Marion Davies was a Golden Age film star whose legacy has been tainted by an affair she had with media mogul William Randolph Hearst. William was the inspiration for the titular character in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The film included a character that was inspired by Marion Davies, and many didn’t find it to be a very flattering depiction. There were several things that caused Marion’s celebrity status to dwindle over the course of her career, but her depiction in Citizen Kane is generally considered to be the biggest. According to the late Orson Welles himself, Marion could’ve become a much more fondly remembered star if it weren’t for William Randolph Hearst. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Marion Davies had more to offer than just her body.
How Marion Davies Met William Randolph Hearst
Marion Davies was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 3, 1897. She was the last of five children born to her mother and father, the latter of whom was a lawyer. Marion’s mother tended to the kids, and they were all encouraged to take their education very seriously. The five children were educated at a convent, but Marion decided that she wanted to take control of her future early on. She dropped out and ran off to New York City as a teenager. There, she began working as a chorus girl on Broadway. In 1916, Marion was signed on as part of the Broadway series Ziegfeld Follies.
It was while performing in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway that the young and beautiful Marion Davies first caught the attention of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. William was a man who got what he wanted, and he instantly became enamored with the young woman. Marion reciprocated the attention, believing that hooking up with William might be her ticket to success. The future star may have been right, but becoming successful with the help of William Randolph Hearst had some devastating caveats.
It’s undeniable that William Randolph Hearst played a major role in making Marion Davies a star. Not only did the media mogul start up a film studio simply for the purpose of giving the actress roles, but he also made sure that all of the publications he was in charge of gave both her and the film positive marks when it came time for a review. It was a lot easier to rig the system back in those days, and William was a man who knew how to take full advantage of this.
William Made Marion a Star, But This Had Caveats
With the help of her new lover, Marion Davies became one of the biggest film stars of the 1920s. However, even at the beginning, there were those who felt that the actress’s celebrity status was manufactured. The actress simply showed up and became the biggest star on the planet, and her name was plastered all over the media. The actress went from being a chorus girl to a big-name star overnight, and she had William Randolph Hearst to thank for it.
Marion Davies’ association with William Randolph Hearst proved both a blessing and a curse when it came to her Hollywood career, but the actress also did things to draw negative attention to herself in other ways. The star was rumored to have had affairs with several other notable figures, including Charlie Chaplin. However, the thing the put the nail in the coffin of Marion’s career was Citizen Kane.
After her debut on the big screen in the 1920s, Marion was considered a major star for a few decades. However, the 1941 release of Citizen Kane damaged the actress’s reputation considerably. As some may already know, the film was largely inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst. The film revolved around the titular character of Charles Foster Kane, who was a media mogul very similar to William. The film also included a character that was meant to mirror his real-life mistress, Marion Davis. In the eyes of audiences, the film made a joke of Marion, suggesting that she only had a career because of her association with William.
Citizen Kane didn’t use any real names, but it wasn’t hard for audiences to put together just whom the film was supposed to be about. Filmmaker Orson Welles certainly intended for the film to be a damning critique of William Randolph Hearst, but he would go to his grave claiming that he never intended to criticize Marion Davies. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Orson Welles Felt Bad About His Impact on Marion
After Marion Davies’ death, a posthumous biography was released that featured a foreword from Orson Welles. Given that Orson was the creator and star of the feature that had essentially ended the actress’s career, many found Orson’s inclusion in the book to be in bad taste. However, the late filmmaker had nothing but kind words to say about Marion. It seems that Orson wanted to take the opportunity to undo some of the damage that he had inadvertently done to the actress’s legacy. According to Orson, he never meant to suggest anything negative about Marion. Orson believed that Marion was a very talented star, and that her only problem was only her association with William Randolph Hearst.
William Randolph Hearst certainly loomed over all of Marion Davies’ great successes in her life. Even if the actress performed well enough to garner praise from the audience on her own, it was always all too obvious that her media-mogul boyfriend manufactured the hype behind the star. Marion Davies grew to be rather self-disparaging before the end, claiming that she was never all that much of an actress. According to the late star, she was attracted to the medium of silent film because it masked her lack of talent.
Despite the fact that Marion Davies herself expressed that she didn’t have any acting talent, there are numerous people- including the aforementioned Orson Welles- who disagree. Her performances in films such as the 1920s comedies Show People and The Patsy are considered to be some of the best comedic performances of the era. Marion also may have felt that the medium of silent film helped mask her talent, but she ended up being nearly as much of a star once talkies were introduced as she was during the 1920s.
Marion Overcame a Stutter to Be a Star
According to the late Marion Davies, she suffered from a stutter that was never a problem during her silent-film days. However, the stutter became a big problem once sound was introduced to pictures. Thankfully, Marion managed to overcome her stutter and find success in the world of talkies. Most feel that the actress had enough talent to warrant her fame, even if she was a bit overhyped in the presses.
Besides spamming her in the media, there were other things that William Randolph Hearst did that ended up hurting Marion Davies’ career in the long run instead of helping it. For one thing, William was particularly brutal when it came to his interactions with other studios. When studios such as MGM came knocking on William’s door to get a piece of the Marion pie, the media mogul shut them down harshly.
Getting notable roles with other studios could’ve helped Marion Davies become a much bigger star. However, William Randolph Hearst prevented this from happening. The media mogul had made Marion a star, but he was intent on keeping her under his wing. Another notable thing about the relationship between Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst is the fact that the pair never got married. William was married over the course of his and Marion’s entire relationship. Apparently, Marion wanted nothing more than for William to finally divorce his wife and marry her. However, this wasn’t an option for William.
William Randolph Hearst Never Divorced His Wife
William Randolph Hearst’s wife eventually found out that her husband was cheating on her with Marion Davies. This put a huge strain on their relationship, but the wife still refused a divorce. This meant that Marion and William were never given the chance to get married, even if the media mogul might’ve been open to the idea. Given all that we’ve explored about Marion and William’s relationship, some might think that there was no real love involved between the two. However, this seems to have been pretty far from the case.
By all accounts, Marion Davies truly adored William Randolph Hearst, and the media mogul adored the actress back. One of the major things that allegedly clued Marion and William into the fact that Citizen Kane was supposed to be about them was that “Rosebud” was an affectionate pet name that Marion had for William’s genitalia. This rumor was never substantiated, but one notable person that has claimed this legend to be the truth is writer Gore Vidal.
For the most part, it seems that Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst took their relationship fairly serious and were faithful to each other. However, as we’ve already discussed, it has been rumored that Marion had other affairs with a few figures. Besides Charlie Chaplin, it has also been alleged that Marion had an affair with film producer Thomas Ince. Even worse, Marion was rumored to have possibly murdered the man! Thomas Ince died of indigestion on a yacht party being thrown by William, and rumors persisted for years that Marion had poisoned the producer.
Marion Finally Married After William’s Death
Marion and William remained together until the media mogul’s passing in 1951. Following William’s death, Marion found another love interest. This time, there was no wife getting in the way of her and him getting married. The first and only husband that Marion ever had was an actor by the name of Horace G. Brown. They were married from 1951 until Marion’s death from stomach cancer a decade later.
According to the late Orson Welles, Marion Davies could’ve been a much bigger star if it weren’t for her association with William Randolph Hearst. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Marion Davies dropped out of school to become a chorus girl, and that she may or may not have had an affair with Charlie Chaplin? Comment down below!