Marion Davies: A Biography

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Marion Davies had quite a colorful life. From a career in the film industry to a well-known relationship with William Randolph Hearst, many stories about her life have been documented and revisited over the years. Though she experienced many successes in her career, her life did have its fair share of challenges.

Being the partner of Hearst opened many doors for her, though it also caused skepticism among audiences. Fans of her work supported her and viewed her many films. However, others questioned her successes in relation to the power and influence Hearst held. A caricature of herself in Citizen Kane (1941) also complicated matters for how she was perceived by the public.

Of course, her family life was also complex. Though she was close to her fellow Douras family members, many of her family members passed away early on in her life. Naturally, she was also close to Hearst and their friends, but being part of an affair certainly led to the issues of Hearst’s wife dealing with the affair and Hearst’s children struggling to accept her as their father’s romantic partner.

Marion Davies: A Biography was written by Fred Lawrence Guiles in 1972. However, it has been newly re-released in a modernized edition by Turner Publishing Company, in addition to several other biographical works by Guiles.

The biography begins with an ending–specifically, the end to Hearst’s life and Davies’s final days as his partner. Sensing the end of an era and Heart family tensions, Davies’s despair and questions about the future are quite evident. The portrayal of Davies is gripping from the beginning and effectively portrays Hearst’s final days before chronologically looking back at Davies’s life.

The portrayal of Davies is a sympathetic one. By all accounts, she was a warm, kind person, devoted to her family and friends. Moreover, she had a knack for comedy, as she frequently carried out comedic roles during her film career. Her dedication carried over to her life with Hearst, evidenced especially by the intimate depiction of moments they shared together as he lay dying.

In reading this biography, I enjoyed learning more about Davies’s life and professional connections. The portrayal of her life with Hearst and how she was treated after his passing–particularly during his services–was fascinating. Being a Chicagoan, I was also interested to learn that she spent some time in Chicago. At this point, I am eager to track down some places of relevance to her time here as I learn more about her legacy.

Though this biography is told in Guiles’s inviting narrative, this edition is not perfect. I caution this viewpoint by mentioning that I have not visited the original 1972 edition, but only the re-release that was provided to me through Turner Publishing. Due to this, I am not sure if the errors I noticed are present in the original or only in this edition. While reading, I did notice typographical errors and frequently misspelled words. Words meant to state “life” and “live” were instead typed as “fife” and “five.” One particular section ended mid-sentence, while the next section began by addressing a different point. These apparent inconsistencies affected my enjoyment of the biography.

Errors aside, Davies’s life still remains highly interesting to me and Guiles’s writing did capture my interest. Davies is an intriguing individual to study from entertainment and historical perspectives and her filmography is well worth exploring.

Marion Davies: A Biography is available for purchase through the Turner Publishing Company website.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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