In the interests of keeping all the comments about the recent and upcoming books on Welles in one place, here are my thoughts on the John Evangelist Walsh Kane and Hearst book. I have a copy of the Heylin book, which I will post some thoughts on once I get through it. Bogdanovich fairly raves about it on the back cover. Let's hope it lives up to that.
Walking Shadows: OW, WR Hearst and Citizen Kane, is a book that I can’t recommend to anyone who already has a reasonable knowledge of Welles. The book purports to prove that it was Hearst himself who was personally behind the attacks on Welles in the time leading up to and immediately after the release of Kane. Which, let’s face it, is not something I would imagine many of us have a hard time believing. But what author John Evangelist Walsh fails to do is provide any real “smoking gun” type evidence. Everything is circumstantial at best, and simple assumptions of guilt at worst.
He does make some interesting points on occasion; for example, the story commonly bandied about in descriptions of Kane’s reception at the 1942 Oscars is one of outright hostility by the gathered audience, but Walsh notes that no source is given for this story, and no description of it exists in the contemporary stories about the ceremony. But by the same token, his assumption that Hearst was behind Welles and Kane being denied Oscar glory is only that, as he himself admits: “Full proof of Hearst’s part in the ultimate defeat of Orson Welles is likely beyond retrieving. But where a man of Hearst’s savage reputation is concerned…in some things for some minds it isn’t needed.” It isn’t? Okay then!
In the final section, Walsh discusses Dorothy Comingore’s sad fall from starring in Kane to her eventual arrest for solicitation in 1953 and subsequent disappearance from public life until her death in 1971. Walsh posits that it was Hearst’s hand behind her downfall, but again only has suppositions and Hearst’s vengeful nature as evidence. “Whether Hearst had any link to the sad chronicle of Dorothy Commingore’s [sic] fall cannot at the moment be said. Given his known ruthlessness in his journalistic pursuits, however, and his savage way of exacting revenge, that possibility cannot be brushed aside.” But Walsh fails to follow up on at least two leads that might have helped his case in this regard. He mentions Ruth Warrick’s autobiography, which makes brief mention of Comingore’s claims of “injustice” done to her, but apparently didn’t contact Warrick to ask if she knew any further information about it. Walsh also mentions that Comingore had two children, and they might have been a good source to look into as well.
Walsh summarizes with this, in describing Welles’ difficulties in Hollywood after Kane and before Hearst’s death: “During the ten years that Hearst lived after the Citizen Kane affair, no evidence shows him as continuing to harass or target Welles. Nor has anyone yet thought to suggest, even offhandedly, any such sustained vendetta…Whether those ten troublesome, less than triumphant years [for Welles] were solely a result of Welles’ own shortcomings or of bad luck, or might have been to some extent a result of Hearst’s secret manipulation, must for now remain an open question.” I’m still trying to decide which is crazier – this, or the “Welles as Black Dahlia murderer” theory. Walsh suggests at one point that hard proof might come to light when sealed papers of Hearst’s are eventually opened, but he gives no indication as to what these papers are or why they would contain evidence proving Hearst’s involvement.
In the end, it comes to this: I’ve always assumed that Hearst had some role in what went down in the battle over the release of Kane. Does anyone think he didn’t? But the extent and nature of that involvement is going to remain unknown until we get some kind of real proof, and saying that “it would be just like Hearst to have done this” doesn’t count.