Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

5% Talent, 95% PR

Marion Davies
Marion Davies

Of course, when Hearst learned of Marion's aspirations to become a star, no expense was spared to make that happen. She became the star of a production company set up just for her: Cosmopolitan Productions. "For the greater glory of Marion Davies — a vanity operation if ever there was one," according to Kenneth Anger in his book, Hollywood Babylon. Despite a noticeable stutter, this speech impediment had no effect on Marion's early film career, since no one had to listen to her. "Talkies" wouldn't come along until the late '20s/early '30s.

In Citizen Kane, after his second wife, Susan Alexander, confides a desire to be a professional singer, Kane builds a million-dollar opera house in Chicago, primarily to showcase her. However, she proves to be a flop and she gets bombed by the critics. In real life, Davies got rave reviews for her movies but, of course, those were written by paid cheerleaders at the Hearst papers. Among her fawning fans was none other than Louella Parsons, who was comfortably lodged on Hearst's payroll with a lifetime contract.

Book cover: Hollywood Babylon
Book cover: Hollywood Babylon

Outside the tightly controlled loop, though, Davies' performance grades were not so hot. By most objective accounts, both contemporary and later, Marion was not a particularly good actress. She was just another pretty face; one among many in the film industry. Because of her bubbly personality, she was better suited to comedy roles, but Hearst preferred her in dignified, dramatic parts, and he guided her career in that direction, much to her dismay at times. As well as the dismay of critics and moviegoers.

Even Marion, herself, reportedly recognized her own shortcomings talent-wise. One of her most famous quotes was, "With me it was 5 per cent talent and 95 per cent publicity."

In later years, faced with bankruptcy during the Depression, Hearst's empire was reportedly saved by Marion selling off between $1 and $2 million of the jewelry and gifts he had lavished upon her over the years. Less than a year after Hearst's death in 1951, Marion was married for the first and only time to a former NYC policeman and part-time actor named Horace Brown. The marriage was reportedly not a happy one but they stayed together until her death from jaw cancer in 1961.

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