Herb Caen's All-Time Greatest Item

The William Randolph Hearst - Marion Davies - Orson Welles - Gore Vidal - Peanuts Connection

San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, August 11, 1989

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Friday Fish-Fry

DAVE DRAVECKY's gallant pitching effort for the Giants yesterday was money in the bank for Lifesavers, the foundation set up to help Alex Vlahos, the seven-yr-old San Mateo boy who has leukemia. Before the game, stockbroker Gary Shemano and his cohorts at Bear Stearns pledged $75 for each pitch thrown by Dravecky, who was making his first big league appearance since his cancer operation. The triumphant Dravecky's 92 pitches added up to $6,900 for young Alex.

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CLITERARY NOTE: Did he or didn't he? Did William Randolph Hearst call Marion Davies' most personal part "Rosebud"? That's the question that has been tearing up the usually staid columns of the N.Y. Review of Books. Author Gore Vidal says he did, and that's why Hearst reacted with such rage at Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," which ends with the mystery-solving shot of young Kane's boyhood sled, named "Rosebud." Others say that Vidal is full of it ... Then, last Fri., Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" appeared with a single-panel drawing of Sally exclaiming to her TV set, "You sure fooled me... I thought 'Rosebud' was his skateboard." Was Schulz, who feigns the manner of an appleknocker, getting off a sophisticated in-joke? Is Sally less innocent than she has been drawn and generally quartered? Wyn Hurst was dying to know so I tracked down Sparky, that being Schulz's nickname. "For heaven's sake," said he, "I never heard of Hearst saying that. I draw a month ahead. Pure coincidence. I love 'Citizen Kane.' And Sally is still innocent" ... But the sweet mystery of love remains.

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PRESSING ON: Homicide Lt. Gerald McCarthy after an officer shot and killed a man in the Hashbury: "The behavior of the deceased was so bizarre that the officer seemed to have no alternative except to shoot him." If bizarre behavior is to be the yardstick, San Francisco will be a ghost town in a week, predicts Jerry Semas ... Maybe you've read that the proposed new ballyard for the Giants will be called a park, not a stadium - wherefore Mervin Fahn of Sacramento has the perfect name: The Wherewillwe Park ... Joanne Sandstrom's capsule critique of the new Sam Donaldson-Diane Sawyer "Primetime" news show on ABC: "Embarrassing. The only Sam and Diane we need on Thursday nights are Malone and Chambers. Bring back Shelley Long!" (cheers).............

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Prelude to Caen's item

Gore Vidal writing in the pages of The New York Review of Books, June 1, 1989

"…The Hearst newspapers declared war on [Orson Welles] for his supposed travesty of Hearst's personal life [in Citizen Kane]. On Kane's deathbed, he whispers the word "Rosebud." This is thought to be the key, somehow, to his life. In the film it turns out to be a boy's sled, which Mr. Stephen Spielberg recently bought for $55,000. In actual life, Rosebud was what Hearst called his friend Marion Davies's clitoris, the sort of item that producer's of children's films tend not to collect…."

Letter to Herb Caen

Herb Caen
San Francisco Chronicle
5th & Mission
San Francisco, CA 94103

Dear Herb,

It was amusing enough to learn from Gore Vidal in the June 1st issue of The New York Review of Books, that "rosebud", far from being a sled, was William Randolph Hearst's pet name for his friend Marion Davies's most private part. (Vidal thinks that Welles's joke accounts for Hearst's furious reaction to Citizen Kane.) But I was happily stunned Friday morning when I picked up the Chronicle to find the "Peanuts" character Sally exclaiming to her TV set, "You sure fooled me...l thought 'Rosebud' was his skateboard." On your beat, citizen Caen! Does Charles Schulz read The New York Review of Books, or is Sally's innocence preserved?

Wyn Hurst
Menlo Park, California

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