Biography of Filmmakers and Actresses: Marion Davies

About the actress Marion Davies, girlfriend of William Randolph Hearst of Citizen Kane fame, her biography and history.


Marion Davies (1898-1961). Leading lady and comedienne, best known as the protege and companion of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst for nearly 35 years, Marion Davies never became a top star despite the estimated $7 million that Hearst poured into the venture.

Miss Davies left a convent school to become a chorus girl. By the age of 17, she was a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, where she entranced Hearst, who was then 54, married, and the ruler of a publishing empire that included 7 magazines and 10 newspapers.

Hearst set out to make her a star, hiring the best directors, drama coaches, and designers to prepare her for her film debut in Cecilia of the Pink Roses (1918). The following year Hearst established Cosmopolitan Pictures to produce films that would show off what he thought was her talent as a romantic heroine. When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922) was one of the few of these costume spectaculars that didn't lose money. The Patsy (1928) and Show People (1928) finally revealed Miss Davies' gift for light comedy and also the warmth and charm that endeared her offscreen to prop boy and star alike.

Hearst closely supervised every detail of Miss Davies' films, acting as a combination business manager, agent, drama coach, producer, and chaperone. He lavished her with gifts, such as a 14-room "bungalow" on the MGM lot, and with publicity, ordering each of his newspapers to mention her name at least once in every edition (an order not rescinded until after Hearst's death in 1951). Those who cooperated with Miss Davies also got free publicity in the Hearst publications; those who didn't--like Norma Shearer--were banished forever from their pages.

After making several sound films, despite a marked stutter, Miss Davies retired from film making in 1936. Through Hearst's generosity she had become such a wealthy woman that she was able to lend him $1 million from her personal fortune when he was in serious financial trouble.

Although they never married because Hearst's wife steadfastly refused to grant him a divorce, Miss Davies remained loyal to Hearst until his death. She married for the 1st time shortly thereafter and devoted her later years to managing her business interests.

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