Am I allowed to say I find Hearst Castle to be an oppressive nightmare?

Really, the main house takes the term “baronial” to new heights and there’s some truly odd stuff there pinched from all over Europe. It gives me the creeps. (I should say that the guest houses are bright and sunny and happily devoid of walls torn out of Norman churches, and the swimming pool: oh là là!) There is one room there that doesn’t make me squeamish, and that’s the library, and yes, my angels, this is about as bright as it gets inside the castle.

home-slideshow-03Hearst and Marion Davies had a suite atop the castle—with a bedroom, a bath, and a dressing room for each, divided by a sitting room. It’s a weird mix, (sorry Julia Morgan) of art deco amenities and truly frightening medieval architectural detail.

There’s a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric novel by Olaf Olafsson that anyone interested in the era, repressive impulses, high maintenance secrets, and the goings on in Hearst Castle should read, told from the viewpoint of Mr. Hearst’s butler: Walking Into the Night.

And if you want the Orson Welles version, check out Citizen Kane, actually a more sympathetic character than you-know-who—showing in Downtown Los Angeles this summer at a wonderful old picture palace, The Orpheum.


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  1. Heather in Arles
    May 16, 2014

    My goodness. And to think that I complain that American antiques dealers have snapped up all of the good fauteuils in France – ha! – that is nothing compared to Mr. H’s appetite. Geez. Little question: why is Billy Haines in the tags? Are those his chairs in the foreground?
    And oh to swim in that pool…nekkid of course… ;o

    • May 16, 2014

      I think the family goes swimming in the pool once a year, as does the staff… I suppose they’re all wearing bathing suits.
      Billy Haines in the tags because I’m lazy and lifted them from another post!

  2. George Kaplan
    May 16, 2014

    Great post, Vickie. Of course Hearst Castle looks just like my holiday home… 😉 I wonder if the Munsters and the Addams Family were next door neighbors?!

    • May 16, 2014

      Darling, you really MUST brighten it up a little. Maybe paint the walls white and get rid of all that stonework 😉 .

  3. George Kaplan
    May 16, 2014

    @Heather, excuse me my eyes just popped out on stalks!

    • Heather in Arles
      May 16, 2014

      Ah beh oui, that was entirely unintentional m’dear…

  4. May 16, 2014

    I toured it on a family vacation when I was 12, and have never felt a desire to go back. Besides the pool, the thing I remember most about the trip was hunting for agates at low tide on the beach below with my parents and sister. Inspired by coastal gift shops, we’d gotten a rock tumbler, and that year people got earrings or keychains for birthdays, depending on gender.

    The castle is a marvel of sorts, but in the end, I view it as a really expensive version of Disneyland, and metaphorically, much of our culture – a world of false fronts.

    • May 17, 2014

      I shouldn’t admit this in print, but the theme park you refer to gives me the willies, too.
      On the other hand, hunting for agates on the beach sounds wonderful…

  5. May 16, 2014

    What a library! I will agree with you—not something I could live in (relax in, be at peace in…) but it is mighty incredible to look upon. It’s truly gobsmacking and awe-inspiring—in a sort of sublime way, as Russell Kirk defined it, great and terrible (not hideous terrible, but the older sense of the word) to look upon.

    It’s not so bad to realize how small we are and what a tiny space of time our lives take up.

    • May 17, 2014

      Great and terrible to look upon! I like that.
      I wonder if Hearst ever had that realization you refer too? At one time the castle was on the largest parcel of land in the state, the size of Rhode Island, and he certainly tried to make an indelible mark…
      Very interesting, Ms. Jen!

  6. Kayak
    May 16, 2014

    Hey we all know that Orson Welles was not writing about Marion and W.R. when he wrote the film. It was not a secret at the time, and he told anyone who would listen who the real subject was, but the media initially got it wrong and W.R. chose to continue the misconstruction as it gave him an excuse to end his friendship with Welles who he feared was having an affair with Marion. Wasn’t so, but Marion was covering for someone else who was having an affair with Welles and wouldn’t tell W.R. why she was lying to him. Unfortunately the whole thing tarred Marion with the brush of a poor actress which simply wasn’t ever true. She’d have had a much better career without Hearst holding her back by insisting she play pure little miss roles.

    • May 17, 2014

      I think he might have been writing about WRH, and was sorry his friend, Marion, was presumed to be the no talent “opera” singer. It is sad that she was better known as WRH’s mistress than the very fine actress that she was. There’s a book that came out last year you might enjoy, My Lunches with Orson, Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. Cheers, Kayak! Thanks for commenting!

  7. May 17, 2014

    The indoor pool slays me…

    • May 17, 2014

      Apparently an after hours rendezvous at the Castle, I think David Niven wrote about it in his memoirs…

      • May 17, 2014

        That tiled room is worthy of the Romans!

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