Me, Little Helen, and San Simeon
I had a dream last night out of the past, a wonderful dream. I was back at San Simeon with Mr. Hearst and “Little Helen.” Everyone usually called him W.R., but being a young girl and for respect I always called him “Mr. Hearst.” My father, Dr. Frank Forrest Barham and William Randolph Hearst were close friends and were almost inseparable throughout their lives.
“Helen” was a beautiful and merry little Dachshund and enjoyed the distinction of being Mr. Hearst’s favorite. In my dream I saw every detail of an experience with Mr. Hearst and Helen, who was just a puppy, and I was just a girl. I went to pet Helen and she snapped at me and Mr. Hearst said, “Hush now Helen, little Patricia is not trying to hurt me,” and then he explained that she was only jealous and trying to protect me and not to be afraid. “She will always love you just as I.”
As was the custom at San Simeon, we were gathered in the Assembly Room of Casa Grande. There was a huge electric grand piano that was playing “My Beautiful Lady” when Mr. Hearst and Helen entered the room without a word and began waltzing around and around that enormous room, singing and never missing a beat or lyric. Helen was yapping with her distinct barking tone as they both sang at the top of their high pitched voices.
Being so young and naïve, I just knew the lyrics about the “Beautiful Lady” were meant for me, and I began dancing all around the room by myself. It was a high point in my life that was once again flashing before my dreaming eyes.
I dreamt it all so vividly. Charlie Chaplin was there, and Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, Marion Davies, of course (my Aunt Marion), and Jean Harlow and Irene Castle. Mae Murray, the most beautiful actress of all was there, who was discovered by Vernon Castle and began her Broadway acting career with him. She befriended me and would invite me throughout my life to her magnificent mansion on West Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles. Gloria Swanson was with Red Grange the football star. Everyone applauded and cheered and being somewhat shy, I felt gloriously important inside. Gloria Swanson was the tiniest of things, but she could put two fingers into her mouth and whistle like a longshoreman, and she did, and Red Grange gave me a great big football cheer! What a moment for a kid, and Mr. Hearst was beaming and smiling from ear to ear!
I asked my dad if he would give me a job at the newspaper and he said, “I don’t own the newspaper anymore, Mr. Hearst does and you’ll have to go ask him.” So I did! Even though I was shy and tongue tied, I got up the courage and asked him right then and there. He looked at me surprised and then walked over to my father, and with a gracious reply said, “Let’s give the girl a chance, Frank; maybe she has something.” Needless to say, my first column was awful! It was about buying a hotdog for fifteen cents, and if you wanted cheese it cost an extra nickel. I bought it at the corner grocery store on Balboa Island and sat in the sand enjoying my fifteen cent hot dog. I wonder what Helen would have thought; me and my weenie dog. And so I owe my newspaper career and credibility all to Mr. Hearst.
I told my girlfriends that I was a reporter for Mr. Hearst, and none of them believed me. I cried for three days, but no more than I cried when Little Helen went on ahead of us. San Simeon and Wyntoon never quite seemed the same after she was gone. Mr. Hearst was broken hearted!
And then I woke up – dream over! But how could I ever forget? There was a letter from my father to Mr. Hearst and his reply, which Mr. Hearst printed in his newspapers. A single editorial reprinted in thousands of competitive newspapers the world over and at the time, translated into over sixty languages; read by millions of people.
It wasn’t the story of a President or a King or Queen or politician or murderer or some famed personage. It was the story of a little dog, prompted by a letter from my father to Mr. Hearst that touched everyone’s hearts caught up in the savagery of War.
When the letters appeared, so overwhelming was the public feeling, and so great were the requests for copies of the article, that Mr. Hearst reprinted the editorial in a handsome pamphlet, and it was mailed to thousands of people upon request. Mr. Hearst buried “Little Helen” at his private estate, Wyntoon. The following are the last lines of his reply letter to my father.
“Helen died in my bed in my arms. I have buried her upon the hillside overlooking the green lawn – where she used to run – and surrounded by the flowers. I will not need a monument to remember her. But I am placing over her little grave a stone with the inscription – ‘Here Lies Dearest Helen – My Devoted Friend W.R.H.’”