She lies beautifully and to maximum effect…

I’ve been reading the fascinating memoirs of Carmel Snow, and I’ve noticed she does what every good writer does — she takes a core truth and fiddles with the details so they enhance the point like a smile lights up a face. In other words, she lies beautifully and to maximum effect…

When the December issue came out…I was summoned to Hearst’s fabulous retreat, “San Simeon,” to  discuss Munkacsi’s work and because Munkacsi was also in California I arranged for him to meet me there. He was safely tucked away in Madame Récamier’s bed in one  of the San Simeon guest rooms when, at two-thirty in the morning, I arrived at the entrance to the 275,000-acre “ranch.”

The first thing I was met by was herds of wild animals running across the road. When I finally reached my bed, which had belonged to Madame de Pompadour, I fell into a grateful sleep that was broken early the same morning by the roaring and howling of Mr. Hearst’s private zoo. What I wanted, and needed, was coffee. There was no bell in my room, so when I heard someone moving outside my door I asked a maid to bring me a breakfast tray. She replied that Mr. Hearst never allowed breakfast to be served in the bedrooms. I dressed and made my way into the Great Hall. I was about to try again for a cup of coffee when a little figure popped up from behind the huge sofa in front of the baronial fireplace. It was Charlie Chaplin, who had come down for the same purpose but hadn’t the nerve to brave the kitchen. I got us our coffee.

The World of Carmel Snow by Carmel Snow with Mary Louise Aswell


The truth is the furniture at the Castle was so far from the delicate sinuous lines of the Récamier and de Pompadour styles and eras as to be laughable.

Behold, a bedroom at Hearst Castle:

hearstMadame de Pompadour’s room in Versailles:

de pompadourNow, Jacques-Louis David painted the Portrait of Madame Récamier that hangs in the Louvre, and a chic bedroom at the time would have looked like this:

1802+-+France+-+Paris+bedroomAnd a couple of pictures by Munkacsi at Hearst Castle of a “little figure that popped up” — Charlie Chaplin, and of Marion Davies:

Marion-Charlie-Chaplin-Hearst-Castlemarion davies by munkacsi


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  1. June 26, 2015


  2. June 26, 2015

    Some beautiful and stylish photos here.

  3. June 26, 2015

    Oh, I just LOVE Hearst Castle stories! I visited the place several times in my younger years. As a girl, I remember buying every postcard in the bookshop and coming home to make a scrapbook of my encounters with this odd and beautiful place. The enchanting estate has always fascinated me…I suppose it still does. I may need to dig that scrapbook out of the garage…I’m feeling inspired to write about it. 🙂 As always, thanks for sharing.

  4. rschulenberg
    June 27, 2015

    A wonderfully evocative post; a weekend at San Simeon! (Sigh…..!)

  5. iolacontessa
    January 11, 2016

    I have a cement POT from SAN SIMEON!PLus, a name tag holder in silver……….I would have been in that kitchen too chatting it up for a COFFEE!

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