You could think of Marion Davies this way.
Recall the Susan Alexander character in Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane? You know, the aspiring opera singer (played by Dorothy Comingore) who was pushed way beyond her artistic limits by her media-mogul sugar-Daddy determined that he was not about to made to look ridiculous.
Well, that character was loosely — very loosely — based on Marion Davies, the longtime lover of William Randolph Hearst. She and the press magnate were inseparable for 32 years until his death in 1951. Although Welles denies that the Comingore character was not directly based on Marion Davies, the comparisons are inevitable.
Davies is the subject of our Monday Quiz published on April 7 of last year. Why the return engagement? Well, this time we’d like to emphasize what a big star Davies actually was, and how insightful she was about the many famous people she encountered, usually at Hearst’s legendary complex, San Simeon, in northern California.
Our earlier quiz was based on biographies of Hearst. We have since come across Marion’s very personal 1975 memoir — The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst — which covers enough rich material to warrant another Monday Quiz. The under-appreciated fact is that Davies on her own was a huge star and perhaps the highest paid actress in the country.
So here we go. As usual, questions today, answers tomorrow.
1) Question: Both Marion and Charlie Chaplin were both highly uneasy about the introduction of talking movies in the late 1920’s. Why? a) Marion was a stutterer, and Chaplin had a pronounced Cockney accent; b) The money was much better for stars of silent movies; c) Chaplin considered himself a pantomimist while Davies had a Brooklyn accent; or d) Both were merely afraid of change.
2) Question: Chaplin and Hearst bet against each other about the future of “talkies”? Who won?
3) Question: Davies considered Clark Gable to be an untalented lummox and tried at all costs to avoid working with him. a) True; or b) False.
4) Question: Leslie Howard was an actor Davies admired but what about him especially fascinated her? a) His masculine virility; b) His wife; c) His playful nature; or d) The way he died.
5) Question: Davies admired Howard Hughes because: a) He was hard of hearing and elicited her sympathy; b) He was kind and smart too, but didn’t show it; c) He was addicted to ice cream; or d) He didn’t talk too much.
6) Question: Marion was astonished at the behavior of Greta Garbo because a) Of her shyness; b) Of her uncaring treatment of lover and costar John Gilbert; c) Of her courage in making her first talkie, Anna Christie; or d) Of her stinginess with a buck.
7) Question: George Bernard Shaw visited in 1932 the set of Peg o’ My Heart, a picture Marion was making at MGM. What was Shaw’s reaction? a) Awe at the efficiency of studio production techniques; b) Discovered that nobody “knows what they are doing… they are all stupid”; c) He developed a crush on Davies; or d) Said absolutely nothing to anyone.
8) Question: Marion admired Gloria Swanson because: a) She loved to have fun; b) She was a prankster with a mean streak; c) Was nasty to men with mustaches; or d) Loathed Erich von Stroheim.
9) Question: Marion privately loathed big movie studio heads, particularly Jack Warner and Louis B. Mayer. a) True; or b) False.
10) Question: Davies was harshly critical of Gable, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby and Robert Montgomery because she regarded the four as inveterate “scene stealers.” a) True; or b) False.