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DEBRETT’S IS A TRADITIONAL British company renowned for publishing Debrett’s Peerage & Baronage, the standard guide to the aristocratic families of Europe. According to Wikipedia, “The last printed edition was the 2019 and 150th edition, published in the company’s 250th year.” These days, the company publishes a range of books on etiquette and behavior and also coaches people and corporations on interpersonal skills.
Despite my occasionally questionable claims of Lithuanian royalty and oligarchy, my name has never appeared in Debrett’s. However, I do possess a copy of Debrett Goes to Hollywood.
Charles Kidd was editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronage since 1981 and has had a lifelong passion for movies and Hollywood trivia. Talk about a Labour of Love! As inducements, the book’s flyleaf blurbs include “Did you know that Howard Hawks, Sir Winston Churchill, and Groucho Marx are all connected by marriage?” and that Princess Diana was a distant cousin of Humphrey Bogart.
Marion and Mr. Hearst. “There were four Davies sisters,” Kidd noted, “Reine, Ethel, Rose, and Marion. Marion was the youngest, not the most beautiful, but, by virtue of her long association with William Randolph Hearst, easily the most famous.” Marion’s first meeting with Hearst “is not documented, but by early 1918 (when he was fifty-five and she twenty-one) he had set the wheels of her stardom in motion.”
Kidd observed, “At his express order the Hearst columnists praised her beauty and presence to the heavens, especially his arch-creature, Louella Parsons, whose line ‘And Marion never looked lovelier’ became a standing joke. Hearst commanded that Marion’s name be mentioned at least once in every single Hearst newspaper.”
Kidd wrote, “In 1919 Hearst signed a deal with Adolph Zukor to release Marion’s films through Paramount, thus forming a new company, Cosmopolitan, which ran until 1923.”
Miscast Marion. She had quite a large following, Kidd wrote, but “was so entirely restricted by Hearst’s image of her as a pink-and-white mill-maid heroine, she bored herself and her fans to distraction. Her nature flair was for light comedy—she had a bawdy sense of humour, and more than liked a drink…. Two of her funniest films were The Patsie (1928), which contains some wicked Davies mimicry of Pola Negri, May Murray and Lillian Gish, and Show People (1928)—a marvelous film and a burlesque of Gloria Swanson’s career.”
Stutter and Shearer. Kidd noted that Davies’ stutter “was quite noticeable on the transfer to sound, and her dialogue was consequently limited. More troublesome, however, was a new bride at MGM—Norma Shearer—whose influential husband, Irving Thalberg, snatched all the peach roles from under Marion’s nose.” One of these was Marie Antoinette (1938).
The All-American Ball. Hearst and Davies loved hosting costume balls, and their All-American gala had the film colony partying in blue jeans and plaid shirts. Except for rival Norma Shearer, who, Kidd noted, “arrived in a hugely elaborate and voluminous Marie-Antoinette costume….”
Take that, Marion!
Kidd noted that the ploy “backfired somewhat as Shearer not only had to have the seats removed from her car in order to accommodate her skirts, but she was even too wide to effect an entrance through the main door. In the end, the ballroom doors had to be specially opening up.”
Charles Lederer and Virginia Nicholson. Not unlike complex European connections familiar to Kidd, there’s a link between Marion Davies and Orson Welles, who skewered Hearst (and her) in Citizen Kane (1941).
Marion’s eldest sister Reine married theater producer George Lederer. Their son Charles married twice, his first wife Virginia née Nicholson Welles, who was Orson’s first wife. This and the rest of the Davies Dynasty, like others in Kidd’s book, make for fascinating Hollywood gossip. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022