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Who Was Marion Davies? How Did She Die?

December 4, 2020
4 min read

Directed by David Fincher (‘The Social Network’), Netflix’s black-and-white biographical drama ‘Mank’ tells the extraordinary story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Mank for short) (Gary Oldman) and how he wrote the script for one of the greatest movies of all time, ‘Citizen Kane’. The film has two distinct narratives. One follows a bedridden Mank as he attempts to churn out the script before the deadline; the other shows, in flashbacks, his interactions with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Among these famous and influential people is Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), whose real-life counterpart was an incredibly talented actress. She was also the mistress of William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), the biggest media mogul of the time, for over three decades until his death in 1951. Let’s find out more about her life!

Who Was Marion Davies?

Davies isn’t Marion’s birth name. Born Marion Cecilia Elizabeth Brooklyn Douras on January 3, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York, she was the daughter of a lawyer and judge father and a homemaker mother. She grew up with four siblings, all of whom were older than her. When she was a teenager, Davies dropped out of school, hoping to pursue a career as a showgirl. It was her sister Reine who changed her surname to Davies first, drawing inspiration from a billboard advertisement for Valentine Davies.

Soon after, Marion did the same as well. In the early days of her career, she was active in the theater scene of New York. In 1916, Hearst saw Davies for the first time while she appeared in the ‘Follies’ at the New Amsterdam Theatre. She was 19, while he was 53. They would begin their affair two years later after she signed a contract with his Cosmopolitan Pictures.

In the course of the next decade, she starred in about 30 films, most of which were financed by Hearst. Her performances in films like ‘When Knighthood Was in Flower’ (1922) and ‘Little Old New York’ (1923) made her a Hollywood superstar. Because of her box-office success, she was named “Queen of the Screen” at a theater owner convention in 1924.

Image Credit: Turner Classic Movies

Millicent Hearst was Hearst’s wife and the mother to his five sons. After the news of his affair with Davies became public, it consolidated the estrangement that was already there between Hearst and Millicent. In 1926, she moved to New York, while Hearst and Davies started living in Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Davies’ career witnessed a sharp decline during the Great Depression, but her influence did not. She and Hearst hosted these lavish parties, and all the stars in the Tinseltown, from Clark Gable to Charlie Chaplin to Bette Davis, attended them.

Image Credit: Collection SFMOMA Gift of Lisa and John Pritzker

Mank was also a frequent attendee as both Davies and Hearst took a liking to him. Davies and Hearst allegedly had a daughter, Patricia Lake, who was raised by Davies’ sister Rose and her first husband. Neither Davies nor Hearst ever spoke about her parentage. However, Lake reportedly informed her children that Hearst and Davies were her parents right before her death. This is disputed by the Hearst estate.

Image Credit: Playground to the Stars

Hearst never divorced Millicent, and he and Davies never married. She took care of him in the final years of his life. After his death, Davies exchanged wedding vows with sea captain Horace Brown on October 31, 1951, in Las Vegas. Their relationship was a tumulus one, filled with violence, but she didn’t divorce him.

How Did Marion Davies Die?

Davies passed away due to malignant osteomyelitis on September 22, 1961, in Hollywood, California. She was 64 years old at the time. She devoted herself to extensive charity work in the later years of her life. Her accomplishment as an actress somewhat has been overshadowed by the character Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) in ‘Citizen Kane’, which is supposed to be based on her. Both Mank and Orson Welles have maintained throughout their lives that the character wasn’t modeled after her.

Read More: Who Was Mank’s Wife? How Did She Die?

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