(Perhaps obviously) I’ve finally been slogging my way through Marion Davies’ The Times We Had after years of planning to get around to it, and it’s tough going – lots of “Then Bobby telephoned, so we weren’t able to go after all. At the ranch we used a lot of paper napkins, which was terribly fun. None of the boys ever played jigsaw puzzles.” But it is fun to see the outlines of William Randolph Hearst’s character as described in this particular book, the most upright and gentle lamb in the world, who accidentally became a millionaire and then forgot what money was:
“He was lonely. That was why he’d go to the shows, and the girls would think he was a wolf. But he was not.”
William Randolph Hearst was a virgin until the age of fifty-eight, and merely befriended chorus-girls because they were closest to his seat in the front row. He always befriended the people physically closest to him, for convenience’ sake.
“Of all the innocent people, he was the kindest, most innocent, naive person you’d ever want to meet. He wouldn’t have harmed anybody, ever.”
And he never did!
“My parents thought he was honest because ours was purely a friendship. It was just a friendship for quite a long time. And it was a very nice sort of friendship to have.”
“His eyes were perfect. He didn’t use glasses. I wished I had his control of the English language, not flowery but positive, and the strength of the words he used, and the expressions and the anecdotes he put in parentheses, like: (This reminds me of when I was a little boy and I picked up a book and I saw something that I thought was funny and I found it wasn’t.) Like that.”
His eyes were perfect, and he used the strongest words, and sometimes he mentioned things that weren’t funny in his childhood.
“He would pay no attention to our guests, except at mealtimes, when he would be very polite, and then he would disappear again. That was probably the best way for a host to be. It made the guests feel at home.”
People loved it when he did that, and I never found myself having to make excuses for him.
“Looking at him, you would say he was not even listening, but he was. But he generally was thinking of something else.”
My husband? LOVES paying attention to me. You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Or to ask me. But he does.
“But he didn’t talk very much about Harvard. There were many stories about the fact that he didn’t graduate from Harvard, but they were not true.”
In the book itself, this sentence ends with a footnote that explains that these stories were in fact true, and that he did not graduate, which seems like a cruel choice on the part of the editors.
“He was depicted as a strong, masterful character who made hard bargains, yet he never made any negotiations at all. He never cared about money. He was no bargainer.”
“I remember that once W.R.’s valet, talking to one of the maids, said, ‘Mr. Hearst is the cleanest man I’ve ever seen. Or smelt. He doesn’t have to take a shower; he’s just – clean.’ And he was clean mentally as well as physically.”
This is like the description of the death of a medieval saint! And Mr. Hearst was clean without needing to bathe, and his body remained incorruptible for thirteen years and thirteen days after his death, and all who touched it received miracles and needments from the Lord, amen.
“We were gone before the camps and the violence. W.R. didn’t like Hitler at all.”
On the other hand:
“He showed me a diamond and pearl bracelet and a pearl and diamond ring. He said, ‘If you don’t go to the party, these are yours.’
Now what was I supposed to do? Bird in the hand, you know. He was afraid I might fall in love with the Prince of Wales. I had to make a quick decision. I said, ‘I won’t go.’ In other words, ‘Gimme, gimmee, gimmeee.’”