Marion Davies was an American actress and producer, best known for her comic roles in silent films, such as ‘The Patsy’ and ‘Show People.’ As a producer, she bankrolled films like ‘Getting Mary Married,’ ‘Polly of the Circus,’ ‘It's a Wise Child,’ and ‘The Bachelor Father.’ Though she had a successful acting career that spanned more than two decades, Davies was more popular for her 34-year relationship with the famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. After her retirement, Davies focused on philanthropic activities. In 1952, she donated $1.9 million for the establishment of a children’s clinic in Los Angeles. Over the years, many famous actresses have played Marion Davies in popular movies. Actress Melanie Griffith received a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for playing Davies in the 1999 historical drama film ‘RKO 281.’
Childhood & Early Life
Marion Davies was born on January 3, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York, USA, to Rose Reilly and Bernard J. Douras. She spent her childhood near Prospect Park in Brooklyn along with her older sisters Ethel, Rose, and Reine. All her sisters went on to become actresses which encouraged Davies to follow in her sisters’ footsteps.
She dropped out of her convent to pursue a career in acting. When she was 13 years old, she started working as a chorus girl in Broadway revues. She also modeled for illustrators and fashion designers like Howard Chandler Christy, Harrison Fisher, and Lady Duff-Gordon. In 1916, she became part of a series of theatrical revue productions titled ‘The Ziegfeld Follies.’
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Davies made her feature film debut in 1917 when she played Romany in a silent film titled ‘Runaway, Romany’ which was directed by her brother-in-law George W. Lederer. In 1918, she played Cecilia in Julius Steger-directed silent drama film ‘Cecilia of the Pink Roses’ and then played Elaine Brooks in ‘The Burden of Proof.’
She made her debut as a producer when she bankrolled the 1919 film ‘Getting Mary Married’ in which she played Mary Bussard. She continued playing important roles in silent films throughout the 1920s, establishing herself as one of the most prominent American actresses at the time.
She became famous for her comic roles in films, such as ‘Enchantment,’ ‘Beauty's Worth,’ ‘Adam and Eva,’ ‘Beverly of Graustark,’ ‘Tillie the Toiler,’ ‘The Patsy,’ and ‘Show People.’ She was also seen in Charlie Chaplin’s 1923 film ‘The Pilgrim.’ In 1927, she produced a film titled ‘Quality Street’ in which she played Phoebe Throssel.
Davies would often stutter when excited. Hence, she became anxious about her acting career when the American film industry made the transition from silent to sound films in the late-1920s. However, she overcame her fear and successfully adapted to sound films. In 1929, she played the title role in the sound version of ‘Marianne’ which was a remake of a silent version released earlier that year.
In 1931, she produced and acted in Robert Z. Leonard-directed pre-Code drama film ‘The Bachelor Father’ where she played Antoinette ‘Tony’ Flagg. In the same year, she also produced a comedy film titled ‘It's a Wise Child’ in which she played Joyce Stanton. She continued playing prominent roles in several films throughout the early and mid-1930s. She played her last film role in the 1937 romantic comedy film ‘Ever Since Eve.’
Relationship with William Randolph Hearst
Marion Davies met businessman and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst before starting her film career. In 1918, Hearst began a film company called ‘Cosmopolitan Productions’ and started promoting Davies’ film career. In her memoirs ‘The Times We Had,’ Davies stated that Hearst’s over-the-top promotion had a negative impact on her acting career as she was one of the most infamously advertised actresses at the time.
Though Hearst was married, he started a romantic relationship with Marion Davies. He moved her and her family members to a luxurious town house in Manhattan. Davies and Hearst spent their time hosting lavish parties at their Beverly Hills estate. The guests who frequently attended their parties include John F. Kennedy, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin.
In the late-1930s, Hearst suffered a financial crunch. In order to save him from bankruptcy, Davies sold her jewelry, bonds, and stocks worth $1 million. During the Second World War, she spent most of her time at Hearst’s estate in Northern California before returning to San Simeon in 1945.
After Hearst’s death on August 14, 1951, Davies inherited 170,000 shares of his company’s stock which made her a part of his company’s managerial team. However, she chose to relinquish the stock on October 30, 1951 and retained only her role as an advisor within the corporation.
Family & Personal Life
Davies’ father Bernard J. Douras worked as a lawyer and later served as a judge in New York City, New York. Her sisters established their respective career in the entertainment industry. Her older sister Reine Davies is known for playing Beth Winthrop in the 1917 silent drama film ‘The Sin Woman.’ Reine also recorded many songs throughout the early 1900s. Davies’ older brother Charles drowned in 1906 when he was 15 years old. Davies’ nephew Charles Lederer was named after her brother.
At the age of 54, Davies married an old friend named Horace G. Brown. After her acting career, Davies went on to become a successful businesswoman. She purchased several office buildings in Manhattan, series of mansions and castles, and the ‘Desert Inn’ in Palm Springs, California. She also focused on philanthropic activities and worked towards the welfare of children.
Death & Legacy
Marion Davies lost her battle to stomach cancer and passed away on September 22, 1961, in Hollywood, California. Her memorial service at ‘Immaculate Heart of Mary Church’ was attended by 200 people including Hollywood celebrities, such as Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, Mary Pickford, and Johnny Weissmuller among others.
Actress Kirsten Dunst played Davies in the 2001 Peter Bogdanovich-directed period drama film ‘The Cat's Meow.’ In 2000, Melanie Griffith received ‘Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress’ for playing Davies in ‘RKO 281.’ Davies was also played by many other actresses including Heather McNair, Gretchen Mol, and Virginia Madsen.