The wedding scheduled for last weekend of her daughter Patty represented a denouement of sorts for the serial tragedy of Catherine Hearst—a resolution to the nightmare that began the day five years ago when Patty was carried screaming from her apartment and stuffed into the trunk of a car.
Mrs. Hearst, 61, was not bred for high drama. She was a proper Southern lady who sought a life that was pleasant and serene, found her comfort attending daily Mass, and cherished more than wealth itself the sheltered ease that the Hearsts’ vast fortune could buy. What happened to Patty was a violation perhaps literally unthinkable to her, a barrage of betrayals at once horrible and inchoate: the explosive, obscene tapes Patty made denouncing her parents as “pigs” and worse; the televised holocaust in which Patty was thought to be burned alive; the Hibernia Bank photo showing the revolutionary “Tania” brandishing a carbine; the year of silence; then her clenched-fist salute after capture; and her anguishing courtroom trials.
Through all that, Patty’s mother never allowed herself to accept despair. Her every public profession was of total faith in Patty, and even when, during Patty’s witness-stand confession of sex in confinement, she was overwhelmed by tears, she recovered herself quickly. Father Ted Dumke, head of the Free Patty committee, retains the memory of Catherine’s thoughtfully serving meals to Patty’s guards, of “making everyone feel at home,” and often being better versed in scripture than he. Even Patty’s acerbic lawyer F. Lee Bailey was struck by Catherine’s “warm personality.” Her public face was one of relentless belief—until at last Patty was freed by order of the President in February, and Catherine was able to declare herself “the happiest mother in the whole world.”
But by then her world had imploded, and the facts of her life came to mock the facade. She had become a heavy drinker, her 40-year marriage to purportedly unfaithful husband Randolph lay in ruins, the family’s home in Hillsborough was up for sale, and she had become a virtual recluse—speaking to her friends by telephone when she spoke to them at all. “She had been so damn strong,” as one of Patty’s friends puts it. “You can almost see how Patty couldn’t relate to her—you know, trying to be so self-righteous and so upright.”
Now Catherine turns her back on all that, closing the door not just on the past five years but on the four decades since she came to San Francisco as the belle of Atlanta squired by the dashing Randolph Hearst. This week she is moving to a new home in Beverly Hills to begin a life alone. It is a vantage from which the questions are all the more compelling: What made her, what did she mean her life to be, how will it be now?
Compared to her mother’s wedding, Patty’s planned service in the Naval chapel on Treasure Island would seem modest. When Catherine Wood Campbell and Randolph Apperson Hearst were married in 1938, it was Atlanta’s wedding of the year. She was the only daughter of Morton Campbell, a wealthy and socially prominent telephone company executive; he was the fifth and youngest son—born minutes after his twin brother, David—of William Randolph Hearst, America’s richest, most powerful press lord. There were nine bridesmaids, 15 groomsmen. She was radiant in her white satin gown and tulle veil, as befitted a debutante whose petite, perfect figure and radiant, brunette beauty (she became blonder with the passage of years) put her in the Scarlett O’Hara tradition; indeed, shortly before, she had been a finalist in the nationwide search for someone to play Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. When the newlyweds left for San Francisco, where Randy would eventually take charge of his father’s flagship newspaper, the Examiner, the forecast was happily ever after.
After settling into a mansion in the very rich, very exclusive community of Hillsborough (where their close friends the Bing Crosbys also lived), Catherine seemed to thrive. She had five daughters. The first, Catherine, was born in their first year of marriage. Ten years later came Virginia, now the 29-year-old wife of a newspaper correspondent; then Patty; then Anne, 23, and Vicki, 22, both students in Western colleges under assumed names. All the while their mother reveled in her role as a doyenne of San Francisco society—a member of the power elite as a regent of the University of California, a philanthropist, a woman of interests ranging from art and British history to the genealogy of the Hawaiian royal family. She was an irrepressibly delightful guest and a prodigious hostess. Catherine and Randy gave impeccable dinner parties, traveled frequently, weekended at Wyntoon (their Northern California retreat) or San Simeon (the fabled family seat) and socialized at the chic Burlingame Country Club. “I am,” Catherine Hearst firmly declared at Patty’s trial, “an Establishment person.”
But as reality tainted their romantic idyll, she retreated from it. “Randy always had many girlfriends,” confides a friend. “And Catherine was mentally and physically exhausted after the kidnapping. No wonder she developed a drinking problem.” She confided to one reporter that one of her statements as a regent had so enraged her husband that she was told he did not want to see her name in the papers again until the obituary notices. There was trouble with the daughters too. “Sometimes Mrs. Hearst was too strict if they didn’t get good grades,” says Emmy Karolina Brubach, a onetime cook for the family. “Or else she would spoil them too much. Mrs. Hearst is so warmhearted.” Yet she had particular problems with Patty. “When Patty was in high school she didn’t get along with her mother at all,” a classmate recalls, “and she was very close to her father. Even he used to joke about it. I guess her mother made Patty feel like she was the black sheep of the family.”
When Patty went to live with Steven Weed, her prep school math tutor, the family disliked and resented him, but Catherine was determined to cloak the relationship in respectability and grimly made plans for a wedding, even though neither Patty nor Weed wanted her to. After the kidnapping, Catherine’s Southern belle persona railed unreasonably at Weed: “Whatever happened to the real men in this world? Men like Clark Gable? No one would have carried off my daughter if there had been a real man there.” Her new son-in-law is more to her liking: “I think Bernie is marvelous. He brings such an air of manly strength and good humor to the family. He is always cheerful, absolutely, and always very protective of Patty, her sisters and me.”
Yet Catherine is said to suspect that Patty broke up Shaw’s marriage, which offends her Roman Catholic theology and good taste, and her historic differences with Patty complicated her reaction to the kidnapping and the events of the next five years. “She’s such a devoted, old-fashioned Southern lady,” says a friend of Patty’s, “that we just died watching her facade break. That hysteria wasn’t just grief that Patty was gone—it was guilt, you know, ‘What have I done wrong?’ ”
During the agony of Patty’s trial and imprisonment, Catherine gradually began to close off her past. She resigned from the Board of Regents, rarely went out and saw less and less of her husband, who also retreated to a kind of self-exile. The sort of disturbance that restored many relationships proved to be the Hearsts’ coup de grace. After their separation last summer, he moved from their small white rambler (one they had exchanged for their mansion during Patty’s ordeal) to a house in Paso Robles, near his father’s San Simeon. Catherine stayed, but put the house up for sale. “She was crushed and very nearly defeated by what happened to Patty,” says a close friend. “It’s a miracle she survived at all.”
“The ordeal nearly killed me,” Mrs. Hearst once admitted and, asked what sustained her, she answers instantly: “My religion.” Yet her victory over despair sometimes seems more apparent than real. She is still an uncommonly handsome woman, prettier in fact than any of her daughters. Unaccountably, the past years and their torments have little changed her looks: She is, as ever, immaculately groomed, dressed in studied simplicity, with not a hair out of place. The terms of her legal separation—a reported $200,000 a year for life, plus the income from various jointly owned properties—will certainly serve that stasis if she wishes. But her new home is far from her memories and her roots in San Francisco, her children are grown and scattered, and she still has no grandchildren. She could, as Scarlett 40 years the wiser, be saying to herself: “I’ll think of it all tomorrow—I can stand it then.” More likely, as the chastened Mrs. Hearst, she will practice the virtue of forgetting.