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The Silent Collection

By Tammy Stone
Featuring:

MARION DAVIES

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1920's Marion Davies 8x10 Large Fan PhotoLucky Marion. Having grown up in New York, she was already based where a lot of the action was in that day. So it seems almost inevitable – who could argue with the forces of fate and destiny – that she would realize her dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Of course, it wasn’t the movies all these young silent stars dreamed about since youth – most of them were born before the movies were even invented. What they wanted was to perform, to shine, to strut their stuff in front of audiences of any kind. With the movies, they were able to make their dreams come true in ways they could never have imagined. 

For Marion Cecelia Douras, it all started on January 3rd, 1897 in Brooklyn. Her older sisters were already performing, and Marion grew up yearning to join them on the stage. But she had to wait – her education came first. And once that was over, her first bout with success came with modeling; she was gorgeous, and this fact didn’t escape the attention of some of New York’s eminent contemporary painters. It was around this time that she met notorious publisher William Randolph Hearst (inspiration for Orson Welles’ crass, unloved lead character in Citizen Kane), who watched her perform as she began making a name for herself on the Broadway stage. Between 1915-1917 – just when the movies were starting to take off – Marion strutted her way to relative fame, appearing in such productions as “Stop Look and Listen,” “Betty”, “Words and Music,” “Miss 1917,” and the famous “Ziegfeld Follies,” homing ground for many starlets before and after her.

Ever ambitious and reluctant to wait for someone as influential as Hearst to carry her away to stardom, Marion started from the bottom up, making her acting debut in a film directed by her brother in law, George Lederer: Runaway Romany. There are still rumors flying around that she wrote the script herself, so eager was she for a starring role. For George, this film marked the end of a six-film directing career; for Marion, it was just 1934 Marion Davies Cavenders Tobacco Cardthe beginning. Hearst took notice in Marion both romantically and professionally, and cast her in a film of his own, in 1918.1931 Marion Davies German Jasmatzi Tobacco Card Cecilia of the Pink Roses was the first of many collaborations between Marion and the media mogul. Of course, as a media mogul, he was able to carry off what other movie producers might not – he turned Marion Davies into the most advertised actress on both coasts.

Over the next decade, Marion was busy acting in nearly thirty films, at a rate of about three films a year: highlights include Cinema Murder (1919), Little Old New York (1923), Zander the Great (1925), Ben-Hur (1925) and The Patsy (1928). She and Hearst also moved out West to California in the early twenties, where the movie industry was just taking hold. Keep in mind that three films a year wasn’t as busy as contract actors got in those days. But let’s remember that as a heavily advertised actress, Marion was constantly in the news as well as on the big screen. She did, though, work extremely hard, probably because she felt she needed to live up to all the wonderful, glorious things Hearst has his staff say about her in the papers.

Soon after the move to California, the company set up by Marion and Hearst, Cosmopolitan Pictures, teamed up with the up-and-coming studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Marion simultaneously became the hostess to beat around town. She would entertain not only in the movies, but at the lavish parties she threw from one of Hearst’s homes (mostly the one in Santa Monica); these parties were among the earliest must attend events for the celebrities of the day, politicians and actors alike. Marion was well-liked; she wasn’t arrogant, and never thought her job was the 1936 Marion Davies Faccino Film Star Cardmost important one around; she was known to be giving, generous and warm of heart. 

At this point in the biography, as with all others, we get to the big question. What happened to Marion with the coming of synchronized sound? This is an especially pertinent question for Marion, who had a bit of a stutter, which certainly wouldn’t bode well for her “sound film” career. Marion did, though, make a staggering career for herself in the talkies (1930’s Not So Dumb was very well received); she pulled it off brilliantly, as well as becoming involved in numerous film organizations, from the Motion Picture Relief Fund, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Actors Equity and Screen Guild. Quite a powerhouse she was! Her special cause was children’s wellness; she began a clinic for sick children near the Metro studios in the late twenties, and it still stands in Los Angeles at the UCLA Medical Center: The Marion Davies Children’s Clinic.

1934 Marion Davies Salem Tobacco CardMarion’s contract with MGM lasted until 1934, and her career was, incredibly, at a high point until that time. But when MGM didn’t star Marion in two impending productions, Hearst became angry and offended, and literally upped her eleven-room house at MGM and relocated it to the Warner Brothers’ lot in Burbank. It was there that she made her last four films. Between 1929 and 1937, she made sixteen talkies when no one thought she would make even one: her last was Ever Since Eve.  

When Hearst was in dire straits in the late thirties (only in the movie business!), Marion sold some of her jewelry to help him out. He wasn’t really able to pull through, however, and continued to make bad choices for Marion, refusing to allow her to star in movies that seemed negative in any way. Eventually the offers ceased, and Marion withdrew from the limelight to a degree. After Hearst died in 1951, Marion married for the first time, wedding Horace Brown in 1954. This would, sadly, be a short-lived marriage; Marion died of cancer in 1961. She more than lived up to the advertising and accolades she received throughout her career, and will always be remembered for it.
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Tammy Stone is a freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. Watch for her regular column on the greats of the Silent Screen in each issue of The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.  Tammy invites you to write her at stonetamar@hotmail.com with any questions or comments on her column.

Other Marion Davies Pages:

Denny Jackson's Marion Davies Page -- The Love of William Randolph Hearst!