Everybody’s a critic. How else to explain the state’s disjointed nose over a State Parks employee’s decision to allow Lady Gaga to use Hearst Castle to film a recent video shoot?
Nick Franco, district director of the coastal area that includes the famed former home of William Randolph Hearst, was placed on administrative leave shortly after Gaga’s video project wrapped up. State Parks won’t confirm that Franco’s discipline was related to the Gaga shoot, and it’s possible – maybe – that it’s for reasons unrelated to the project. But the timing and refusal to explain invite speculation.
Gaga’s request for permission to film at the castle’s iconic Neptune Pool created some ripples, since a decision had recently been made to drain the leaky pool. That process had already begun.
When Gaga asked that the pool be refilled, State Parks administrators reportedly balked; they didn’t want to appear like they were wasting water in a drought. That’s when Stephen Hearst, vice president and general manager of the Hearst Corp. western properties, stepped in. He said water to refill the pool could come from a Hearst Ranch reservoir, and when the shoot was done it could be used to water landscaping at the castle.
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Gaga also agreed to make a donation of nearly $300,000 to the castle – some of which would go to repair of the leaky pool – and to film a water conservation video for the state. And face it, Gaga’s video is likely to reach an entirely different audience than anything done in other forms.
The video was shot Feb. 11-13, and was considered a success. Gaga even got a laudatory thank-you note from Gov. Jerry Brown. Nice.
Hearst was a complex man. But on one thing, nearly everyone can agree: He thought big. He knew how to create publicity, using every facet of his media empire, the greatest of his era, from newspapers to magazines to movie studios to radio stations. Gaga is a lot like him, a master promoter. Showcasing Hearst Castle in a music video is priceless publicity that’s sure to boost attendance but also draw attention to California’s beauty.
Why, then, was Franco – a popular district director who’s helped raise the profile of the castle – suspended?
Perhaps State Parks has thrown Franco under the bus, making him a fall guy for anyone who would criticize the filling of a leaky swimming pool during a drought. But such critics don’t have the whole story, and frankly they lack imagination. State Parks isn’t saying why it put Franco on leave.
We believe that Hearst would have wholly approved her use of his beloved home and given it rave reviews. And he would have likely thanked Franco for his role in making it possible.