Davies, Marion (1897–1961)
Davies, Marion (1897–1961)
American film star of the 1920s and 1930s whose relationship with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst eclipsed her career. Born Marion Cecilia Douras on January 3, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York; died on September 22, 1961; youngest of four daughters and one son of Bernard (a lawyer and politician) and Rose (Reilly) Douras; attended public school in Brooklyn and the convent of the Sacred Heart, Hastings, New York; married Horace G. Brown (a merchant marine officer), on October 31, 1951.
Runaway Romany (1918); Beatrice Fairfax (serial, 1918); Cecilia of the Pink Roses (1918); The Burden of Proof (1918); The Belle of New York (1919); Getting Mary Married (1919); The Dark Star (1919); The Cinema Murder (1919); April Folly (1920); The Restless Sex (1920); Buried Treasure (1921); Enchantment (1921); The Bride's Play (1922); Beauty's Worth (1922); The Young Diana (1922); When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922); Adam and Eva (1923); Little Old New York (1923); Yolanda (1924); Janice Meredith (1924); Zander the Great (1925); Lights of Old Broadway (1925); Beverley of Graustark (1926); The Red Mill (1927); Tillie the Toiler (1927); Quality Street (1927); The Fair Co-ed (1927); The Patsy (1928); The Cardboard Lover (1928); Show People (1928); Marianne (1929); The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929); Not So Dumb (1930); The Florodora Girl (1930); The Bachelor Father (1931); It's a Wise Child (1931); Five and Ten (1931); Polly of the Circus (1932); Blondie of the Follies (1932); Peg o' My Heart (1933); Going Hollywood (1933); Operator 13 (1934); Page Miss Glory (1935); Hearts Divided (1936); Cain and Mabel (1936); Ever Since Eve (1936).
Marion Davies may be remembered as much for her 30-year relationship with newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst as she is for her movie career, which encompassed the heyday of the silents and the transition into talkies. From 1918, when Davies was just gaining recognition as a young "Ziegfeld girl," Hearst dominated her life and career, not only selecting her roles and financing her movies but also backing each film with favorable publicity from his vast newspaper empire. Ironically, as her benefactor, Hearst may have undermined her career, because the question of whether or not she could have attained stardom on her own was to color her every accomplishment. Although a gifted comedian and one of the most popular women in Hollywood, Davies was her own worst critic. "All my life I wanted to have talent,"
she wrote in her autobiography The Times We Had. "Finally I had to admit there was nothing there. I was no Sarah Bernhardt ." Among the many who believed that Davies had more than enough talent to maintain her career without assistance was Orson Welles, whose controversial movie Citizen Kane (written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, a frequent guest of Hearst and Davies at the San Simeon mansion) caricatured the Hearst-Davies affair. "Marion Davies was one of the most delightfully accomplished comediennes in the whole history of the screen," Welles wrote in 1975. "She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened. She was also a delightful and very considerable person."
A precocious and spirited child, Marion Davies was the youngest of five children of Bernard and Rose Douras . Her three sisters—Ethel Douras, Rose Douras , and Reine Douras (Lederer) —all had brief stage careers. A brother Charles died in a drowning accident when Marion was a baby. Her education was complicated by a childhood stutter that would remain with her throughout her life, eventually becoming a disarming asset. After several public schools refused to take her, Davies was sent away to a convent school in Hastings, New York. During her weekends at home, she studied ballet with her sisters and, beginning in the summer of 1912, took tap-dancing lessons for a year or so, although she lacked concentration and believed that daily practice was bad for her system. Her earliest stage appearances were in the "pony" (chorus) lines of a few small-time reviews and in a musical version of Maeterlinck's The Bluebird. By 1914, now a stunning blonde with a slightly wicked smile, Davies began to draw attention. That year, she made her Broadway debut as one of some 500 hoofers in a show called Chin-Chin and embarked on the frenetic social life of a popular New York chorine.
[Marion Davies] was never one of Hearst's possessions: he was always her suitor, and she was the precious treasure of his heart for more than thirty years, until his last breath of life. Theirs is truly a love story. Love is not the subject of Citizen Kane.
Throughout 1915, Davies appeared in a number of revues. Her affair with the 52-year-old Hearst began when she was 19, during the run of The Ziegfeld Follies of 1916, and was at first kept secret because Hearst's wife Millicent Hearst , a former showgirl herself, was pregnant. During the early courtship, Davies saw other men, but by 1917, when she was put on the Hearst payroll, she had become his mistress. For Hearst, a complicated and inhibited man in spite of his immense wealth and power, Davies was the perfect foil. Providing the warmth and humanity he lacked, she became his intermediary with the outside world. Hearst idolized Davies, giving her everything she wanted, except the opportunity to become his wife. Millicent would not agree to a divorce on religious grounds and remained very much in the picture. Hearst divided his time between Davies, his wife and sons, and his business and political dealings, which meant that Davies was on her own for long periods.
Davies' career in the theater continued on the upswing, resulting in a number of film offers. In 1918, with the backing of her ex-brother-inlaw, George Lederer (who had been married to her sister Reine), Davies made her first film, Runaway Romany, a poorly written, poorly executed movie even by the standards of early feature-film production. Even so, after viewing an early screening, Hearst announced that he would make her a star, and from that day forward he took over every aspect of her career. Her 1918 film, Cecilia of the Pink Roses, was given a less than enthusiastic review in The New York Times, but Hearst's New York American ran a three-column headline announcing the arrival of a new cinema star: "Marion Davies Wins Triumph in Cecilia." Each Hearst review outdid the previous one, a pattern that would continue for over 20 years.
In 1919, Hearst formed an agreement with Paramount to release Davies' pictures, which were produced through his Cosmopolitan Production Company. The films that followed, including The Dark Star (1919), April Folly (1920), The Restless Sex (1920), and Buried Treasure (1921), all lost money, mostly due to Hearst's enormous production budgets. In April 1920, Davies made her last stage appearance in Ed Wynn's Carnival. The film Enchantment followed in 1921, her best to date as well as Photoplay's pick as best picture of the month. In 1922, Hearst spent an extraordinary $1.5 million to produce When Knighthood Was in Flower and commissioned Victor Herbert to write two songs to accompany the film. Davies' performance as Mary Tudor was praised in both Hearst and non-Hearst papers alike, particularly for its comic moments. Louella Parsons , writing for the Hearst rival New York Telegraph, saw great potential in Davies and posed a question to Hearst within her review: "Why don't you give Marion Davies a chance?" Davies solidified her reputation with her next film, Little Old New York (1923), which premiered in a theater Hearst bought and renovated especially for the event.
In 1924, Cosmopolitan moved to the Goldwyn lot. When Goldwyn subsequently merged with Metro to form MGM, Cosmopolitan went along. Realizing the value of the Hearst association, MGM head Louis B. Mayer financed all of Cosmopolitan's films and paid Davies an unprecedented $10,000 a week. The Goldwyn partnership produced several moderately profitable movies: Yolanda (1924), Zander the Great (1925), and Lights of Old Broadway (1925), which resulted in a growing following for Davies. However, Hearst continued to limit her roles to fragile, virginal heroines, even though she was more suited to gutsy comic roles. It is generally agreed that only a few of Davies' films ever fully displayed her gifts as an actress, among them two directed by King Vidor in 1928: The Patsy, in which she impersonated Pola Negri, May Murray , and Lillian Gish ; and Show People, a burlesque chronicling the career of a movie star known for slapstick who eventually triumphs as a dramatic actress.
In addition to idolizing Davies and controlling her career, Hearst provided her with a luxurious lifestyle. She divided her time between her own beach house at Santa Monica (the largest house on the southern California beach, with some 15 bathrooms), a 14-room bungalow provided for her on the MGM lot, and several Hearst properties, including the monument to his mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst , the castle at San Simeon, which was designed over a 27-year period by Julia Morgan , a San Francisco architect trained in classical architecture at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Perched atop La Cuesta Encantade (The Enchanted Hill), overlooking the California coastline, the Mediterranean Revival palace and its surrounding grounds (including several "castlettes," an indoor and out-door pool, and a private zoo) was Davies' vacation home during the 1920s; there, she and Hearst entertained a steady stream of royalty, heads of state, artists, authors, and film stars. It was not unusual for upwards of 70 Hollywood guests to appear on a weekend, transported from the city on Hearst's own train. Davies' extensive social life and the constant round of parties may have exacerbated a drinking problem that had begun in her teens and would eventually take its toll. Hearst, who was adamantly opposed to drinking, tried for years to get Davies to stop; it has been speculated, however, that he may have been the source of an underlying unhappiness that fueled her addiction.
Hearst, Millicent (1882–1974)
American socialite. Name variations: Millicent Willson; Mrs. William Randolph Hearst. Born in 1882; died at age 92 at her home in New York City in December 1974; daughter of George H. Willson (a popular vaudeville performer); married William Randolph Hearst (a newspaper publisher), on April 28, 1903; children: five sons, including George Hearst, John Randolph Hearst, and twins Elbert Willson Hearst and Randolph Apperson Hearst (b. 1915); grandmother of Patricia Campbell Hearst , known as Patty Hearst.
As members of a dancing group called "The Merry Maidens," 16-year-old Millicent Willson and her older sister Anita Will-son were appearing in The Girl from Paris at the Herald Square Theater when they met William Randolph Hearst. At first, Hearst was seen squiring both sisters around Manhattan, and there was speculation as to which he would marry. In 1903, the 40-year-old publisher wed 21-year-old Millicent. Twelve years and five sons later, Hearst became infatuated with another chorine, Marion Davies .
As the marriage broke down publicly (Hearst gave up the pretext of a happy family life and was always in the company of Davies), Millicent Hearst continued to hold her head high. She was a devoted war worker during World War I, heading the women's division of the Mayor's Committee on National Defense in New York. Even though she would not grant her husband a divorce, Millicent remained on friendly terms with William, and they occasionally consulted on business and family matters until his death in 1951.
In her autobiography Every Secret Thing, Patty Hearst writes that during her 1974 ordeal in the hands of the Symbionese Liberation Army, as she was locked in a closet for 57 days, she would think of her grandmother Millicent, then in her 80s, whom she called Mamalee: "She was a very special person in my life, whom my sisters and I would visit for ten days or two weeks every summer in Southampton, New York. Sitting in the dark in that hot sweaty closet, I could visualize Mamalee's big, beautiful house and its huge rolling lawn just off the Atlantic Ocean, … and the fresh flowers throughout the house, clipped daily from the garden. We would go bicycle riding, swim, or play tennis for most of the day and then join Mamalee and her sister, Aunt Anita, who lived with her there, for a late-afternoon tea."
Hearst, Patricia Campbell, with Alvin Moscow. Every Secret Thing. NY: Doubleday, 1982.
Swanberg, W.A. Citizen Hearst. NY: Scribner, 1961.
In the 1920s, a social consciousness awakened in Davies that would eventually earn her a reputation as Hollywood's most generous star. In addition to her benevolence to family and friends, she contributed over $2 million to the Marion Davies Children's Clinic, which was established in 1932. The facility was later expanded and became part of the UCLA Medical School. She also contributed large sums to other institutions helping children of the poor. On a more personal level, she was also directly involved in the lives of those around her, providing for the education of the daughter of her cook and helping a movie electrician by supplying funds for his son's medical expenses. When Hearst faced financial difficulties during the late 1930s, Davies would give him $1 million of her own fortune.
Davies' last silent movie, The Cardboard Lover (1928), was warmly received, but her career was about to take a dip with the advent of sound. Before they heard her speak, moviegoers heard Davies sing in MGM's star-studded extravaganza, The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Her next film, Marianne (1929), featured her delightful imitations of Sarah Bernhardt and Maurice Chevalier, which were added to the movie as an afterthought on the last day of filming. In 1934, after Davies was passed over for several roles, she moved to Warner Bros., where she starred in Page Miss Glory (1935), playing comic scenes opposite Patsy Kelly . But her age, now 38, was beginning to work against her. Her film Hearts Divided (1936) was a stretch, as was Cain and Mabel (1936), with Clark Gable. Newsweek quipped: "Clark Gable and Marion Davies fit in this picture like a fat hand squeezed into a small glove."
When Davies made her last picture Ever Since Eve in 1936, the Hearst empire was struggling financially and several unflattering biographies had appeared about the newspaper tycoon. The film received a scathing review from Frank Nugent of The New York Times: "The film comes so close to being the year's worst. We won't quibble. Let's call it the worst." Later, Davies would make her last professional appearance as an actress in a "Lux Radio Theater" broadcast of Peg o' My Heart. Although Davies was subsequently offered the role of the mother in Claudia, Hearst refused to let her take a character part, especially that of a character who dies.
Hearst, forced to cut back on spending, lived relatively quietly with Davies at San Simeon until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Fearing the castle might be shelled by the Japanese, they then moved to Wyntoon, a residence in the middle of a wilderness, 700 miles from Hollywood on the Oregon line. Davies referred to Wyntoon as "Spittoon" and found the exile intolerable. In 1944, they returned to San Simeon, where she once again immersed herself in Hollywood's social scene. As Hearst's health declined, Davies was frequently escorted by Horace G. Brown, a merchant marine officer who was divorced from Grace Tibbett .
William Randolph Hearst died on the morning of August 14, 1951, while Davies was sleeping. Having been given a strong barbiturate by one of his attending doctors, she awoke to learn that Hearst's sons had already removed his body for burial. (There were published rumors of a conspiracy on the part of the Hearst sons and corporate executives to drug Marion to get her out of the way when death came.) "His body was gone, whoosh, like that," she told a reporter. "Old W.R. was gone, the boys were gone. I was alone. Do you realize what they did? They stole a possession of mine. He belonged to me. I loved him for thirty-two years and now he was gone. I couldn't even say good-bye." Although omitted from his will, Davies benefitted from a stock agreement that brought her an estimated $150,000 yearly income.
Ten weeks after Hearst's death, Davies married Captain Horace Brown in Las Vegas. The marriage was not a happy one; there were several separations and rumors of divorce, though it never materialized. Through the years, Davies enjoyed several successful real-estate ventures, as well as a profitable return from an investment on the musical Kismet, which ran 583 performances on Broadway and spawned countless roadshows and revivals. In 1960, she appeared briefly on Hedda Hopper 's television show "This Is My Hollywood," which included a tour of her Beverly Hills home, but her later years were marred by bouts of depression and increased drinking. In the summer of 1960, after refusing surgery for what would turn out to be a malignant growth in her jaw, she attended the Democratic National Convention, turning her house and the houses of her relatives over to the Kennedy family. After President John F. Kennedy was elected, she attended the inaugural ceremonies and ball. In the spring of 1961, Davies entered the hospital and underwent surgery for malignant osteomyelitis. Although the operation was initially successful, she later fell and broke her leg, severely complicating her recovery.
Marion Davies died on September 22, 1961, and was buried in the Douras family crypt in Hollywood Cemetery. Shortly after her death, film critics rediscovered her as a genuine comic performer. In a 1971 article on the making of Citizen Kane, film critic Pauline Kael asserted that "Marion Davies had been a major leading lady who had not needed the drum-beaters of the Hearst empire to remain in the movies." The affirmation of her talent would no doubt have pleased Davies, who is said to have come to terms with both her career and her controversial relationship with Hearst before her death. Shortly before her final coma, she called her husband Horace over to her bed and told him that she had no regrets.
Anderson, Earl, "Marion Davies," in Films in Review. Vol. XXIII, no. 6. June–July 1972.
Davies, Marion. The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.
Guiles, Fred Lawrence. Marion Davies. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1972.
Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts