Marion Davies: Closet Comedienne


Sadly, Marion Davies (1897-1961) is remembered for everything nowadays BUT her acting career: the Thomas Ince death, her relationship with William Randolph Hearst and affair with Charlie Chaplin, and the Citizen Kane controversy chief among them. Hearst famously pressured the former Ziegfeld chorus girl into doing costume dramas and more dignified roles, things like When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922) and Janice Meredith (1924), possibly holding her career back by not allowing her to do the broader comedies that were rumored to be her forte.

“Show People” (1928)

And the evidence remains before us in comedies like Beverly of Graustark (1926),  Tillie the Toiler (1927), The Fair Co-Ed (1927), The Patsy (1928), Show People (1928) and Not So Dumb (1930). Though she was reputed to have a stuttering problem in her earlier days, she presents no sign of it in her great pre-code vehicles like The Floradora Girl (1930), Polly of the Circus (1932), Blondie of the Follies (1932), and Peg O’ My Heart (1933). She retired from pictures in 1937.

By the way, I highly recommend her autobiography The Times We Had if you want to meet the real Marion Davies. She’s certainly not completely frank (or sometimes even honest) but you do get to encounter her intelligence and humor; a needed antidote to the impression left by the Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz creation “Susan Alexander”.

For more on silent and slapstick film don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, 

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