cover image William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1910

William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1910

Ben Procter, Ben Proctor. Oxford University Press, USA, $60 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-19-511277-1

Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst has fascinated multiple previous writers of biography. He was influential, charismatic and lived opulently. Procter, a Texas Christian Univ. history professor, caught the Hearst biography bug in 1966, 15 years after the tycoon's death. By then, a big-selling Hearst biography, by W. A. Swanberg, seemed to have the topic locked up. But Procter knew that new information awaited in Hearst papers flowing into the University of California library. The project gestated in Procter's mind until 1981, when he began research in earnest. By then, other Hearst biographies had been published. Would Procter find anything new to say? Seventeen years later, the answer is clear: Yes. Previous biographies have given short shrift to Hearst's stormy academic career, his unexpected entry into the newspaper business and the thought behind his new style of tabloid journalism. Procter, a skillful researcher, has written a work of historiography embedded in the biography. Over and over, he points out the factual and interpretive mistakes of previous Hearst biographers, including the legendary Swanberg. Procter says he is planning a second volume, presumably covering the final 40 years of Hearst's life, years filled with movie star liaisons, life in the castle at San Simeon and the development of a true media empire. Judging by this detail-packed, competently written volume, the follow-up ought to be worth waiting for. (Apr.)