80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter

Courtesy Everett Collection

It was Hearst vs. Welles in a dirty 1941 Oscar campaign.

If anyone thinks they’re having a challenging time with a current Oscar campaign, consider what Orson Welles was up against in 1941-42. Media baron William Randolph Hearst had an intense, personal animosity against Welles’ Citizen Kane, the unflattering drama centered on a certain media baron’s private life. Hearst used every tool at his disposal to attack the film: flack from his gossip columnist Louella Parsons (she called the film “a repulsive biography”), advertising bans and a targeted threat against all the studios. He floated a story that ran on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter in which “authoritative Hearst sources” said his papers would soon be running editorials about the film industry giving employment to “refugees and immigrants instead of handing those jobs to Americans.” The idea was to pressure the other majors to “force RKO to shelve the Orson Welles picture.” Not especially subtle, but it nearly worked. Hollywood moguls, including Louis B. Mayer, offered to buy the $840,000 RKO film before release and destroy the negative to buy peace. While this was going on, the 26-year-old Welles wasn’t helping his first film’s awards prospects by vocally venting his contempt for the Hollywood system. Added to the cards being stacked against him was Kane being up against an unusually strong nine-film field that included The Maltese Falcon, Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Sergeant York. When Oscar night rolled around, Welles didn’t attend (just as well; his name drew boos whenever mentioned), and Kane received one statuette for best original screenplay. It was How Green Was My Valley’s turn to take home best picture.