Marion Davies

Marion Cecilia Davies (born Marion Cecilia Elizabeth Brooklyn Douras;[a] January 3, 1897 – September 22, 1961) was an American actress, producer, screenwriter, and philanthropist. Educated in a religious convent, Davies fled the school to pursue a career as a chorus girl. As a teenager, she appeared in several Broadway musicals and one film, Runaway Romany (1917). She soon became a featured performer in the Ziegfeld Follies. While performing in the 1916 Follies, she met newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and became his mistress. Hearst took over management of Davies' career and promoted her as a motion picture actress.[1][2]

Marion Davies
Marion Davies - Emerald Green.jpg
Davies in the 1920s
Marion Cecilia Elizabeth Brooklyn Douras[a]

(1897-01-03)January 3, 1897
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 22, 1961(1961-09-22) (aged 64)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
  • Actress
  • producer
  • screenwriter
  • philanthropist
Years active1914–1937
Horace G. Brown
(m. 1951)
Partner(s)William Randolph Hearst (1917–1951; his death)
ChildrenPatricia Lake (alleged)
RelativesRosemary Davies (sister)
Reine Davies (sister)
Charles Lederer (nephew)
Pepi Lederer (niece)

Hearst financed Davies' pictures and extensively promoted her career via his newspapers and Hearst Newsreels. He founded Cosmopolitan Pictures to produce her films. By 1923, Davies was the #1 female box office star in Hollywood due to the popularity of When Knighthood Was in Flower and Little Old New York, which were among the biggest box-office hits of their respective years.[3] During the zenith of the Jazz Age, Davies became renowned as the hostess of lavish soirées for Hollywood actors and political elites. However, in 1924, her name became linked with scandal when film producer Thomas Ince died at a party aboard Hearst's yacht.[4][5][6]

Following the decline of her film career during the Great Depression, Davies struggled with alcoholism,[7] and she retired from the screen in 1937 to devote herself to an ailing Hearst and to charitable work.[8] In Hearst's declining years, Davies remained his steadfast companion until his death in 1951.[9] Eleven weeks after Heart's death, she married sea captain Horace Brown,[10] and their marriage lasted until Davies' own death due to malignant osteomyelitis (cancer of the jaw) in 1961 at the age of 64.[11]

By the time of her death, Davies' legacy as a talented actress was already overshadowed by her popular association with the character of Susan Alexander Kane in the film Citizen Kane (1941).[12] The title character's second wife—an untalented singer whom he tries to promote—was widely assumed to be based upon Davies.[13] However, many commentators, including writer-director Orson Welles, defended Davies' record as a gifted actress and comédienne to whom Hearst's patronage did more harm than good.[14] In his final years, Welles attempted to correct the widespread misconceptions which the film had created about Davies' popularity and talents as an actress.[14][15]

Early life and educationEdit

Marion Cecilia Elizabeth Brooklyn Douras was born on January 3, 1897, in Brooklyn, the youngest of five children born to Bernard J. Douras (1857–1935), a lawyer and judge in New York City; and Rose Reilly (1867–1928).[16] Her father performed the civil marriage of Gloria Gould Bishop.[17] She had three older sisters, Ethel, Rose, and Reine.[18] An older brother, Charles, drowned at the age of 15 in 1906. His name was subsequently given to Davies' favorite nephew, screenwriter Charles Lederer, the son of Davies' sister Reine Davies.[19]

The Douras family lived near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Educated in the Sacred Heart religious convent near the Hudson River and later a religious convent near Tours, France, Davies was disinterested in her academic studies and very unhappy as a child supervised by Catholic nuns.[20] Her family was close friends with architect Stanford White, and Davies grew up learning about the Evelyn Nesbit sex scandal.[21] As a teenager, Marion left school to pursue a career as a showgirl. When her sister Reine adopted the stage name of Davies after seeing a billboard advertisement for Valentine Davies, Marion followed suit.[22]


Early careerEdit

Portraits of Davies appeared on covers for Theatre Magazine (June 1920) and Motion Picture Classic (January 1920)

Davies worked as a chorine starting with Chin-Chin, a 1914 musical starring David C. Montgomery and Fred Stone, at the old Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia.[23] She made her Broadway debut starring in the show at Globe Theatre on October 20. She also appeared in Nobody Home, Miss Information and Stop, Look and Listen.[24] When not dancing, she modeled for illustrators Harrison Fisher and Howard Chandler Christy.

In 1916, Davies was signed on as a featured player in the Ziegfeld Follies.[25] However, Davies' career as a Ziegfeld girl encountered difficulties as her persistent stammer prevented her from pronouncing any lines; consequently, she was relegated to only dancing routines.[26] While working for Florenz Ziegfeld, she was sexually pursued by a cavalcade of priapic admirers and came to loathe young college men: "The stage-door-Johnnies [sic] I didn't like. Especially those who came from Yale."[27] During one infamous show, rowdy undergraduates from Yale pelted Davies and other Ziegfeld dancers with rotten tomatoes and eggs to show their displeasure with the performance.[27]

While dancing on the stage at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City, the teenage Davies was first observed by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst who was seated in the front row of the audience.[28][27] Recalling this first encounter, Davies indicated she was initially afraid of Hearst:

[Hearst] always sat in the front row at the Follies. The girls in the show told me who he was. They said, 'Look out for him—he's looking at you. He's a wolf in sheep's clothing.' ... He sent me flowers and little gifts, like silver boxes or gloves or candy. I wasn't the only one he sent gifts to, but all the girls thought he was particularly looking at me, and the older ones would say, 'Look out.'[27]

Without Davies' knowledge, Hearst arranged for an intermediary from Campbell's Studio to invite Davies to be photographed in ornate costumes such as a Japanese geisha and a virginal bride.[29] While the photos were being taken, Davies realized that Hearst was secretly present in the darkness of the photography studio.[29] Terrified, she fled to the dressing room and locked the door.[29] However, Hearst abruptly departed without introducing himself.[29] After months passed, they saw each other again in Palm Beach, but Hearst's wife was present.[30] Consequently, they did not become intimate until some time later.[31]

After making her screen debut in 1916 and modelling gowns by Lady Duff-Gordon in a fashion newsreel, Davies appeared in her first feature film, Runaway Romany (1917).[32] Davies wrote the film,[33] which was directed by her brother-in-law, producer George W. Lederer.[34] Davies would continue to alternate between stage and screen until 1920 when she made her last revue appearance in Ed Wynn's Carnival.[35]

Hearst and Cosmopolitan PicturesEdit

William Randolph Hearst circa 1910s (left) and a 1922 photograph of Davies by E.O. Hoppé (right). By the mid-1920s, Davies' career was overshadowed by her relationship with Hearst and their social life at San Simeon and Ocean House in Santa Monica.

In 1918, Hearst formed Cosmopolitan Pictures and asked Davies to sign a $500-per-week exclusive contract with his studio.[36] After signing the exclusivity contract, a teenage Davies and a 58-years-old Hearst began a sexual relationship.[37] Using his vast newspaper empire and Hearst Metrotone Newsreels, Hearst decided to promote Davies on an enormous scale.[38] His newsreels regularly touted Davies' social activities and latest exploits to the general public. In total, Hearst expended an estimated $7 million promoting Davies' career.[39]

Soon after, Hearst—who was still married to Millicent Willson—moved Davies with her mother and sisters into an elegant Manhattan townhouse at the corner of Riverside Drive and W. 105th Street.[40] Hearst ensured that "Marion's new abode was nothing less than a palace fit for a movie-queen—especially since the queen would frequently be receiving the press on the premises."[41] Cecilia of the Pink Roses in 1918 was her first film backed by Hearst.[42] He next secured Cosmopolitan's distribution deals first with Paramount Pictures,[43] then with Samuel Goldwyn Productions, and with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

During the next ten years, Davies appeared in 29 films, an average of almost three films a year.[44] One of her best known roles was as Mary Tudor in When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922), directed by Robert G. Vignola, with whom she collaborated on several films.[45] The 1922–23 period may have been her most successful period as an actress, with both When Knighthood Was in Flower and Little Old New York ranking among the top 3 box-office hits of those years.[3] She was named the number one female box-office star by theater owners and crowned as "Queen of the Screen" at their 1924 convention in Hollywood.[46] Other hit silent films included Beverly of Graustark, The Cardboard Lover, Enchantment,The Bride's Play, Lights of Old Broadway, Zander the Great, The Red Mill, Yolanda, Beauty's Worth, and The Restless Sex.

In 1926, Hearst's wife Millicent moved to New York, and Hearst and Davies moved to the palatial Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean.[47] Upon visiting the sprawling Hearst Castle with its grecian statues and celestial suites, playwright George Bernard Shaw reportedly quipped: "This is what God would have built if he had the money."[48] When not holding court at San Simeon, Hearst and Davies resided at Marion's equally lavish beach house in Santa Monica, at Hearst's rustic Wyntoon estate in Northern California, and—when abroad—at St Donat's Castle in Wales.[49] During the Jazz Age, the couple spent much of their time entertaining and holding extravagant soirées with famous guests including many Hollywood actors and political figures.[50] Frequent habitués and occasional visitors included, among others, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Harpo Marx, Clark Gable, Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earheart.[51]

As the years passed, Hearst's relentless efforts to promote Davies' career purportedly had a detrimental effect with the general public.[52] For example, Hearst purchased the Cameo Theatre in San Francisco, lavishly remodeled both the exterior and interior decor in a rosebud-hued Art Moderne motif, and then renamed it the Marion Davies Theatre. From Hearst's office windows further up Market Street, he could see pink neon letters constantly spelling out her name above the marquee.[53] In her published memoirs The Times We Had, Davies concluded that such unceasing over-the-top promotion of her career likely did more harm than good.[54]

Hearst's jealousy also interfered with Davies' career, especially in her earlier films and her stage roles.[55] According to Davies, he often vetoed the casting of attractive leading men and typically would not permit her to be embraced on the screen or in stage plays. In her memoirs, Davies claimed to have repeatedly assailed Hearst's jealous stewardship in vain: "Everyone has to do a little embrace in pictures, just for the audience's sake," she told him.[55] However, Hearst would not relent. Consequently, many of her earlier pictures were regarded as sexless and featured "no kissing at all" even when "it was supposed to be a happy ending."[55]

Hearst further hindered Davies' career by insisting she star only in costumes dramas in which she often played "a doll-sweetheart out of the 1890s, in the manner of D. W. Griffith heroines."[56] Davies herself was more inclined to develop her comic talents alongside her friends at United Artists, but Hearst pointedly discouraged this. Hearst preferred seeing her in expensive historical pictures, but she also appeared in contemporary comedies like Tillie the Toiler, The Fair Co-Ed (both 1927), and especially three directed by King Vidor, Not So Dumb (1930), The Patsy and the backstage-in-Hollywood saga Show People (both 1928).[57] The Patsy contains her imitations, which she usually did for friends, of silent stars Lillian Gish, Mae Murray and Pola Negri.[58] Vidor saw Davies as a comedic actress instead of the dramatic actress that Hearst wanted her to be. He noticed she was the life of parties and incorporated that into his films.[59]

Sound filmsEdit

Davies circa 1930-1932 (left) and in a studio photograph from the late 1920s (right)

The coming of sound made Davies nervous because she had a persistent stutter.[60][61] Her career continued, however, and she made a number of films during the early sound era, including Marianne (1929), The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), The Florodora Girl (1930), The Bachelor Father (1931), Five and Ten (1931) with Leslie Howard, Polly of the Circus (1932) with Clark Gable, Blondie of the Follies (1932), Peg o' My Heart (1933), Going Hollywood (1933) with Bing Crosby, and Operator 13 (1934) with Gary Cooper.[62]

Davies was often involved with many aspects of her films and was considered an astute businesswoman. Her career, however, continued to be hampered by Hearst's insistence that she play dramatic historical roles as opposed to the comic roles that were her forté.[63] Hearst reportedly had tried to push MGM production boss Irving Thalberg to cast Davies in the title role of the 1938 historical drama Marie Antoinette, but Thalberg awarded the part to his ambitious wife, Norma Shearer.[64] This rejection came on the heels of Davies having been also denied the female lead in The Barretts of Wimpole Street; that role going to Shearer as well.[65] Despite Davies' friendship with the Thalbergs, Hearst reacted by pulling his newspaper support for MGM and moving Davies and Cosmopolitan Pictures distribution to Warner Brothers.[66]

Davies first film at Warner Brothers was Page Miss Glory (1935).[56] During this period, a personal tragedy occurred in Davies' own life with the death of her vivacious niece, Pepi Lederer.[67][68] Pepi had been a permanent resident at San Simeon for many years and was a closeted lesbian who had sexual relationships with actresses Louise Brooks, Nina Mae McKinney, and others.[69] At some point during the affair between Pepi and Brooks, Hearst became cognizant of Lederer's lesbianism.[67] According to Louise Brooks' memoirs, Hearst—to avoid a public scandal or to forestall blackmail—arranged for Pepi to be committed to a mental institution for drug addiction.[70] In June 1935, mere days after her institutionalization, Pepi committed suicide by leaping to her death from an upper floor window of the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.[67] Hearst purportedly used his press influence to have Pepi's death obscured in the news cycle,[67] and Davies arranged a funeral for her niece at a private chapel.[70]

After a brief hiatus due to her niece's suicide, Davies starred in Hearts Divided (1936) and Cain and Mabel (1936). Her final film for Warner Brothers was Ever Since Eve (1937). Mirroring earlies events at MGM, Warners purchased the rights to Robert E. Sherwood's 1935 play Tovarich for Davies, but the lead role in the 1937 film adaptation was given to Claudette Colbert. Hearst shopped Davies and Cosmopolitan for another year, but no deals were made, and the actress officially retired. In 1943, Davies was offered the role of Mrs. Brown in Claudia, but Hearst dissuaded her from taking a supporting role and tarnishing her starring career. In her 45 feature films, over a 20-year period, Davies had never been anything but the star and always received top billing. The only exceptions were films in which she appeared as herself and uncredited cameo appearances.

Personal lifeEdit

Relationship with HearstEdit

During the Jazz Age, Hearst and Davies were known for throwing lavish soirées for Hollywood royalty and political elites at Hearst Castle.
Interior of Davies' bedroom in Hearst Castle

In her memoirs, Davies claimed that she and publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst began their sexual relationship when she was a teenage chorus girl.[71] They lived together as a couple for decades but were never married, as Hearst's wife refused to grant him a divorce.[72] At one point, he reportedly came close to marrying Davies, but decided his wife's settlement demands were too high. Although he was a notorious philanderer,[73] Hearst was extremely jealous and possessive of Davies, even though he was married throughout their relationship.[55] Lita Grey, the second wife of Charlie Chaplin, wrote four decades later that Davies confided to her about the relationship with Hearst.[74] Grey quoted Davies saying:

God, I'd give everything I have to marry that silly old man. Not for the money and security—he's given me more than I'll ever need. Not because he's such cozy company, either. Most times, when he starts jawing, he bores me stiff. And certainly not because he's so wonderful behind the barn. Why, I could find a million better lays any Wednesday. No, you know what he gives me, sugar? He gives me the feeling I'm worth something to him. A whole lot of what we have, or don't have, I don't like. He's got a wife who'll never give him a divorce. She knows about me, but it's still understood that when she decides to go to the ranch for a week or a weekend, I've got to vamoose. And he snores, and he can be petty, and has sons about as old as me. But he's kind and he's good to me, and I'd never walk out on him.[75]

Despite their well-known jealous attachment to one another, both Davies and Hearst had many sexual liaisons with other persons while living together in San Simeon and elsewhere.[73] Davies had a sexual relationship with fellow actor Dick Powell,[56] while Hearst had a sexual relationship with blonde chorus girl Maybelle Swor.[73] According to Davies' friend and confidant Louise Brooks, Davies was particularly incensed by Hearst's indiscreet relations with Swor and became irate when Hearst's newspapers began openly promoting Swor's career in a nearly identical fashion to their earlier promotion of Davies.[73]

By the late 1930s, in the wake of the Great Depression, Hearst was suffering financial reversals.[76] After selling many of the contents of St Donat's Castle, Davies sold her jewelry, stocks and bonds and wrote a check for $1 million to Hearst to save him from bankruptcy.[77]

Alleged biological daughterEdit

Since the early 1920s, there was speculation that Davies and Hearst had a child together some time between 1919 and 1923. The child was rumored to be Patricia Lake (née Van Cleve), who was publicly identified as Davies' niece.[78][79] On October 3, 1993, Lake died of complications from lung cancer in Indian Wells, California.[80] Ten hours before her death, Lake requested that her son publicly announce that she was not Davies' niece but Davies' biological daughter, whom she had conceived with Hearst. Lake had never commented on her alleged paternity in public, even after Hearst's and Davies' deaths, but did tell her grown children and friends. Lake's claim was published in her death notice, which was published in newspapers.[78][81]

Lake told her friends and family that Davies became pregnant by Hearst in the early 1920s. As the child was conceived during Hearst's extra-marital affair with Davies and out of wedlock, Hearst sent Davies to Europe to have the child in secret to avoid a public scandal. Hearst later joined Davies in Europe. Lake claimed she was born in a Catholic hospital outside of Paris between 1919 and 1923 (she was unsure of the precise date). Lake was then given to Davies' sister Rose, whose own child had died in infancy, and passed off as Rose and her husband George Van Cleve's daughter. Lake stated that Hearst paid for her schooling and both Davies and Hearst spent considerable time with her. Davies reportedly told Lake of her true parentage when she was 11 years old. Lake said Hearst confirmed that he was her father on her wedding day at age 17 where both Davies and Hearst gave her away.[78][82]

Neither Davies nor Hearst ever publicly addressed the rumors during their lives. Upon news of the story, a spokesman for Hearst Castle only commented that, "It's a very old rumor and a rumor is all it ever was."[78]

Thomas Ince scandalEdit

Thomas Ince in 1922.

In November 1924, Davies was among those revelers aboard Hearst's steam yacht Oneida for a weekend party that culminated in the death of film producer Thomas Ince.[4][83] Ince purportedly suffered an attack of acute indigestion while aboard the luxury yacht and was escorted off in San Diego by another of the guests, Dr. Daniel Goodman.[84] Ince was put on a train bound for Los Angeles but, when his condition worsened, he was removed from the train at Del Mar. He was given medical attention by Dr. T. A. Parker and a nurse, Jesse Howard. Ince allegedly told them that he had drunk a strong liquor aboard Hearst's yacht.[4] He was taken to his Hollywood home where he died.[4]

Following Ince's death, rumors became widespread that Hearst had caught Ince "pressing unwelcome attentions on Miss Davies and shot him fatally."[4] A variant of this rumor alleged that Davies had a sexual liaison with fellow-guest Charlie Chaplin, and that Hearst mistook Ince for Chaplin and shot him out of jealousy.[85][86] Chaplin's Japanese valet allegedly witnessed Ince being carried from Hearst's yacht and claimed that Ince's head was "bleeding from a bullet wound."[87][88] Screenwriter Elinor Glyn, a fellow guest at the yacht party, claimed "that everyone aboard the yacht had been sworn to secrecy, which would hardly have seemed necessary if poor Ince had died of natural causes."[89] Years later, Chaplin's wife Lita Grey[90] repeated claims that Chaplin had sexually pursued Marion Davies aboard Hearst's yacht and that a violent altercation of some kind had occurred.[91] However, there was never any substantive evidence to support these allegations.[4]

After Ince's death, District Attorney Chester C. Kempley of San Diego conducted an inquiry and issued a public statement which declared that "the death of Thomas H. Ince was caused by heart failure as a result of an attack of acute indigestion."[4] Despite the district attorney's declaration, and the fact that three physicians and a nurse had attended Ince before he died, the rumors persisted.[4] Consequently, "one can still hear solemn stories in Hollywood today that Ince was murdered" in a jealous dispute over Davies.[92][4]

Later yearsEdit

After retiring, Davies spent much of her later life at Hearst Castle, San Simeon.

By 1937, Hearst was $126 million in debt.[56] Consequently, when Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures folded in 1938, Davies left the film business and retreated to San Simeon. Davies would later publicly claim in her autobiography that, after many years of work, she had become bored of film acting and decided to devote herself to being Hearst's "companion."[93] However, Davies was intensely ambitious, and she faced the harsh reality at the age of forty that she could no longer play young heroines as in her earlier films.[56] Consequently, when drunk at parties in San Simeon, Davies often lamented her retirement and "cursed everyone who felt she had contributed to her ruined career."[56]

As the years passed, Davies developed a drinking problem, and her alcoholism grew worse in the late 1930s and the 1940s,[94] as she and Hearst lived an increasingly isolated existence.[95] Although Hearst and Davies "were still playing the gracious lord and his lady, and the guests were still responding with grateful expressions of joy," nevertheless "the life had gone out of their performances."[96] The two spent most of World War II at Hearst's Northern California estate of Wyntoon, until returning to San Simeon in 1945.[97]

After a long period of illness, Hearst died on August 14, 1951, at the age of 88.[98] In his will, Hearst provided handsomely for Davies, leaving her 170,000 shares of Hearst Corporation stock, in addition to 30,000 he had established for her in a trust fund in 1950. This gave her a controlling interest in the company for a short time, until she chose to relinquish the stock voluntarily to the corporation on October 30, 1951.[99] She retained her original 30,000 shares and an advisory role with the corporation.[100] She soon invested in property and owned The Desert Inn in Palm Springs and several properties in New York City, including the Squibb Building at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, the Davies Building at E. 57th Street and the Douras Building at E. 55th Street.[101]

Following Hearst's death, the majority of Davies' coterie of hedonistic friends gradually drifted away, and "she relied upon one or two companion-nurses to keep the blues away."[102] Eleven weeks and one day after Hearst's death, Davies married sea captain Horace Brown on October 31, 1951, in Las Vegas.[103] Their union was unhappy.[104] Davies filed for divorce twice, but neither was finalized, despite Brown admitting he treated her badly: "I'm a beast," he said. "I took him back. I don't know why," she explained. "I guess because he's standing right beside me, crying. Thank God we all have a sense of humor."[105][106]

Throughout her later years, Davies was "noted for her kindness" and renowned for her generosity to charities.[107] During the 1920s, she had become interested in children's charities, donating over $1 million.[108] In 1952, she donated $1.9 million to establish a children's clinic at UCLA which was named for her.[109] The clinic's name was changed to the Mattel Children's Hospital in 1998. Davies also fought childhood diseases through the Marion Davies Foundation.[110]

Illness and deathEdit

Davies' mausoleum at Hollywood Forever.

In 1956, Davies suffered a minor stroke, and later underwent surgery on her jawbone for osteomyelitis. Twelve days after the operation, Davies fell in her hospital room and broke her leg.[111] Davies made her last public appearance on January 10, 1960, on an NBC television special entitled Hedda Hopper's Hollywood. During this same period, Joseph P. Kennedy rented Davies' mansion and worked from behind the scenes to secure his son John F. Kennedy's nomination during the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Not long afterwards, Davies was diagnosed with cancer.

Davies died of malignant osteomyelitis on September 22, 1961, in Hollywood, California.[112] Her funeral at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Hollywood was attended by over 200 mourners and many Hollywood celebrities, including her friends Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Glenn Ford, Kay Williams, and Johnny Weissmuller.[113][114] She is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[113] Davies left an estate estimated at $20 million.[115]

Critical reassessmentEdit

According to biographers, Davies' reputation was destroyed following the release of Citizen Kane (1941).[116] Due to damage done to her reputation, Davies was erroneously depicted in press obituaries to have been a mediocre and unpopular actress during her lifetime.[14][117] However, contrary to the retroactive myth that Davies' films were neither popular nor profitable,[118] most of Davies's films made money, and she remained a popular star for most of her career.[119] She was the #1 female box office star of 1922–23 due to the enormous popularity of When Knighthood Was in Flower and Little Old New York, which both ranked among the biggest box-office hits of 1922 and 1923, respectively.[3]

In later decades, a critical reassessment of Davies' work came about via broadcast of her films on Turner Classic Movies and the release on home media of her notable films such as When Knighthood Was in Flower, Beauty's Worth, The Bride's Play, Enchantment, The Restless Sex, April Folly, and Buried Treasure. This new availability allowed for a more accurate evaluation of Davies' oeuvre as an actress.[3] Decades after Davies' death, the consensus among film critics was more appreciative of her efforts, particularly in the field of comedy.[120] According to biographers, "if Hearst had allowed her great talents as a mime and comic to come to full flower in a long series of comedies as bright as her Show People and The Patsy, her screen reputation could not have been so readily damaged by the controversy surrounding Citizen Kane."[121]

Cultural legacyEdit

Susan Alexander KaneEdit

The character of Susan Alexander Kane (portrayed by Dorothy Comingore) in Citizen Kane (1941) was assumed to have been inspired by Davies, but Orson Welles repeatedly denied that the character was based upon her.

Davies was commonly assumed by film audiences to be the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character portrayed in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), which was based loosely on Hearst's life.[122][123] This popular association led to later revisionist portrayals of Davies as a talentless opportunist.[124][125] However, in his foreword to Davies' autobiography, The Times We Had (published posthumously in 1975), Welles wrote that his fictional creation of Susan Alexander Kane bears no resemblance to Davies:

That Susan was Kane's wife and Marion was Hearst's mistress is a difference more important than might be guessed in today's changed climate of opinion. The wife was a puppet and a prisoner; the mistress was never less than a princess. Hearst built more than one castle, and Marion was the hostess in all of them: they were pleasure domes indeed, and the Beautiful People of the day fought for invitations. Xanadu was a lonely fortress, and Susan was quite right to escape from it. The mistress was never one of Hearst's possessions: he was always her suitor, and she was the precious treasure of his heart for more than 30 years, until his last breath of life. Theirs is truly a love story. Love is not the subject of Citizen Kane.[14]

Welles told filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich that Samuel Insull's building of the Chicago Opera House, and business tycoon Harold Fowler McCormick's lavish promotion of the opera career of his second wife Ganna Walska, were direct influences on the screenplay for Citizen Kane.[126] "As for Marion," Welles said, "she was an extraordinary woman—nothing like the character Dorothy Comingore played in the movie.... Marion was much better than Susan—whom people wrongly equated with her."[127]

Portrayals of DaviesEdit

Since her death in 1961, Davies has been portrayed in a variety of media by different actresses. In 1985, Davies was portrayed by 23-year-old Virginia Madsen in the ABC telefilm The Hearst and Davies Affair with Robert Mitchum as Hearst.[128][129] ABC inaccurately marketed the film as "the scandalous love affair between one of the richest and most powerful men in America and the obscure Ziegfeld girl he promoted to stardom."[130] To prepare for the role, Madsen "screened Davies' movies, read books, hunted up a collector of Davies memorabilia and even interviewed the actress' stand-in."[129] In the process, Madsen later became a Davies fan and said that she felt she had inadvertently portrayed her as a stereotype, rather than as a real person.[131] In subsequent decades, Davies was also portrayed by Heather McNair in Chaplin (1992) and by Gretchen Mol in Cradle Will Rock (1999).[132]

In 2001, director Peter Bogdanovich's film The Cat's Meow debuted with 19-year-old Kirsten Dunst starring as Davies.[133] Dunst's performance interpreted Davies as "a spoiled ingenue" who was the ambivalent "lover to two very different men."[134] The film was based upon unsubstantiated rumors concerning the Thomas Ince scandal which was dramatized in the play The Cat's Meow and then adapted into the movie.[135] That same year, a documentary film Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies (2001) premiered on Turner Classic Movies.[131]

In 2004, the story of William Randolph Hearst and Davies was made into a musical titled WR and Daisy with book and lyrics by Robert and Phyllis White; music by Glenn Paxton. It was performed in 2004 by Theater West. It was also performed in 2009 and 2010 at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, California, the estate built by Hearst for Davies in the 1920s.

Amanda Seyfried is the latest actress to portray Davies in the 2020 Netflix film Mank about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane.[136]


Davies circa the late 1910s.
Year Title Role Director Notes
1917 Runaway Romany Romany George W. Lederer Lost film. Davies also wrote the screenplay.[137]
1918 Cecilia of the Pink Roses Cecilia Julius Steger Lost film
1918 The Burden of Proof Elaine Brooks John G. Adolfi Lost film
1919 The Belle of New York Violet Gray Julius Steger Only 2 reels survive
1919 Getting Mary Married Mary Bussard Allan Dwan Davies also served as producer.
1919 The Dark Star Rue Carew Allan Dwan Lost film
1919 The Cinema Murder Elizabeth Dalston George D. Baker Lost film
1920 April Folly April Poole Robert Z. Leonard Missing first reel
1920 The Restless Sex Stephanie Cleland Robert Z. Leonard
1921 Buried Treasure Pauline Vandermuellen / Lucia George D. Baker Missing final reel
1921 Enchantment Ethel Hoyt Robert G. Vignola
1922 Bride's Play Enid of Cashel / Aileen Barrett George Terwilliger
1922 Beauty's Worth Prudence Cole Robert G. Vignola
1922 The Young Diana Diana May Robert G. Vignola Lost film
1922 When Knighthood Was in Flower Mary Tudor Robert G. Vignola
1922 A Trip to Paramountown Herself Jack Cunningham Short subject
1923 The Pilgrim Member of the Congregation Charlie Chaplin Uncredited role
1923 Adam and Eva Eva King Robert G. Vignola Only 1 reel survives
1923 Little Old New York Patricia O'Day Sidney Olcott
1924 Yolanda Princess Mary / Yolanda Robert G. Vignola A print survives in Royal Belgian Film Archive, Brussels
1924 Janice Meredith Janice Meredith E. Mason Hopper
1925 Zander the Great Mamie Smith George W. Hill
1925 Lights of Old Broadway Fely / Anne Monta Bell A print survives in Library of Congress
1925 Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Crowd Extra in Chariot Race Fred Niblo Uncredited role
1926 Beverly of Graustark Beverly Calhoun / Prince Oscar Sidney Franklin A print survives in Library of Congress
1927 The Red Mill Tina Roscoe Arbuckle
1927 Tillie the Toiler Tillie Jones Hobart Henley A print survives in Eastman House Museum
1927 The Fair Co-Ed Marion Sam Wood A print survives in Library of Congress
1927 Quality Street Phoebe Throssel Sidney Franklin Davies also served as producer
1928 The Patsy Patricia Harrington King Vidor Davies also served as producer
1928 The Cardboard Lover Sally Robert Z. Leonard Producer / A print survives in Library of Congress
1928 Show People Peggy Pepper / Patricia Pepoire / Herself King Vidor Producer
1928 The Five O'Clock Girl Patricia Brown Robert Z. Leonard Incomplete
1928 Rosalie Princess Rosalie Romanikov Incomplete
1929 Marianne Marianne Robert Z. Leonard Producer (uncredited); silent version co-starring Oscar Shaw
1929 Marianne Marianne Robert Z. Leonard Producer (uncredited); sound version co-starring Lawrence Gray
1929 The Hollywood Revue of 1929 Herself Charles Reisner
1930 Not So Dumb Dulcinea 'Dulcy' Parker King Vidor Producer
1930 The Florodora Girl Daisy Dell Harry Beaumont Producer
1930 Screen Snapshots Series 9, No. 23 Herself Ralph Staub Short subject
1931 Jackie Cooper's Birthday Party Herself Charles Reisner Short subject
1931 The Bachelor Father Antoinette 'Tony' Flagg Robert Z. Leonard Producer
1931 Its a Wise Child Joyce Stanton Robert Z. Leonard Producer / A print survives in UCLA archive.
1931 Five and Ten Jennifer Rarick Robert Z. Leonard Producer
1931 The Christmas Party Herself Charles Reisner Short subject
1932 Polly of the Circus Polly Fisher Alfred Santell Producer
1932 Blondie of the Follies Blondie McClune Edmund Goulding Producer
1933 Peg o' My Heart Margaret 'Peg' O'Connell Robert Z. Leonard
1933 Going Hollywood Sylvia Bruce Raoul Walsh
1934 Operator 13 Gail Loveless Richard Boleslawski
1935 Page Miss Glory Loretta Dalrymple / Miss Dawn Glory Mervyn LeRoy Producer
1935 A Dream Comes True Herself Short subject
1935 Pirate Party on Catalina Isle Herself Gene Burdette Short subject
1936 Hearts Divided Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson Frank Borzage Producer
1936 Cain and Mabel Mabel O'Dare Lloyd Bacon
1937 Ever Since Eve Miss Marjorie 'Marge' Winton / Sadie Day Lloyd Bacon

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b The name is sometimes spelled "Marion Cecilia Dourvas" in biographies. In her autobiography, it is spelled "Douras," as it appears in the 1900 U.S. Census when they lived in Brooklyn, New York.


  1. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  2. ^ Tri-City Herald 1961, p. 2
  3. ^ a b c d Lorusso 2017, p. 96
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Swanberg 1961, pp. 445–46
  5. ^ Elley 2001
  6. ^ Taves 2012, pp. 3–7
  7. ^ Brooks 1982, p. 41
  8. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  9. ^ Spokane Daily Chronicle 1951, p. 7
  10. ^ The New York Times 1951, p. 30
  11. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 372
  12. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 91
  13. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  14. ^ a b c d Welles 1975, Foreword
  15. ^ Welles & Bogdanovich 1992
  16. ^ Time Magazine 1935
  17. ^ Time Magazine 1930
  18. ^ 1910 U.S. Federal Census
  19. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 1–2
  20. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 2–3
  21. ^ Davies 1975, p. 3
  22. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 4–7
  23. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  24. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  25. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  26. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 10–11
  27. ^ a b c d Davies 1975, p. 11
  28. ^ Tri-City Herald 1961, p. 2
  29. ^ a b c d Davies 1975, pp. 11–13
  30. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 15–18
  31. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 28–29
  32. ^ Ward 2016, p. 35
  33. ^ Ward 2016, p. 35
  34. ^ Davies 1975, p. 23
  35. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  36. ^ Davies 1975, p. 25
  37. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 28–29
  38. ^ Longworth 2015
  39. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  40. ^ Alleman 2013, pp. 359–60
  41. ^ Alleman 2013, p. 359
  42. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 89
  43. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 89
  44. ^ Board 2008
  45. ^ Guiles 1972, pp. 111–13
  46. ^ Davies 1975, p. 34
  47. ^ Murray 1995, p. 19
  48. ^ Murray 1995, p. 36
  49. ^ Brooks 1982, p. 34
  50. ^ Wadsworth 1990, p. 90
  51. ^ Wadsworth 1990, p. 90
  52. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  53. ^ Cinema Treasures 2012
  54. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 260–261
  55. ^ a b c d Davies 1975, p. 29
  56. ^ a b c d e f Brooks 1982, p. 37
  57. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 207
  58. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 209
  59. ^ Guiles 1972, pp. 203–204
  60. ^ Board 2008
  61. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 10–11
  62. ^ Brooks 1982, p. 36
  63. ^ Guiles 1972, pp. 117, 119
  64. ^ Davies 1975, p. 253
  65. ^ Davies 1975, p. 254
  66. ^ Davies 1975, p. 254
  67. ^ a b c d Brooks 1982, p. 54
  68. ^ Paris 1989, pp. 126–28
  69. ^ Brooks 1982, pp. 35–45, 47
  70. ^ a b Brooks 1982, p. 55
  71. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 28–29
  72. ^ Davies 1975, p. 27
  73. ^ a b c d Brooks 1982, p. 43
  74. ^ Chaplin & Cooper 1966, p. 190
  75. ^ Chaplin & Cooper 1966, p. 190
  76. ^ The Milwaukee Journal 1951, p. 4
  77. ^ The Miami News 1961, p. 7A
  78. ^ a b c d Fiore 1993, p. 1
  79. ^ Ross-Warshaw 1993, p. 13
  80. ^ Sarasota Herald-Tribune 1993, p. 8B
  81. ^ Ross-Warshaw 1993, p. 13
  82. ^ Vogel 2005, pp. 208–09
  83. ^ Taves 2012, pp. 3–7
  84. ^ Taves 2012, pp. 3–7
  85. ^ Wallace 2002, pp. 144–145
  86. ^ Taves 2012, pp. 3–7
  87. ^ Taves 2012, pp. 3–7
  88. ^ Wallace 2002, pp. 144–145
  89. ^ Rosenbaum 2002
  90. ^ Chaplin 1998, pp. 52–53
  91. ^ Chaplin 1998, pp. 52–53
  92. ^ Elley 2001
  93. ^ Davies 1975, pp. 260–261
  94. ^ Brooks 1982, p. 41
  95. ^ Brooks 1982, pp. 36–41
  96. ^ Brooks 1982, p. 36
  97. ^ Kastner 2000, p. 183
  98. ^ Spokane Daily Chronicle 1951, p. 7
  99. ^ Kastner 2000, p. 183
  100. ^ Kastner 2000, p. 183
  101. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  102. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 93
  103. ^ The New York Times 1951, p. 30
  104. ^ The New York Times 1952, p. 25
  105. ^ The New York Times 1952, p. 25
  106. ^ Time Magazine 1952
  107. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  108. ^ Landry 1961, p. 5
  109. ^ UCLA Facts & History 2003
  110. ^ Board 2008
  111. ^ The Leader-Post 1961, p. 1
  112. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  113. ^ a b The Spokesman-Review 1961
  114. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 372
  115. ^ Fleming 2005, p. 146
  116. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 91
  117. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 91
  118. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  119. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 117
  120. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 119
  121. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 119
  122. ^ McCullough 1996
  123. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 119
  124. ^ The New York Times 1961, p. 19
  125. ^ Guiles 1972, p. 119
  126. ^ Welles & Bogdanovich 1992, p. 49
  127. ^ Welles & Bogdanovich 1992, p. 49
  128. ^ O'Connor 1985
  129. ^ a b Hill 1985
  130. ^ O'Connor 1985
  131. ^ a b Neely 2001
  132. ^ McCarthy 1999
  133. ^ Elley 2001
  134. ^ Elley 2001
  135. ^ Elley 2001
  136. ^ Buchanan 2020
  137. ^ Ward 2016, p. 35


External linksEdit