Join host Kari Bovee, award-winning author of historical fiction as she shares stories of strong women of history combined with mysteries of the past.
Most famously known as William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies deserves credit in her own right as an actress, film producer, screenwriter and philanthropist.
In 1916, Broadway showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. signed Marion on as a featured player in his popular Ziegfeld Follies. That same year, she also made her screen debut modeling gowns made by Lady Duff Gordon in a fashion newsreel.
The following year, she appeared in her first feature film, Runaway Romany, directed by her brother-in-law, Broadway producer George Lederer. Marion not only contributed as the lead actress, she also wrote the screenplay.
Then she starred in two films—The Burden of Proof and Cecilia of the Pink Roses. Playing mainly light comic roles, she quickly became a popular film personality appearing in lead roles alongside major male stars. She earned a lot of money and spent much of it helping family and friends.
She soon caught the eye of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and took on the new role of “mistress.” Hearst, highly supportive of her film vocation, founded Cosmopolitan Pictures to produce her films. He also took over management of her career.
While Hearst kept his wife at bay, Marion filled the void as friend, lover, and hostess of Hearst’s lavish parties for the Hollywood elite held at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, and also aboard his luxury yacht, Oneida.
Linked with Hearst’s famous name and lifestyle, Marion’s name would also be linked to scandal when famous Hollywood film producer, Thomas Ince, died.
In November 1924, Marion was hosting a weekend party on the Oneida. It had been rumored around town that Marion had fallen victim to the charms of playboy and known philanderer Charlie Chaplin, who was also a guest aboard the yacht that fated weekend. One story has it that Hearst, jealous of Chaplin, took a gun and fired it into what he thought was Chaplin’s cabin. Instead, it was Thomas Ince who got the bullet. There has never been any evidence to support that story.
His autopsy showed that he suffered an attack of acute indigestion and the cause of death was actually a heart attack. But, people love to gossip. Especially about a wealthy business tycoon and his mistress.
Marion stayed with Hearst until his death in 1951. Eleven weeks and one day later, she married Horace Brown, but the marriage didn’t last. In her later years, Davies devoted herself to charity work. In 1952, she donated nearly two million dollars to establish a children’s clinic at UCLA which was named for her.
Marion was one of many well-known women in history who got her start with the Ziegfeld Follies. I was so fascinated with the Ziegfeld phenomenon, I wrote a historical mystery with the Follies as a backdrop called Grace in the Wings. If you liked this flash briefing, you might like my novel. You can find Grace in the Wings on Amazon.