He was the wellspring of a famous family, a man who dug fortunes out of the earth, controlled a powerful newspaper and served in high political office.
But George Hearst isn’t as well-known as his son, or even one of his great-grandchildren. The new “Deadwood” movie that premieres on HBO on May 31 should help restore interest in the miner-publisher-senator, however.
Hearst is drawn as one of the chief villains in the “Deadwood” movie, no small accomplishment for that saga, filled with foul language, deeds and characters. As portrayed by veteran actor Gerald McRaney, George Hearst will stop at nothing to seize control of all the gold in the Black Hills.
That means violence, of course, and “Deadwood” claims Hearst gained control of the gold mining interest by having his underlings get their hands bloody, while he remained above the fray. It’s a story line that departs from the official version, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t closer to the truth than the schoolbook tales.
Hearst, already a success as a miner in Missouri, California, Nevada and Utah, was said to have a unique feel for land and valuable minerals. Native Americans termed him the “boy earth talks to” because of his self-taught mining skills. Hearst was a crude man, given to wearing shirts spotted with tobacco and food, and he was nearly illiterate.
But he was a skilled miner and businessman who made millions. He bought the newly dug Homestake Mine for $70,000 in 1877 and reaped millions. That part of his life was featured in the “Deadwood” series and will be a focus of the HBO movie, which reunites almost all the actors from the series, which was canceled in 2006 after three seasons.
Fans clamored for a resumption, and the cast also was eager to finish the story. McRaney said it’s the best show he has ever been involved with, largely because of the brilliant David Milch, the writer and driving force behind “Deadwood.”
Milch, who is now battling Alzheimer’s disease, created a story that told the crude and compelling truth behind the legend of Deadwood. While the language was often controversial, especially one particular term often used, the show captured the mud, blood and intrigue of the infamous mining camp.
Hearst, not as well-remembered as colorful figures like Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane, Charlie Utter and other actual personalities who lived in Deadwood in its early days, is finally getting his moment in the spotlight.
Oh, and about his famous family members. His lone son was William Randolph Hearst, who was given the San Francisco Examiner to manage when he was just 20. He was a great promoter and successful publisher, building a powerful newspaper empire that lasted for more than half a century, while branching out to magazines, newsreels and movies.
Like his father, he was beloved and feared. Both served briefly in Congress and both used their wealth and influence to become powerful figures in America.
William’s life story was told in perhaps the greatest film of all time, “Citizen Kane,” with Orson Welles starring, directing, and co-writing the magnificent movie. Hearst hated it and used his considerable influence to prevent it from becoming too successful, although critics and the public have since hailed it, deservedly so, as a masterpiece.
George Hearst’s great-granddaughter, Patty Hearst, found fame — and infamy — against her will when she was kidnapped in 1974 by a small group of terrorists who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. The news that a 20-year-old heiress to the Hearst family was so boldly taken was stunning — but her transformation into a self-described “urban guerilla” named Tania who joined the group for a bank robbery, shootings and attempted bombings was astounding.
Arrested in 1975 after the death of most SLA members, Hearst said she had been brainwashed, raped, and drugged. Still, she was found guilty of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years in prison; President Jimmy Carter commuted the sentence in 1979.
Since then, Hearst has written books, appeared in movies and on TV and shown dogs in competition. Like her relatives, she has not lived a dull life, and opinions differ on their actions and motives.
It’s a family tradition.
South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at http://sdprairie.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.
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