Recently on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” program there was a segment devoted to William Randolph Hearst‘s Castle at San Simeon. My parents were guests at San Simeon in 1935, when my father was in Hollywood under contract to Warner Brothers. Marion Davies, Hearst’s constant companion, was also on the Warner lot. And so the Meltons were invited for the weekend.
They were flown up from Burbank in Hearst’s private plane, then driven up the miles-long driveway, past all manner of wild animal (zebra, antelope, giraffe). The next day my mother went horseback riding (with size six boots and perfectly-fitting riding habit provided by Hearst). Afterwards, they swam in the indoor pool, whose ceiling, walls and floors were a mosaic of cobalt blue tiles set in gold. It was like an Italian grotto, small bridges curved over it, shadowed corners drew swimmers into blue twilight depths. Lunch was at a long refectory table, punctuated by pedestaled silver dishes, alongside which were unadorned condiment bottles—French's mustard, Heinz ketchup. Next to the exquisite blue willow pattern china lay paper napkins. (Quirky guy, that Hearst!) The dining room was a 14th century monastery hall, transported from England piece by piece and reassembled. Rich oak panels rose to the vaulted ceiling from which hung brilliant flags of the early Crusaders. The table could seat fifty people.
My mother’s descriptions of their several days of lavish living seemed unbelievable until I visited San Simeon myself about ten years ago. It was everything she said, and more, and I tried to visualize my young parents in this fabulous fairyland.
By the way, the few photos from this adventure were taken with a little old Brownie camera (such as the one my mother is holding behind her back in the photo), and are tiny 1”x 2”. Not the usual celebrity 8” x 10” glossies, that’s for sure.