Marion Davies (January 3, 1897 - September 23, 1961) was a United States actress best known as the longtime mistress of newspaper publisher and sometime politician William Randolph Hearst.
Marion Davies in the 1920sOf Greek and Irish heritage, she was born Marion Douras in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Herbert Douras, a lawyer who moved in New York City political circles and Rose Reilly, formerly of Jersey City, New Jersey.
Marion was the youngest of five children. Her elder siblings included Rose, Reine, and Ethel. A brother, Charles, died at the age of 15 from drowning in 1906.
The Douras brood lived near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but already the bright lights of Manhattan beckoned to the sisters. They all became showgirls on the Great White Way, where Florenz Ziegfeld was beginning his spectacular annual "Ziegfeld Follies" shows. These shows were considered the high end of vaudeville.
The girls changed their surname to Davies, which one of them spotted from a realtor's sign in the neighborhood. Even as New York was the melting pot for new immigrants, having a WASP surname greatly helped one's prospects.
Marion outshone her siblings with a 20-year movie career, playing light comedic roles well into the 1930s and giving generous financial assistance to her family and friends. These facts are still overshadowed by her relationship with William Randolph Hearst, who was married to former showgirl turned society grande dame Millicent Veronica Willson, and Davies' fabulous life as hostess at San Simeon and Ocean House in Santa Monica. Her career, however, was hampered by Hearst's insistence that she play distinguished, dramatic parts, as opposed to the comic roles that were her forte, as well as her increasing dependence on alcohol (she used to hide bottles of liquor in San Simeon's toilet tanks).
In all she played in 50 films. She was producer in 10 of them. Her last was in 1937.
She is sometimes confused with the shrill, talentless Susan Alexander character portrayed in Citizen Kane, which was based loosely on Hearst's life. But there's little similarity between the fictional character and real woman.
At one point Hearst's empire crumbled and he was about to lose everything. Over Hearst's objections, Davies sold millions of dollars of the gifts Hearst had given her over the years to raise money to bail him out. Davies commented that the gold digger had fallen in love.
Ten weeks after the death of William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies married for the first time, at the age of 54, on October 31, 1951. Her husband was a former sea captain and policeman and sometime actor, Horace G. Brown. It was not a happy marriage: Marion filed divorce papers twice but no divorce was ever finalized.
In 1952 Davies donated $1.9 million to establish a children's clinic at UCLA, which still bears her name. She also fought childhood diseases through the Marion Davies Foundation.
Marion Davies died in Hollywood, California. Her funeral was attended by old-time Hollywood legends and President Herbert Hoover. She is buried in the Hollywood Forever Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood.
During the lifetime of Davies' niece Patricia Lake (née Van Cleeve), the latter was said to be the daughter of Marion Davies's sister Rose Davies and her first husband, George Van Cleeve. (Patricia married Arthur Lake, who played Dagwood in numerous films.) After Patricia's death, her family announced that she was in fact the daughter of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, though this claim does not appear to have been verified independently. However, Patricia and her husband are buried with Marion Davies.