Actress Marion Davies is best known today for being the illicit mistress of the troubled tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Their tumultuous relationship lit up the papers in the Golden Age of Hollywood and helped inspire the classic film Citizen Kane—but Davies was so much more than arm candy.
From her humble beginnings to her heartbreaking love life, here are 45 scandalous facts about Marion Davies.
Marion Davies Facts
1. Moving on up
Davies’ full name at birth was Marion Cecilia Elizabeth Brooklyn Douras. Growing up in a middle class family near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the Douras sisters soon changed their name to “Davies” because it sounded more British, which they thought would help them gain entry into the upper echelons of New York society.
They came up with the name “Davies” after seeing it on a real-estate sign.
2. Four Beauties
Marion was the youngest of five children and the baby of the family. Her three older sisters, Ethel, Rose, and Reine, each grew up to be great beauties in their own right. All three girls were involved in show business from a young age, and little Marion grew up with a desperate desire to be in the limelight.
3. Gone But Not Forgotten
Marion also had one older brother, Charles, but tragedy struck when he was just 15 years old and Marion was still a very young girl. In 1906, Charles drowned, leaving his family bereft. Yet Marion and the other Davies sisters never forgot their brother. Years later, Marion’s favorite nephew was named Charles in honor of their fallen family member.
4. Self-Made Woman
Davies didn’t wait for anyone to come around and tell her she should be famous. She made it happen for herself. Her first appearance on film was in 1917’s Runaway Romany, which she wrote herself and enlisted her brother-in-law to direct. The silent film failed to win over critics, but she continued pursuing a film career anyway.
5. Presidential Prank
As Davies started to make it in Hollywood, she became known for her roaring sense of adventure and her wicked sense of humor. The good-time gal even reportedly met President Calvin Coolidge and tricked him into getting drunk. How did she do it? She told the Head of State that the wine he was drinking was harmless fruit juice, then watched the fun unfold.
6. What, Like It’s Hard?
Many actresses struggle and toil in virtual anonymity, trying to break into the cold, hard system of Hollywood—but for the beautiful Davies, fame was an absolute breeze. She was an accomplished movie star for a significant part of her adult life, and in 1923, she was the number one box office starlet in the country.
7. Long May She Reign
This box office title also came with a lavish ceremony. At a formal ball, the Astor Hotel in New York City crowned Marion Davies “The Queen of the Screen” alongside her kingly male counterpart Rudolph Valentino.
8. The Tycoon and the Ingenue
The most infamous part of Davies’ life is still her long-term tryst with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Davies and Hearst met long before she was famous, and Hearst even founded a production company, Cosmopolitan Pictures, seemingly for the sole purpose of showcasing Davies. He then promoted her relentlessly in his newspapers.
9. The Other Woman
Though Hearst was stuck in a loveless marriage with Millicent Hearst, he quickly fell head over heels in love with Davies, even going so far as to move the whole Davies family into a lavish Manhattan townhouse to show his adoration. The passionate dalliance turned into a 30-year affair that was soon called the “worst kept secret in Hollywood.”
10. Taking Liberties
Orson Welles‘ film Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. It traces the life of a heavily fictionalized William Randolph Hearst and, many believe, his relationship with Marion Davies. Davies’ fictional counterpart Susan Alexander Kane, however, is cruelly sketched: Welles portrays Mrs. Kane as entirely talentless and more than a little vapid.
11. The Green-Eyed Monster
William Randolph Hearst was notoriously jealous, and his mania extended far into his relationship with Davies. When she was still starring in high-profile vehicles, he would reportedly even demand that she be cast opposite men who were either gay or middle-aged—ensuring that she didn’t accidentally fall in love with a heartthrob on set.
12. Maid Marion
For the next three decades, Hearst all but dictated Davies’ career. For example, he loved seeing her in sweeping costume dramas, and frequently found ways to cast her in upcoming historical pieces.
13. The Robin Williams of Her Time
Davies was enormously good at impersonations, and she became famous for her send ups of the celebrities of the day. Whenever she was at parties, all her friends would inevitably call her up to perform for them. This talent wasn’t just limited to private events either: she showcases the skill in her film The Patsy.
14. Davies and the Tramp
According to Davies herself, no less a figure than Charlie Chaplin performed stunts for her on the set of the 1925 film Zander the Great. In the scene where Davies’ character is inside a lion’s cage, the great Chaplin supposedly stepped in, imitating Davies while dressed up in drag. It’s a strange honor, but it’s an honor nonetheless.
15. Puff Piece
Hearst employed a gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, who frequently gave Davies overblown praise in his newspapers. Her constant catchphrase—which many readers laughed at—was “Marion never looked lovelier.”
16. A Castle for His Queen
Hearst and Davies delighted in throwing lavish, over-the-top parties for their famous friends, and spent a lot of time hosting guests at their Beverly Hills estate. In 1925, they added another party pad when Hearst bought Davies an opulent castle in Wales. When the playwright George Bernard Shaw saw the humble abode, he quipped, “This is what God would have built if he had had the money.”
17. Set in Stone
Davies was just the 13th movie star in history to make an imprint of her hands and feet in the cement outside of the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
18. Saint Marion
During her time in Hollywood, Davies wasn’t just known for her parties and thrill-seeking personality—she was also universally known for her big heart. Countless tales were told of her exceptional kindness to the casts and crews of films she worked on. In fact, she made it a regular practice to anonymously pay the medical bills of crew members who were ill.
19. Your Name in Lights
In one of Hearst’s more ridiculous moments, he purchased the Cameo Theatre in San Francisco, remodeled it, and then named it “The Marion Davies Theatre.” The cinema was just down the street from his offices, and if he looked out of his window, he could see the neon letters spelling out her name at all hours of the day.
20. Come to America!
One person who was on the receiving end of Davies’ good heart was silent film actress Florence Turner. Though Turner had once been a famous star, she had since fallen very far from her glamorous heights and was living in poverty. Davies promptly arranged for Turner and her mother to relocate to the US, and even employed Turner in her production company.
21. Nice Try, Willy
Another of Hearst’s ploys to boost Marion’s career was his enormous PR push to get Davies an Academy Award nomination for her dramatic film Peg o’ My Heart. This attempt was sadly unsuccessful. Davies was not nominated for the award that year, and—perhaps even more tragically—she never would be in any year after.
23. Kiss and Tell
Though many never understood Davies’ attraction to the possessive, controlling Hearst, she explained her reasons to Charlie Chaplin’s wife one night. “God, I’d give everything I have to marry that silly old man,” she once said—though not just because Hearst gave her wealth and stability. As she said, it was because “He gives me the feeling I’m worth something to him.”
24. Th-th-that’s all, Folks!
Peg o’ My Heart was the only “talkie” that incorporated Davies’ real-life stutter into her character. In her other films, the stutter was either suppressed or ignored.
25. No Laughing Matter
One of Hearst’s other demands for Davies’ Hollywood career was his insistence that she focus on acting in serious dramas rather than comedies. In films such as Show People, Hearst likewise scoffed at the thought of his mistress making a fool out of herself in slapstick comedy, and forbade her from acting in those kinds of scenes.
26. Life of the Party
Even so, the happy, effervescent Davies loved acting in comedies, and she maintained close friendships with many United Artists comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. In this way, she was often able to sneak in comedic roles even under Hearst’s watchful eyes.
27. Stick Them With the Pointy End
In her highly successful film When Knighthood Was in Flower, Davies’ character disguises herself as a boy and finds herself duelling men with swords. Believe it or not, Davies went full steam ahead with the scene and took weeks of lessons in fencing to film the scene herself. Marion Davies always was a go-getter.
28. Riches to Rags
Though Hearst enjoyed a lavish life while he could get it, his luck ran out soon enough. By the 1930s, he was in dire financial straits—but Davies still kept by his side and even sacrificed herself for her lover. She sold off much of her jewelry, stocks, and bonds, and even wrote Hearst a million dollar check to keep him afloat.
29. A Graceful Exit?
Near the end of her life in the public eye, Davies claimed she wanted to retire from Hollywood in order to be a better “companion and confidante” to Hearst. The truth, however, may be much darker: some say that since the ever-ambitious Davies was pushing 40 years old, she felt like her days as a marquee star were coming to an end—and she didn’t want supporting roles.
30. It’s All Too Much
In her later years, Davies and Hearst were increasingly isolated from the outside world, and the pressures of her relationship—as well as Hearst’s financial troubles—caused her to turn to alcoholism.
31. Overcoming Obstacles
Ever since her childhood, Davies was afflicted by a stutter that affected her speech. This wasn’t an issue when Hollywood’s films were silent, but the coming of the “talkies” absolutely terrified her. She feared that her career would sink the moment audiences heard her speak—and heartbreakingly, she was at least partly right.
Though she made a few talkies, she never reached the heights of her silent film career.
32. Making Bank
Davies’ career in film lasted around 20 years in total. Within that time, she completed a whopping 48 films.
33. An Heiress at Last
In August 1951, William Randolph Hearst died, less rich and more isolated, at the ripe old age of 88. When he passed, he didn’t forget about his beautiful Marion: he left the actress an enormous amount of shares in his corporation, as well as a hefty chunk of money in a trust fund. Davies—who was only 54 at the time—quickly gave up all her stock options in his company.
34. As Told by Me
In her memoir The Times We Had, Davies admits that Hearst’s maniacal support of her fame, far from helping her career, probably worsened her chances at lasting stardom. Her career is only just now beginning to be re-evaluated as an worthwhile entity apart from William Randolph Hearst’s massive, controlling influence.
35. High Praise
Though many people see the similarities between Marion Davies and Citizen Kane‘s flighty Susan Alexander Kane, director Orson Welles claims that he never intended the character as a scathing portrait of the real-life actress. “As for Marion [Davies],” Welles once said, “she was an extraordinary woman—nothing like the character…in the movie.”
36. What a Way to Go
One of Davies’ final public appearances was her attendance at the inauguration of US President John F. Kennedy in January 1961. She was an old friend of Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and she sat very close to the new president when he made his now-famous speech that day. Sadly, tragedy struck Davies just months after her appearance…
37. No Longer With Us
In the early 1960s, Davies was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The disease was incredibly aggressive, and she died on September 22, 1961 in her Hollywood home. She was only 64 years old.
38. Going Back to the Start
When she died, Davies was given a burial fit for a queen. She now rests in no less than a tomb shaped like a miniature Greek temple, with views overlooking the lake in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Despite these grandiose surroundings, her grave doesn’t forget her roots. Her original surname of “Douras” is inscribed over the doorway.
There are still a lot of dark rumors afloat about the final days of William Randolph Hearst. According to one source, Davies had very little understanding of what went on in his last moments. The house was crowded with people, noise, and chaos as everyone tried to say their last goodbye, and Davies got so upset that she was given a sedative.
When she woke up, her relatives had to inform her that Hearst had already died.
As the illicit “other woman,” Davies was banned from attending Hearst’s funeral.
41. Single and Not Ready to Mingle
For the first time in decades, the bereft Davies was truly single after Hearst’s death—and she reacted by making the worst decision of her life. Just 11 weeks after Hearst died, she married a man named Horace Brown in a quick Las Vegas ceremony. Unsurprisingly but no less tragically, the union was doomed to an absolutely heartbreaking end.
Brown treated her horrifically, even by his own admission; “I’m a beast,” he once confessed. Though Davies filed for divorce twice, neither attempt was ever finalized. “I took him back. I don’t know why,” she once explained. “I guess because he’s standing right beside me, crying.” At her death, she was still married to Brown.
42. A Secret Revealed
Throughout her life with William Randolph Hearst, Davies frequently spent time with her niece Patricia Lake—but Lake was hiding a dark secret. Just ten hours before she died in 1993 of lung cancer, Lake made a shocking deathbed confession. She was actually the illicit, illegitimate love child of Davies and Hearst.
She had kept the secret all through her life, even after the deaths of both her parents, and only ever told close family and friends.
43. Absent Parents
According to Lake, Davies told her of her true parentage when the girl was 11 years old. Hearst confirmed it much later, when she was 17 years old and he was about to walk her down the aisle to get married.
44. Tender Buttons
In Citizen Kane’s famous ending, we finally see that Kane’s darling “Rosebud” is actually a childhood sled. However, the real meaning of “Rosebud” may be much more scandalous. Writer Gore Vidal, who knew Marion Davies, claimed that “Rosebud” was what Hearst lovingly called Davies’, er, private nether regions.
45. Lovers’ Quarrel
Scandal followed Davies and Hearst around throughout their entire relationship, but one of the most infamous events was the mysterious death of producer Thomas Ince in 1924 while he was aboard Hearst’s luxury yacht. Rumors swirled that Hearst had shot Ince in a jealous rage after mistaking him for Charlie Chaplin, who he supposedly had seen seducing his mistress on the ship.
It’s a juicy story, but the truth is equally strange. Ince suffered from intense indigestion on the ship after drinking liquor, left the boat, and then died in his home of a vague heart condition. We may never know what really happened that day.