Marion Davies was born to be a gold digger.
The Brooklyn present lady, raised in a lower-middle-class family by a striving mom and an unsuccessful lawyer dad, had one ambition drilled into her: Reside within the pocket of a rich man.
Davies succeeded — aligning herself with one in every of America’s richest, strongest media barons, William Randolph Hearst. He impressed the title character in Orson Welles’ unflattering “Citizen Kane,” whereas Davies was thought to have been the mannequin for Kane’s mistress, Susan, an untalented social climber.
“Welles admitted that he made Marion look worse than she was,” David Nasaw, writer of “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst,” advised The Publish. “Welles created a fictional character that had nothing to do with Marion, besides that she did jigsaw puzzles. That was the trace to insiders. It was merciless.”
Now, 60 years after her dying, Davies is getting a posthumous Hollywood do-over. Amanda Seyfried performs her within the Netflix film “Mank,” which facilities on screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his alcohol-fueled creation of “Kane.” The movie obtained six nominations for the 2021 Golden Globes — greater than some other this 12 months — together with finest dramatic movie and finest supporting actress for Seyfried.
“Amanda introduced dimension to the function,” Laray Mayfield, the film’s casting director, advised The Publish. “She confirmed that Marion was not only a humorous lady who drank an excessive amount of at events. She had integrity and that’s what made Hearst really feel secure together with her.”
A golden-haired magnificence with a stammer, Davies began younger, leaving college to be a refrain lady like her three older sisters; her first credited Broadway look, within the musical “Chin-Chin,” got here at age 17.
But it surely was two years later, whereas dancing within the Ziegfeld Follies at 42nd Avenue’s New Amsterdam Theatre, that every little thing would change for Davies.
William Randolph Hearst, then 53 and proprietor of the influential New York American and New York Night Journal newspapers, was already married to a former showgirl, Millicent, when he attended the “1916 Follies.” He was there along with his publishing buddy Paul Block, who gave the impression to be having a fling with Davies. However the relationship was winding down and Hearst was clearly taken with the 19-year-old.
Backstage, as described in “Marion Davies: A Biography” by Fred Lawrence Guiles, Hearst gave Davies an beautiful gold watch from Tiffany. In brief order, she misplaced it. When she was afraid to inform Hearst, a pal took the initiative. A contemporary watch — albeit rather less beautiful — was delivered.
The romance between Davies and Hearst shortly took off, because the illicit couple dined at sizzling spot Delmonico’s and loved rendezvous at his hideaway close to Bryant Park. He moved Davies and a number of other of her relations right into a 25-room townhouse on Riverside Drive. The lavish digs conveniently positioned her close to the 86th Avenue mansion Hearst shared along with his spouse and 5 sons.
Hearst stoked Davies’ profession, ensuring she was featured in his newspapers. “Hearst needed the world to see her as he did: as an angel,” stated Lara Gabrielle, who’s writing a Davies biography, “Captain of Her Soul,” for 2022 publication.
Screenwriter Anita Loos remembered lunching with Hearst and Davies one afternoon, then sharing dinner with the writer and his spouse that evening. Hearst advised Loos: “Nicely, younger girl, we appear to be sitting subsequent to one another in fairly various areas, don’t we?”
By all accounts, Davies was a handful. She lived nocturnally and drank like a fish, refusing to let Prohibition get in the way in which. Although Hearst frowned upon alcoholic extra, he financed her indulgences. When she toured the nation with the musical “Oh, Boy,” Davies stayed in suites and threw a minimum of one bash with bottomless champagne and caviar.
In 1919, Hearst launched Cosmopolitan Productions, a motion-picture firm via which he may enhance Davies’ Hollywood profile. She would seem in 29 silent films and 17 talkies for the corporate. It additionally offered excuses for the 2 of them to spend time collectively. “Hearst was in love with Marion — and jealous,” stated Nasaw.
And the films, he added, “weren’t an arrogance venture. Lots of her movies made cash. Marion was a terrific actress.” Classic movie skilled Steve Massa, writer of “Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy,” characterizes “Present Individuals” and “The Patsy” as two of her finest.
Cosmopolitan merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924, and Davies signed a $400,000 ($6 million at present) contract for 40 weeks. However when Lillian Gish received MGM’s solely feminine dressing room with a bathroom, Hearst organized to construct what he known as a “bungalow” for Davies. (Nasaw described it as “a 14-room mansion on the lot.”)
With Millicent nonetheless in New York, Davies dominated because the queen of Hearst’s legendary “fortress” in San Simeon, Calif. He additionally purchased her an property in Beverly Hills. “She had her own residence, her personal servants and her personal life,” stated Nasaw.
Her property was social gathering central, with lavish dinners and rivers of illicit booze served to 100 or so friends, a number of nights every week. Her crowd included John Barrymore, Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin — with whom Davies was stated to be having an affair.
If Hearst was postpone by Chaplin, you wouldn’t realize it. He invited the actor on jaunts aboard his 250-foot yacht, together with a 1924 costume social gathering throughout which a visitor walked in on Davies and Chaplin having intercourse.
Per week later, when producer Thomas Ince fell in poor health and was carried off of Hearst’s yacht earlier than dying at house, rumors swirled. Certainly one of them — fueled by secrecy across the dying — in line with the Los Angeles Times, was that Hearst mistakenly shot Ince fairly than the meant goal: Chaplin.
The much less juicy story, in line with Gabrielle, is that Ince suffered from an ulcer and angina and “grew to become violently in poor health” after consuming booze and salty meals. Stated Nasaw: “It’s a ridiculous concept that Hearst killed him. They tried to maintain every little thing secret due to prohibition.”
Nasaw additionally doesn’t suppose Davies took benefit of the person she known as “Pops” in good occasions and “Droopy Drawers” throughout dangerous: “She didn’t must take benefit. He fortunately gave her every little thing she needed.”
However Hearst couldn’t present sobriety. “Marion began ingesting at 12 years outdated and by no means stopped; her main downside was that she was a drunk,” stated Nasaw. “Hearst tried each quack treatment to get her sober. He additionally tried to limit ingesting at San Simeon, however Marion’s buddies smuggled in liquor for her.”
Because the 1930s wore on, Davies misplaced her ingénue standing. Hearst refused to let her take femme fatale roles — all the fad in the mean time— and she or he pale from Hollywood. On the similar time, Hearst’s publishing empire was collapsing. A poor cash supervisor, he had been hit onerous by the Melancholy. And his right-wing politics, in line with Nasaw, alienated readers. Hearst discovered himself greater than $100 million in debt.
Davies did the little bit she may to assist. “She hocked her jewels,” recalled Gabrielle. “In lower than 48 hours she produced a verify for $1 million. It couldn’t save the corporate. But it surely helped.”
Marion’s spectacular New York properties
After World Warfare II, Hearst’s enterprise regained its footing. And ultimately, the connection made her wealthier than performing ever may: By the point of his dying in 1951, she held 30,000 shares of strong Hearst inventory, in addition to her personal cash and real-estate holdings.
However her appears had pale — “due to the ingesting,” stated Nasaw, “she didn’t age effectively” — and, two months later, she entered right into a rotten marriage with a service provider marine, Horace Brown. “After Hearst’s dying, part of her soul was gone,” stated Gabrielle. “She so badly needed to marry Hearst however was by no means capable of do it. This was her alternative to be a married girl. Moreover, Horace regarded similar to Hearst. However her relationship with Horace was troublesome. There was emotional and verbal violence.” However, they stayed collectively.
Davies was recognized with most cancers in 1959 and made one in every of her final public appearances in January 1961 on the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Nasaw described her “sitting with the [Kennedy] household: a puffy-cheeked blond girl with sun shades.” She was there as a result of, via Hearst, she knew Kennedy patriarch Joseph. On Sept. 22, 1961, Marion died from jaw most cancers that had been exacerbated by a botched dental process.
Wild rumors adopted her to the grave. In 1993, Davies’ niece Patricia Lake claimed on her deathbed to really be Marion’s daughter, fathered by Hearst and born in a French “chateau of some type or somewhat non-public hospital.”
Lake’s dying certificates lists Hearst and Davies as her dad and mom. Gabrielle just isn’t shopping for it. “The calendar doesn’t lie,” she stated. “I can let you know when Patricia was born and let you know the place Marion was and let you know that Marion wasn’t pregnant.”
Regardless of her humble beginnings, Davies “was proficient and shrewd and fortunate; she would attraction everybody within the room,” stated Nasaw. At her core, he added, “She was a Brooklyn lady.”