Educated at Sacred Heart Convent in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Davies was in the Ziegfeld Follies when she met Hearst. Hearst was determined to make her a star and he founded Cosmopolitan Pictures to produce her films. By 1919, her movies were being distributed by Paramount: Getting Many Married (19, Allan Dvvan); The Dark Star (19, Dwan); April Folly (19, Robert Z. Leonard); The Restless Sex (20, Leonard); Btnied Treasure (21, George D. Baker); Enchantment (21, Robert Vignola); The Bride’s Play (22, George W. Tervvilliger); Beauty's Worth (22, Vignola); The Young Diana (22, Albert Capellani and Vignola); When Knighthood Was in Flower (22, Vignola); and Adam and Eva (23, Vignola).
Adolph Zukor was content for Cosmopolitan to move over to Goldwyn: few of the Davies films had failed to make a loss. But through Goldwyn, Marion Davies became a bargaining counter in MGM’s search for glory. Louis Mayer lavished attention and money on Davies and allowed her a magnificent bungalow on the lot. These rewards exceeded her worth, but not the value of constant MGM publicity in the llearst papers. MGM earned Davies through eight of their headiest years, relying on a favorable press from Hearst. The economics of the deal would need careful research, but the Hearst boycott on Kane shows how potent his favor could be. With MGM, Davies was seldom allowed to laugh as much as her limited abilities encouraged: Yolanda (24, Vignola); Janice Meredith (24, E. Mason Hopper); Zander the Great (25, George Hill); Lights of Old Broadway (25, .Vlonta Bell); Beverley of Graustark (26, Sidney Franklin); The Red Mill (27, Roscoe Arbuckle); Tillie the Toiler (27, Hobart Henley); The Fair Co-Ed (27, Sam Wood); Quality Street (27, Franklin); The Patsy (28, King Vidor); The Cardboard Lover (28, Leonard); Show People (28, Vidor); Not So Dumb (30, Vidor); The Florodora Girl (30, Harry Beaumont); The Bachelor Father (31, Leonard); It’s a Wise Child (31, Leonard); Five and Ten (31, Leonard); Polly of the Circus (32, Alfred Santell); Blondie of the Follies (32, Edmund Colliding); Peg o’ My Heart (33, Leonard); Going Hollywood (33, Raoul Walsh); and Operator 13 (34, Richard Boleslavsky).
Mayer was then caught between two ladies anx¬ious to play Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Davies, supported by Hearst, and Norma Shearer, backed by her husband, Irving Thalberg. Shearer won and Davies, Cosmopolitan, and her bungalow went to Warners for four films before she retired: Page Miss Cion/ (35, Mervyn Le Boy); Hearts Divided (36, Frank Borzage); Cain and Mabel (36, Lloyd Bacon); and Ever Since Eve (37, Bacon).
Marion Davies was not Susan Alexander Kane. Yet, as time goes by, it may be that only the second Mrs. Kane keeps Davies alive. Susan Alexander could not sing; she did not want to make the attempt in anything larger than the parlor; she had her disasters onstage; and she deserted the Kane who had sought to invent her. Marion Davies, on the other hand, was a genuinely funny actress who did good work. She then staved loyal to her lover and patron, William Randolph Hearst, no matter that he had foolishly insisted on putting her in grand and serious roles.
Susan Alexander, Kane’s second wife, is forced into the unlikely career of opera singer, has a rowdv New York accent, and mopes in the desolate caverns of Xanadu over huge jigsaw puzzles. That last point was typical of the gratuitous cruelty in the film: Marion Davies, too, occupied herself with jigsaws at Hearst’s San Simeon mansion. It is a wonder that Kane did not mimic Davies’s stammer as well.
But whereas Susan Alexander is a forlorn soprano, Marion Davies had more screen potential than Hearst’s heavy care noticed. The saddest stroke of all is not that Hearst imposed his mistress on the film public, but that the industry exploited his fondness for the girl. And when a man is caught up in the heroic gesture of founding a production company to showcase his mistress, no wonder that he likes to see her looking her best in romantic parts, even if her real talent is for knockabout comedv. King Vidor tells a story about his attempts to persuade Hearst to let Marion plav comedy, to be met by this woolly dignity: “King’s right. But I’m right, too—because I’m not going to let Marion be hit in the face with a pie."
The story of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst is sadder and funnier than Herman Mankiewiez and Orson Welles allowed; it’s as intricate as the picture in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow (02). Hearst was a lumbering, softhearted fool, devoted to his young mistress and deeply hurt by the picture of her in Kane.
When her career was over, and after Hearst was broke and sick, Davies again escaped the legend. She behaved with common decency, offering back the jewels Hearst had given her, and standing by him. This final story, all the way to Hearst’s death in 1951, is worthy of a movie—something far better than the 1985 TV job that hired Robert Mitchum and Virginia Madsen, but gave them nothing to do. What a reunion the story could be for Beatty and Dunaway—Twilight at San Simeon? Or at Wyntoon, Hearst’s smaller estate, in northern California, where one of the “cottages’’ has murals in which the fairytale character, Rose Red, was based on the young and undyingly lovely Marion Davies.