Marion Davies

  1. Jean Harlow, Red-Headed Woman, 1932.   Harlow’s agent, Paul Bern, argued for his girl. They wed just after filming and he immediately committed suicide.,   Davies was the mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst for 30 years.   And one daughter. 
  2. Norma Shearer, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, 1934.     WR Hearst insisted on Elizabeth Barrett Browning for his Greek-American mistress –   chronicled daily in his papers as “a talented star, a vision of loveliness.”   MGM production genius Irving Thalberg wanted it for his wife. “Marion’s a comedienne,” he told his boss,  LB Mayer. “She’ll get laughs if she plays that part.” Mayer replied: “Hearst believes   Marion  can play anything Norma can do.   If you say the wrong thing, he’ll be insulted and you’ll never   get it.”   Thalberg said the right thing: If Davies starred,   Hearst would have to bankroll the film.   Thalberg also gave the impression his star would not be Shearer, but Broadway’s Katharine Cornell. The Shearer truth broke once WR and Davies were safely abroad.   Safely? The furious WR orcdered his gossip hen Louella Parsons to spike all mention of the film and Shearer for a year. Guess what?   MGM survived!
  3. Olivia De Havilland, Captain Blood, 1935.    “Would Miss Davies be interested in  playing in  this important picture?” Warners’ boss Jack Warner cabled Hearst.  “There is an excellent feminine part for her,” he added –  in case either one  thought it was for the lead.  Also on Jack’s short list were  Bette Davis, Anita Louise oand  Jean Muir. “Only opposite Robert Donat,”  said Muir, but his asthmatic  problems forced him to quit. And Errol Flynn became a superstar in this first of nine movies with  Olivia De Havilland.
  4. Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild, 1935.     Davis and Carole Lombard were the first thoughts for the secret best-selling scandal author exposing all in Lynnfield – The Biggest Little Town in Connecticut. Clark Gable was supposed to join Davies to rekindle their Cain and Mable chemistry, but Marion mace it clear. She had retired. Enter: Dunne and Melvyn Douglas. Well, he had a ’tash…
  5. Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet, 1935. Absolutely preposterous…!!  The 13-year-old Juliet was played by Norma Shearer, who was 34, opposite Leslie Howard playing teenage Romeo…  at 43.  “It is comical watching these middle-aged folks act as high school sophomores,” said web critic Matthew M Foster at Foster on   Marion was lucky to escape it (not that she could have played it, anyway). But her lover, newspaper tycoon William Randolp[h Hearst (aka Citizen Kane, Marion was his Susan Alexander, being propelled beyond her limits) was so furious that his Rosebud was  ignored  that he banned the name of  Norma Shearer in all his papers … Difficult then for his critics to review the mess.
  6. Carole Lombard, My Man Godfrey, 1935.  Davies at 38,  Constance  Bennett, 31,  and Miriam Hopkins, 33,  were hot contenders for teenage Irene Bullock. But the butler, William Powell, scuppered their boats  by insisting on his ex-wife!  (Youngest on the list at 27). They had divorced three years before but she immediately agreed, quitting Frank Capra’s Mr Deeds Goes to Town three days before he started shooting.   Capra wasn’t happy. The ex-Powells were. For the first time, one movie collected all four Oscar  acting nods for Powell, Lombard, Mischa Auer and Alice Brady. It remains one of the best comedies of all time.
  7. Eleanor Powell, Rosalie, 1936.        Back in 1928, La Davies was set as the Princess of Romanza. Then, everything was put on hold when talkies arrived and MGM’s studios were wired for sound. Eight years later, Davies was over and Nelson Eddy was the West Point cadet falling for Jeanette… No!  For the first time, he was minus Miss MacDonald when Powell became his Highness.
  8. Wendy Hiller, Pygmalion, 1937.   George Bernard Shaw was a guest of h Hearst and Davies at the enormous San Simeon estate – mimicked by Citizen Kane’s Xanadu. On returnng home, GBS wrote to Davies (mimicked by Susan Alexander, the second Mrs. Charles Foster Kane), inviting her to be Eliza Dolittle in the film of his 1914 play. Fortunately for all concerned, Brooklyn’s Davies had by then retired. While GBS went on to be the only person to win the oddest of odd couples: the Nobel Prize and an Oscar!
  9. Marie Wilson, Boy Meets Girl, 1937.       “Daddy” knows best. Davies was announce., then not. Her lover, powerful Press baron William Randolph Hearst, felt that the rôle far too racy for his gal. It was OK for Marion to be a zillionaire’s real mistress but not a fictional unwed mother! Enter: Anaheim’s exceedingly well upholstered Wilson.
  10. Claudette Colbert, Tovarich, 1937.  Warner Bros secured rights to the `1933 French play for  Davies – or Kay Francis – to be  the Grand Duchess Tatiana.  Yet Colbert made it, complaining how cinematographer Charles Lang kept shooting her wrong profile. So she fell ill to delay shooting.  While Davies quit Warners.  Ah! those were the days.
  11. Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette, 1938.      WR Hearst read the Stefan Zweig biography of Marie-Antoinette.   Thalberg:  “I’ll talk to Norma.” Shearer: “She can have it!”   LB Mayer to  Davies:   “I can’t visualise you as Marie-Antoinette.”   Citizen Hearst and Marion’s Cosmopolitan company promptly quit MGM for Warners.   Shearer made the film two years after Thalberg’s early death.

  12. Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday, 1939.  
    Knowing she was #9 on the list of nine women seen for Hildy Johnson – and that director Howards Hawks only ever  wanted Jean Arthur – poor Roz Russell kept wailing her insecurities. “You don’t want me, do you? Well, you’re stuck with me, so you might as well make the most of it.” Co-star Cary Grant told her if Hawks didn’t like her, he’d say so.  And he did. In what, from him was the highest praise: “Just keep pushing him around the way you’re doing.”  Her other rivals had been Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Irene Dunne (“too small a role”), Carole Lombard (too expensive), Ginger Rogers (“Never knew it was going to be with Cary”) and Margaret Sullavan. Hawks cleverly changed Hildy from male to female and quickened the dialogue by having actors overlapping each other’s lines – long before Robert Altman was locked out of Warner Bros for doing it in Countdown, 1966… and for ever after.

  13. Joan Crawford, Susan and God, 1939.  MGM’s head lion, LB Mayer, found Susan difficulort to cast. Norma Shearer refused to be a mother again so soon after Little Women, and Davies refused all offers to forget her retirement. So as often happened at Metro, La Crawford just moved in, lock, stock and barrel. “I’ll play Wally Beery’s grandmother, if it’s a good part.”  And this was, just not the way Crawford played it – copying Gertrude Lawrence’s stage performance. 
  14. Myrna Loy, Third Finger, Left Hand, 1939.   Loy, Davies and Rosalind Russel were in the  comedy mix for Margot, a single mom-to-be. The Production Code chief told MGM to cut several gags because,illegitimacy was not a laughing matter.  Nor was the movie.  
  15. Ina Claire, Claudia, 1943.  For the bantering mother of the titular child bride, producer David O Selznick looked over Beverly Bayne, Mrs Brown in  the Chicago stage production,  and Frances Starr, the original mother  on  Broadway.  Plus Ina Claire (the ex-Mrs John Gilbert), whose dozen movies included Garbo’s Ninotchka, 1939….  and Marion Davies, but her all-powerful lover, media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (who was supposedly masterminding her career), didn’t want to see her playing someone  who died!  So no Joan of Arc for her…

 Birth year: 1897Death year: 1961Other name: Casting Calls:  14