Marion Davies (1897-1961) started her career in the Ziegfeld Follies and moved onto the silver screen. Being a showgirl in those days opened many social doors. Soon she was to meet the man who would be forever linked to her, the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951). He was 34 years her senior and married.
Marion was brought up by her mother to only consider older men and that a relationship based on love was folly. If she did date Hearst at the beginning for all the wrong reasons, it changed into love for their affair lasted over thirty years until Hearst's death. They could not marry because Hearst's wife refused to agree to a divorce.
Marion was by all accounts a lovely, generous woman with a bubbly personality. Douglas Fairbanks Jr wrote in his autobiography "Everyone - and no contrary voices were ever raised- loved Marion personally". Clark Gable described her as a "genuinely friendly and radiant woman." So it is easy to see why Hearst fell head over heels for her. They also had something in common - she had a slight stutter which worried her when talking movies came along and he had a squeaky voice, rather odd for such a tall, big man.
He first saw her in the chorus line of "Chin Chin". Smitten, he insisted on giving her a lovely diamond wristwatch when he met her at a party. One of Marion's friends tipped him off after Marion lost the watch in the snow the next day. He sent her an identical replacement.
Soon, they were constant companions and lived openly together. Hearst was also intensely jealous, particularly of her leading men or any younger man who might whisk her away. When she was excited to be invited to a party in honour of the visiting Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), Hearst offered her a gorgeous black pearl parure if she didn't attend. A prince or rare pearls? Well, princes are not rare, so she chose the pearls!
Marion was considered a good actress but she would have been a great one if Hearst hadn't meddled so much with her career. Hearst particularly wanted her cast in in the mold of Mary Pickford whereas Marion was best in comedic roles. He poured millions into her career and even created a company, Cosmopolitan Productions to produce her films.
She was professional to the core, arriving early at film sets and staying late. Her film sets were known to be warm, friendly affairs because she didn't have any airs. She treated everyone as her equal and invariably invited them to Hearst's "Ranch" as Hearst called it, in San Simeon, California. During the 1920s and '30s, Hearst and Marion entertained lavishly at his huge mansions.
Two incidents marred their halycon years as premier host and hostesses. A business associate of Hearst supposedly died on board whilst attending a yacht party of theirs. Rumours still persist even till today that Thomas Ince was accidentally shot to death by Hearst in a case of mistaken identity. Hearst was very jealous of Charlie Chaplin who was paying court to Marion, so the story goes. The other was Orson Welles' thinly disguised and ruthless portrayal of the Hearst-Davies liaison in his film "Citizen Kane". The film won critical claim but earned disdain by anyone who knew and loved Marion. He eventually atoned for the arrogance of his youth by writing the foreword and a lovely eulogy acknowledging her talents as a comedienne in her posthumously published autobiography.
Wealthy not just because of Hearst, she spent the money earned from movies and from her own shrewd real estate investments on other people. She quietly gave financial assistance to many people she knew to be struggling or who had crippling medical bills. One of her largest social projects was the founding of the Marion Davies Children's Center, her pride and joy.
When Hearst was in his seventies, he ran into severe financial difficulties. If proof was needed of her love, Marion showed it abundantly by immediately selling her jewels, furs and other assets and gave him a million dollars. When he needed more, she liquidated her real estate holdings and presented him with another cheque.
Marion was devastated when Hearst passed away in his eighties. She was to live only 10 more years after him. Despite marrying another man with an uncanny resemblance to Hearst, Marion spent that decade merely existing and suffering from poor health. She died of cancer in 1961.
William Randolph Hearst
Hearst Castle : Marion Davies
Leigh Eduardo (2005). Mistresses : True Stories of Seduction, Power and Ambition. Michael O'Mara Books Ltd.
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