Citizen Kane (1941)

February 23, 2009

Guests: Tom Shales and Frank Mankiewicz

Praising Kane

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator
WASHINGTON — "Citizen Kane," the 1941 Orson Welles classic about an ethically flawed newspaper tycoon, is recognized as one of the best films ever made.

But history might have played out differently if William Randolph Hearst had had his say about it. Believing the movie was based on his life, Hearst reportedly set out to ban "Citizen Kane" from theaters.

According to Washington Post film critic Tom Shales, "Hearst was very powerful back then. A lot of [critics] were under pressure to hate the film from the Hearst papers they worked for, so it was hard to find an unbiased, untainted review."

Hearst, it seemed, was not the only foe of Welles. The Hollywood establishment resented the young filmmaker for showing studio executives how to make a movie.

Shales and Frank Mankiewicz, whose father, Herman, wrote the screenplay, agreed that Hollywood could exact a price for Welles’s perceived arrogance.

"The Academy nominated ["Citizen Kane"] in almost every category and didn’t give it any awards at all except for the one thing they knew Welles had not done," said Mankiewicz, referring to his father’s Oscar win for best screenplay.

Although Welles received a co-writing credit, Mankiewicz asserted "my father wrote all of it. Welles begged my father to give him half credit, so he did."

Despite tensions, the elder Mankiewicz and Welles made a formidable team.

"Welles was never really a journalist, but I think he had a journalist’s soul. Together they imbued the film with the spirit of journalism," Shales said.

Shales and Mankiewicz discussed "Citizen Kane" during the third installment of "Reel Journalism with Nick Clooney." The series features classic and modern films depicting the important role of journalism in American life.

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