San Francisco Film Festival: William Randolph Hearst III Discusses 'Citizen Kane'

The grandson of the man who inspired Orson Welles' 1941 classic offers his own explanation about the meaning of "Rosebud."

What’s the real meaning of “Rosebud,” the dying word that Orson Welles speaks in his performance as newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane in his classic film Citizen Kane, which was, in turn, inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst?

Most viewers leave the movie convinced that Rosebud is Kane’s childhood sled, which he was playing with when he was taken away from his mother.

Welles himself, in a 1941 statement, explained, “In his subconscious, it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother's love, which Kane never lost.”

But Thursday, appearing before a screening of the film at the current San Francisco Film Festival, William Randolph Hearst III, the publishing magnate’s grandson and current chairman of the board of the Hearst Corp., offered his own alternative theory, saying that he always felt that Rosebud was the snow globe that falls out of Kane’s hand as he dies.

“Many people think Rosebud is the sled,” he explained. “But I think Rosebud is actually that little snow globe. I think there is something sad in the character Kane, and to some degree in my grandfather’s personality, that inside that little world it’s youth, it’s childhood, it’s home, it’s safe, and they’d like to go back to that. I think that’s what Rosebud is. It’s really that sense of a childhood denied, in some way.”

Interviewer David Thomson then asked about yet another, more scandalous theory, promulgated by the late Gore Vidal. Hearst’s reply is included in the accompanying video.

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