Feb 4, 2014

Forty years ago today Patricia Campbell Hearst was abducted

By the United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army in Berkeley, California.  The abduction took all of a few minutes, and happened right in front of Ms Hearst's fiancé at the time, the twenty-six year old, Steven Weed.  Ms Hearst was an art major at the University of California Berkeley, but became a target for the SLA due to the fact that she was the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, and an heiress to one of the largest fortunes in the world.  Plus, the Hearst family at that time were still in charge of the largest media empire ever built.

Patty Hearst, robbing the Hibernia bank.

This is a story that captivated the nation for over a year, and was full of so many twists and turns, that it became nearly impossible to believe.  I will give you one spoiler, though.  Eventually Ms Hearst ended up an actress in films by John Waters.

My interest and fascination with this abduction tale started in the early 90s, at a time when I was certainly at my most truly "radical" and "revolutionary".  Not that I ever was a radical revolutionary, but Hearst and the SLA hit squarely in the sweet spot of my youthful leftist political leanings.  Are we ever more likely to put actual activism, and possibly violence, behind our passionate political rhetoric than when we are in our early twenties?

Even though my political fervor became more subdued, and far more pragmatic -- though I still have my moments! -- this story only got better and richer as I grew older.  First, I saw the excellent documentary on William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles, The Battle Over Citizen Kane.  This gave me context on just how daring (or insanely foolhardy) Welles and Mankiewicz were for taking on the Hearst empire.  Also, it taught me just how awful Hearst and his newspapers were.

But then about a dozen years after seeing that, I saw Guerilla:  The Taking of Patty Hearst, an explosive, and fascinating and superb documentary on Hearst's abduction by filmmaker Robert Stone.  That is when it all came home for me.  Literally.  By this time I was living in sedate suburban Walnut Creek, California.  The SLA's hideout at the time of the abduction was on Sutherland Drive in nearby Concord.  And, two SLA members had been arrested after a shootout with Concord police before Hearst was taken.

It was stunning to me that that kind of daring and truly radical revolutionary behavior could have its roots in the sleepy Lamorinda corridor of the East Bay.  But, hey, times was different back then.

There are so many fascinating things about Guerilla that I could never cover them all in a blog post.  Plus, this film comes so highly recommended by me that I do not want to spoil anything for you.  Just see it.

But, I would like to point out the absolute perfection of the SLA's target, Ms Hearst.  Ms Hearst's voice does not reflect her California upbringing so much as it does money.  It is the lazy drawl of the super rich untitled aristocracy.  It was shocking to hear this voice proclaim herself as Tania the Urban Guerilla, in love with her fellow revolutionary, Cujo.

Also, the chain smoking SF Chron reporter who is a witness here for this film, is an absolute treasure.  A complete no bullshit sympathetic yet objective journalist with real insight in to the  era and both the Hearst family and the SLA.

And, make sure to listen to Stone's directors commentary.  His film seems to have come out more sympathetic to the SLA than perhaps his real feelings are.

Finally, the ending of the film is perfect.

In a perfect world, I would suggest that on every February fourth from now on, a theater would show a triple feature of Citizen Kane, followed by The Battle Over Citizen Kane, followed by Guerilla:  The Taking of Patty Hearst.

It is a story that will always fascinate me, forever.


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