Eve Golden’s YouTube Theater: Do not Get Me Started With Marion Davies and Orson Welles


“American Heiress” via Amazon.com.

Rush out and get Jeffrey Toobin’s new book about the Patty Hearst kidnapping, American Heiress. It’s really one of the best-written, best-researched books I’ve read lately, and is actually laugh-out-loud funny at points. I am quite old enough to remember how obsessed we all were by the case—it was like John Waters directed It Happened One Night (a madcap heiress kidnapped by The Filthiest People Alive).


I do have two quibbles, though. For one, Toobin misuses the word “decimated,” but I guess I have to just give that up as a lost cause at this point. But in discussing William Randolph Hearst, he dismisses Marion Davies as just a mistress whom he tried to turn into a movie star, “which her talent failed to justify.” To quote the 1990s, “oh no you di-‘ent, Jeffrey Toobin.” I thought we were long past the “Marion Davies was Hearst’s talentless mistress” crap that Orson Welles propagated (and let’s not get started on Welles’ own supposed acting skills—ever get a load of his “they’re always after me Lucky Charms!” Irishman in The Lady from Shanghai?).

Marion Davies—one of the nicest people in Hollywood, by the way—may have been only competent as a dramatic actress, though she was by no means awful. But as a comedienne—especially in the silent era—she was fully the equal of Mabel Normand, Constance Talmadge and Dorothy Gish.

Here she is in The Patsy (1928), doing wonderfully vicious parodies of her contemporaries Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri:


And here she is that same year in her best film, Show People, “Registering Emotion” for the poor central casting guy:

Now, I suggest you read the terrific American Heiress, but I also suggest you tell Jeffrey Toobin that he wouldn’t know a good comic performance if it bit him on the ankle and, oh yeah, people, please stop saying “decimated” when you mean “destroyed!”

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Books and Authors, Eve Golden, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Eve Golden’s YouTube Theater: Do not Get Me Started With Marion Davies and Orson Welles

  1. I heard about this on Nitrateville and tweeted him about it. No response! Bizarrely, I just ran across something similar in that “Room 1219” book: the author refers to all Davies’ movies as “vanity projects” (which in a sense they were, but the implication is that they were worthless, which they weren’t). About “The Red Mill,” the author writes that audiences were not interested in “a Dutch comedy starring William Hearst’s girlfriend,” as if she had no identity and popularity of her own at the time.


  2. mandymarie20 says:

    I thought we had got over the ‘Citizen Kane’ view of Marion Davies as well. While she is not my favorite actress, she did do some decent work.


  3. Howard Decker says:

    I agree about Marion. She was very funny. An imp, sort of like Mary Pickford. Hearst didn’t do her a lot of favors by slathering the public with stories about her. He overdid it, as he did with about everything. I spoke to Marion over the phone three or four times. I worked as a reporter on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift and she would call and complain. And she would get me, the only reporter on that late.


  4. Laura C. says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, Eve. Anyone who says Marion Davies was “talentless” has obviously never seen Show People (one of my very favourite silents).

    I shudder to think of her comedic talents being wasted in tripe like Cecelia of the Pink Roses. If you ask me, those projects were much more about Hearst’s vanity than Marion’s – roses surrounding the screen? Real perfume wafting over the audience? Good lord.


  5. Benito says:

    Marion Davies was charmante. PS. I was in a dorm two blocks away when Patty Hearst was kidnapped, and doZens of police swarmed her building afterwards


    • Eve says:

      One of my college dorm-mates looked like Patty Hearst (I can’t even remember her name, we all called her “Tania”), so for her birthday in 1975 we bought her a beret and a plastic machine gun and took photos of her holding us all hostage.

      I don’t think you could do that on a college campus nowadays.


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