castle

Orson Welles’ seminal 1941 debut, “Citizen Kane,” screened for the first time at the Hearst Castle, 74 years after its initial release.

The movie screened at the private theater at the massive hilltop estate — the inspiration for Xanadu in “Citizen Kane” — for about 60 people, who paid $1,000 per ticket to benefit the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and the Friends of Hearst Castle preservation group.

“I felt the spirit of William Randolph Hearst,” said prducer Lincoln Phipps, whose “Hollywood Don’t Surf” documentary had screened Thursday at the fest.

The Hearst family became a part of the festival in 2012 when William Randolph Hearst’s grandson Steven Hearst agreed to a first-ever screening of “Citizen Kane” at the Hearst Castle visitor center — two miles away from Hearst Castle — even though his grandfather had tried unsuccessfully to suppress the 1941 film due to its unflattering portrayal of aspects of his life, particularly his mistress Marion Davies.

Steven Hearst said then that enough time has passed for the family to acknowledge the artistic achievement of the film, while attempting to set the record straight about Hearst. Festival director Wendy Eidson came up with the idea of approaching the Hearsts four years ago. “I never really expected the family to say yes,” she said.

Museum director Mary Levkoff noted that Hearst usually screened films at 11 p.m. and opted mostly to feature films that starred guests staying at the Castle. “There’s also a good possibility that he showed ‘Gone with The Wind’ before it opened,” she added.

The event also included live auctions of a pair of Hearst Castle party packages — a movie night for 10 and a pool party for 10 at the indoor Roman Pool — with both going for $10,000.