Charles Foster Kane

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Charles Foster Kane
Citizen Kane character
Orson Welles-Citizen Kane1.jpg
Created by Orson Welles
Portrayed by Orson Welles (as an adult)
Buddy Swan (as a child)
Gender Male
Occupation Owner/Publisher of the New York Daily Inquirer
Owner of 37 newspapers and two syndicates
Owner of a radio station
Family Mary Kane (mother)
James "Jim" Kane (father)
Walter Parks Thatcher (legal guardian)
Spouse(s) Emily Monroe Norton Kane (wife)
Susan Alexander Kane (second wife)
Children Charles Foster Kane III
Religion Christian
Nationality American

Charles Foster Kane is a fictional character and the subject of Orson Welles' 1941 film Citizen Kane. The character is widely believed to be based on publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Welles played Kane (receiving an Oscar nomination), with Buddy Swan playing Kane as a child. Welles also produced, co-wrote and directed the film.


The general consensus is that William Randolph Hearst is the primary—but not the only—inspiration behind Charles Foster Kane. (Welles himself is considered the other main inspiration.)

In the film, Kane is given the line "You provide the prose poems; I'll provide the war," undeniably similar to "You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war," a quote widely attributed to Hearst. Also, an overhead shot of Hearst's ranch is shown in the film as Xanadu, the lavish estate where Kane resides.

In addition, Kane's unsuccessful attempt to make his second wife an opera star parallels Hearst's effort to make his mistress Davies a serious dramatic movie actress despite critics' complaints that she was miscast and better in light comedy roles. The connection with Hearst is strengthened by the fact that Welles's co-writer, Herman J. Mankiewicz, was a frequent guest of Davies at Hearst Castle.

Some biographies of Welles posit that Welles himself was a source of inspiration for the character. Some of the character's dialogue on how to run a newspaper are direct quotes from Welles's comments on how to make a motion picture (though this was his first). Mankiewicz included dialogue about Kane's voracious appetite, also meant to echo Welles's character.

In recent years, Kane has been compared unfavorably to contemporary media figures such as Rupert Murdoch[1] and Ted Turner.[2]

Fictional character biography[edit]

Citizen Kane explores the life of the titular character, who is born of humble origins in the fictional settlement of Little Salem, Colorado, in 1862. [3] A mine given to his parents–to settle a bill for room and board—happens to be rich in gold, making the family suddenly wealthy. In 1871, Kane's mother puts him under the guardianship of a New York City banker named Walter Parks Thatcher, who raises him in luxury until he becomes an adult. Kane resents Thatcher for ripping him away from his family, and spends most of his adult life rebelling against him. He attends prestigious colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell—and gets himself expelled from all of them.

As an adult, Kane takes control of a Thatcher-owned newspaper called the New York Daily Inquirer,[4] thinking that "it might be fun to run a newspaper". His first act as the paper's new owner is to publish a "declaration of principles" stating his duty to be truthful to his readers. However, he almost immediately begins using yellow journalism tactics to blow stories out of proportion, encourage a war with Spain, and thwart Thatcher's political goals and business interest—including ones in which Kane holds stock. Kane also hires staff members away from the rival Chronicle newspaper, regarding them as collectibles. To finance the fledgling Inquirer, Kane uses his personal resources; this would allow him to operate it, even at a million dollar annual loss, for decades.

Kane eventually marries Emily Monroe Norton, the niece of a President of the United States.[5] The marriage sours as Kane's wealth and power feed his megalomaniacal ego. As his popularity and fortune increases, Kane runs for Governor of New York against reputedly corrupt boss J. W. Gettys. An election victory is almost certain until Gettys reveals evidence of Kane's affair with a young "singer" named Susan Alexander. Gettys blackmails Kane, meeting with him and his wife at Susan's apartment. Kane refuses to drop out of the race despite Gettys' leverage. The scandal goes public and Kane loses the election decisively. Furthermore, his best friend, Jedediah Leland, becomes profoundly disillusioned at Kane's arrogance–his intentional humiliation of his family, and his treatment of the electorate as personal property–and insists on a transfer to Kane's Chicago paper.

Emily divorces Kane in 1916, and dies two years later in a car crash with their son. Kane marries Susan and forces her into a doomed and humiliating career as an opera singer. Leland, now a drama critic for the Chicago Inquirer, refuses to toe the company line by praising Alexander's performances. Leland becomes too drunk at the difficult task of writing a truthful review against Kane's wishes, and falls into a stupor. Kane visits the paper's newsroom and finishes the review with Leland's negative tone intact, intending to prove that he still has integrity; he then fires Leland. In retaliation, Leland refuses his severance package and mails back the torn-up check with the original copy of Kane's "declaration of principles", implying that Kane has long ago lost any integrity he might have had. Kane angrily tears up the declaration.

After Susan attempts suicide, Kane releases her from her disastrous operatic career and retires to Xanadu, his gigantic Gothic chateau in Florida. Susan is unable to stand the monotonous routine inside the cavernous mansion and Kane's increasingly domineering nature, and eventually leaves him. The business downturns of the Great Depression—as well as Kane's excessive spending habits on the crumbling and unfinished Xanadu—costs Kane the control of his media empire, which he is forced to sell to Thatcher. Kane, however, still has considerable wealth. He returns to Xanadu and becomes a recluse, living alone and remaining estranged from all his friends. Kane dies of old age in 1941, uttering the cryptic word "Rosebud".

Reporter Jerry Thompson is assigned to track down the meaning of "Rosebud" shortly after Kane's highly publicized death. Despite interviewing all of Kane's living acquaintances, he never finds it. In truth, the word "Rosebud" was written on the sled Kane was given by his parents as a little boy, and left behind at his mother's boarding house when he was sent away to live with Thatcher. It is implied in the film that Kane finds the sled in a warehouse around the time he first meets Susan. The sled is burned in an incinerator after Kane's death, along with other possessions seen as trash by Xanadu's departing staff. It symbolises the innocence and love stolen from Kane when he was taken from his parents.


Susan Alexander[edit]

Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) was Kane's second wife. She is evidently low class and did not recognize Kane when they first met in the mid-1910s. While Gettys found evidence that implicated Susan as Kane's mistress, the film does not make it clear whether or not she really was. However, a mere two weeks after his first wife divorced him in 1916, Kane married Susan.

Susan was an aspiring opera singer when she and Kane first met, but is not particularly talented. Despite this, Kane tried to force her into a career as an opera singer, even building an opera house specifically for her, but he was unsuccessful. Susan is the last of Kane's friends to leave him as well as the original owner of the snow globe he drops after saying "rosebud". As of 1941, she is still living and running a nightclub ("El Rancho") in Atlantic City, which is where she is interviewed by Jerry Thompson.

Jedediah Leland[edit]

Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten) was a close friend of Kane and is generally acknowledged to represent the morality and idealism Kane himself loses as the film progresses. According to Mr. Bernstein, he came from a wealthy family that lost all their money and met Kane in college. In 1941 Jedediah lives in a nursing home in Manhattan, where he is interviewed by Jerry Thompson.

Walter Thatcher[edit]

Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris) is a banker described by the opening newsreel as a "grand old man of Wall Street". He became Kane's legal guardian in 1871, but Kane resented him and used the Inquirer to harass him. In a scene in the newsreel set around 1925, Thatcher tells a congressional investigation that Kane is a Communist. When Thatcher asks Kane what he would have liked to have been, Kane replies "everything you hate". Clearly getting on in years during Kane's youth, Thatcher was still alive in 1929 and was dead by 1941.

Mr. Bernstein[edit]

Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) is a business executive and now Chairman of the Board of Directors of Kane's business interests. Having served as Kane's personal assistant since at least when he took over the Inquirer, Bernstein proved the most loyal to the man. For instance, Bernstein willingly participated in indulging Kane's obsession in his wife's operatic career despite the fact that it was ill-considered by everyone else. However, he is not without scruples such as when he advised his employer not to make insincere promises in his Declaration of Principles. Furthermore, he is far less materialistic than Kane, noting, "Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money... if all you want is to make a lot of money."

Wealth and empire[edit]

Apart from the New York Inquirer, Kane publishes similar Inquirer newspapers in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and other major American cities. The "News on the March" newsreel at the beginning of the film also claims that Kane controls two newspaper syndicates and a radio network; it also mentions that Kane has other business interests in real estate, logging, shipping, and food retailing. However, Kane's empire largely collapses at the onset of the Great Depression, and he is forced to sell his remaining holdings to Thatcher. Kane has enough wealth to build Chicago's opera house, as well as his cavernous, unfinished mansion, Xanadu.

The mansion contains Kane's vast collection of classical sculptures and art, and the newsreel claims that portions of Xanadu were taken from other famous palaces overseas.


  1. ^ Walker, Andrew (2002-07-31). "Rupert Murdoch: Bigger than Kane". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger (1991-04-28). "'Citizen Kane' a masterpiece at 50". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  3. ^ This is estimated from Kane being eight years old in 1871. This is also the same year William Randolph Hearst was born.
  4. ^ Some reviewers refer to the name of Kane's newspaper as The New York Enquirer, however the name of the newspaper in the film itself is titled the "New York Daily Inquirer" .
  5. ^ Kane refers to the President as "Uncle John" from his wife's perspective, but there was not a president with the given name of John during the period in which this portion of the film is set.

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