The Silent Collection
By Tammy Stone
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.
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.
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
the beginning. Hearst took notice in
Marion both romantically and professionally, and cast her in a film of his own,
in 1918. 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
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments on her column.
Other Marion Davies Pages:
Jackson's Marion Davies Page -- The Love of William Randolph Hearst!