The event promises secrets about the Hearst Castle, and Hoyt Fields knows he's on the spot.
Fields isn't giving them all up--he wants to save most for his lecture Wednesday night in Newport Beach--but a few names come to mind. Harpo Marx. David Niven. And, of course, William Randolph Hearst.
Fields has worked at the castle in San Simeon for 28 years, mostly as an assistant curator and the last two years as chief curator. His talk and slide show for the Orange County chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers will explore Hearst, his remarkable home and the art and furniture filling it--some of which is now available in reproductions.
But now, he's on the phone from his castle office, thinking of Harpo. The silent Marx brother apparently enjoyed both statues and ladies' underwear, not necessarily in that order. Hearst's guests could expect odd visions the day after an evening of hanging with Harpo.
"After everyone had gone to sleep, he'd sneak out late at night and dress the statuary in lingerie," Fields said. "People would wake up the next day and wonder what had been going on out there. A real prankster."
As for Niven, his doings were more practical. The actor known for his roles in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "The Prisoner of Zenda" always asked Hearst for the same room in a cottage behind the castle. The bed had a hollow frame, perfect for hiding Niven's ample booze supply.
"It was Prohibition, after all," Fields explained.
There are several tales focusing on Hearst, but one that stands out involved the many starlets who flocked to his pad. Fields said Hearst often took the young actresses and sequestered them in one part of the castle while making sure unmarried male stars were in another.
"He was trying to remove temptation. . . . He wanted to keep the girls away from the hanky-panky."
Fields paused, then added: "It really is an amazing place. I look forward to coming here every single day."
He's not alone.
Nearly 1 million people a year have visited the grounds since 1958, when the state Department of Parks and Recreation opened it as a historical site. Tourists have wandered through the Hearst mystique as well as his imposing mansion.
It all started with Hearst's father, George, a miner who became the 16th richest man in America in the mid-1800s. The elder Hearst began buying land for a cattle ranch in 1865, which eventually swelled to 275,000 acres (half the size of Rhode Island) by the time his son inherited it in 1919.
William Randolph Hearst, 56 at the time, then set about creating the grandest home in the country. With the help of architect and designer Julia Morgan, the process took more than 30 years, with the main building, La Casa Grande, always as the centerpiece.
The castle eventually grew to more than 60,000 square feet spread over four stories 137 feet high. It has 100 rooms, 37 of them guest rooms, 41 bathrooms, two libraries and a movie theater.
Nearby are three guest houses with 46 rooms, two huge swimming pools and sprawling gardens filled with statuary and fountains.
Hearst liked animals, so he built a zoo. At one time, 200 to 300, including zebras, giraffes and gazelles, grazed on a 2,000-acre preserve, bounded by an 8-foot-high, 10-mile-long fence.
But his greatest passion was collecting art and fine furnishings. He scoured Europe for the best, often with a casualness his critics deplored. Hearst sent this blithe telegram to Morgan in the '30s: "Can you use to advantage a 15th century Gothic ceiling 7 meters long and 5 meters wide?"
"He was a voracious collector [and] some people think he pillaged in Europe," Fields said. "I think that's a myth. He purchased from legitimate auction houses and art dealers, [and] he knew what he was doing. Hearst collected for 50 years."
His tastes were eclectic, ranging from Egyptian statuary nearly 4,000 years old to Art Deco pieces from the '30s and '40s. Hearst's bedroom, surprisingly small, holds what most art historians consider the castle's most valuable painting, a Madonna and child that many historians attribute to artist Duccio di Buoninsegna.
"He really went for anything and everything," Fields said.
In 1991, the state parks and recreation department realized it could make money by marketing the Hearst legacy and began allowing reproductions of dozens of the castle's artifacts and furnishings.
The Lane Co. out of Altavista, Va., ships the pieces to various retail outlets, and some can be ordered through the Sharper Image Home Collection catalog.
A copy of Arthur Walker's 9-inch-tall "Adam & Eve" statuette from 1925 goes for $1,295, while an 88-inch-long "gothic" sofa, based on one in Hearst's bedroom, costs $1,895.
Does this commercialization bother Fields?
"Not at all. The outreach is important. . . . The royalties that come from the license agreement come back for the conservation of this national treasure."