Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Marion Davies, born Marion Cecilea Douras on January 3, 1897 in the borough of Brooklyn, New York, was one of the great comedic actresses of the silent era and into the 30's. She had been bitten by the show biz bug early as she watched her sisters perform in local stage productions. She wanted to do the same. As Marion got older, she tried out for various school plays and did fairly well. Once her formal education had ended, Marion began her career as a chorus girl in New York City and eventually found herself in the famed Ziegfeld Follies. But she wanted more than to dance. Acting, to Marion, was the epitome of show business and aimed her sights in that direction. Her stage name came when she and her family passed the Davies Insurance Building. One of her sisters called out "Davies!!! That shall be my stage name," and the whole family took on that name. Her first film was Runaway, Romany (1917) when she was 20. Written by Marion and directed by her brother-in-law, the film wasn't exactly a box-office smash, but for Marion, it was a start and a stepping stone to bigger things. Marion remained busy, one of the staples in movie houses around the country.
When Marion moved to California, she was already involved with William Randolph Hearst. They lived together at Hearst's San Simeon castle, a very elaborate mansion, which stands as a California landmark to this day. At San Simeon, they threw very elaborate parties, many of them costume parties. Frequent guests included Carole Lombard, Mary Pickford, Sonja Henie, Dolores del Rio - basically all of top names in Hollywood and other celebrities including the mayor of New York City, President Calvin Coolidge and Charles Lindbergh. Had she been without Hearst's backing, she possibly could have been more successful. He was more of a hindrance than a help. Hearst had tried to push MGM executives to hire Marion for the role of Elizabeth Barrett in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934). Louis B. Mayer had other ideas and hired producer Irving Thalberg's wife, Norma Shearer instead. Hearst reacted by pulling his newspaper support for MGM without much impact. By the late 1930's Hearst was suffering financial reversals and it was Marion who bailed him out by selling off $1 million of her jewelry. Without her the Hearst Corporation might not be where it is today. According to those who knew her, this selfless act was just one example of Marion’s character. Hearst's financial problems also spelled the end to her career.
At the end of the twenties, it was obvious that sound films were about to replace the silents. Marion was nervous because she had a stutter when she became excited and worried she wouldn't make a successful transition to the new medium, but she was a true professional who had no problem with the change. Time after time, film after film, Marion turned in masterful performances. In 1930, two of her better films were Not So Dumb (1930) and The Florodora Girl (1930). By the early 30s, Marion had lost her box office appeal and the downward slide began.
Although she had made the transition to sound, other stars fared better and her roles became fewer and further between. In 1937, a 40 year old Marion filmed her last movie, Ever Since Eve (1937). Out of films and with the intense pressures of her relationship with Hearst, Marion turned to more and more to alcohol. Despite those problems, Marion was a very sharp and savvy business woman.
When Hearst died, Marion did not really know what was going on. The night before, there had been a lot of people in the house. Marion was very upset by the large crowd of family and friends. She said it was too noisy and were disturbing Hearst by talking so loud. She was upset and had to be sedated. When she woke, her niece, Patricia Van Cleve Lake, and her husband, Arthur Lake, told her that Hearst was dead. Upon Patricia's death, it was revealed she had been the love child of Davies and Hearst. Marion was banned from Hearst's funeral.
After the death of Hearst in 1951, Marion married for the first time at the age of 54, to Horace Brown. The union would last until she died of cancer of the jaw on September 22, 1961 in Los Angeles, California. She was 64 years old.
Marion started lots of charities including a children's clinic that is still operating today. She founded the Marion Davies Children’s Clinic, now part of the UCLA Medical Center.
She was very generous and was loved by everyone who knew her. She went through a lot, even getting polio in the 1940's.