(Also for ABC Wednesday: "H" is for "Hearst")
I’ll begin this with an apology: Sorry, Marion!
Now, to get on with my post, if you go back to when Berowne was a little kid – and that’s going way back – there came a time when my family decided to do something adventurous.
We decided to visit Santa Monica.
There were, of course, no freeways in Southern California in those days. Santa Monica was quite a trip from where we lived in Los Angeles, and you made it with little winding roads. It was like driving to a different state.
I remember my mother pointing out to me a huge residence on the beach there. “That’s Marion Davies’ place,” she said.
I was a more or less innocent tyke at the time; I had heard of the early film star but I was completely unaware that she was the mistress of William Randolph Hearst or that the famous newspaper magnate had built this incredible “beach cottage” for her.
Incredible it was: a massive three-story Georgian mansion with thirty-four bedrooms and three guest houses. In it Davies and Hearst threw some of the most elaborate social functions Hollywood had ever seen.
When Hearst had met the 19-year-old Marion Davies she was a dancer; he fell madly in love with her and he wanted to turn her into a film actress and, ultimately, make her a great star. And he had the power to tell the studios what to do.
Movie-goers would see Marion’s pictures, but they often suspected that she was in a given film because Hearst had put her there; she didn’t get there by herself.
As I’m sure you know, the motion picture “Citizen Kane,” produced in 1941 by Orson Welles, told the story of a power-mad character named Kane who greatly resembled Hearst.
In addition, the film shows Kane meeting a performer, an attractive young girl, and how he tries to take over her career.
The girl is a mediocre singer, but Kane decides he will turn her into a star – not just a talented singer of songs but an international star of grand opera. It’s hopeless and the girl knows it, but Kane persists.
The movie audiences usually assumed this was not just the story of Hearst but also of his petite amie, the actress of dubious talent named Marion Davies.
But over the years there has been a reevaluation, a new, closer look at the actress. It is now clear that the fictional girl in “Citizen Kane” wasn’t like Marion at all. Commentaters and critics have studied the body of her work and have come to the conclusion that Marion Davies was indeed a fine actress and, especially, a gifted comedienne.
Hearst wanted her to perform in filmed epics, classic costume dramas, but what she wanted, what she was good at, was romantic comedy. His patronage turned out to do more harm than good for her career.
I have to admit I used to be one of those who felt that Marion Davies was a performer of slight talent. But I later checked out a few of her best films and I certainly changed my mind, so I’ll take this opportunity to offer her an apology.
(A bit late, I know; she died in 1961.)