cover image Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies

Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies

Lara Gabrielle. Univ. of California, $34.95 (332p) ISBN 978-0-520-38420-0

Actor Marion Davies (1897–1961) may have lived “a life shrouded in mystery, rumor, and half-truths,” but she was witty, talented, and loyal, according to this sparkling debut from film historian Gabrielle. The author recaps Davies’s rise from Broadway chorus girl to top-billed MGM star in the 1920s, thanks in part to her lover William Randolph Hearst’s lavish financing, production, and promotion of her movies (his headline writers, for instance, pronounced When Knighthood Was in Flower “the greatest picture ever filmed”). Oft maligned­­—incorrectly, Gabrielle notes—as the model for Citizen Kane character Susan Alexander (a talentless opera-diva wife), Davies, in Gabrielle’s telling, was a talented actor and comedian whose gifts were often wasted in the stodgy costume dramas that Hearst preferred. She was also ebullient (despite alcoholic rages later in life) and generous; far from a rich man’s helpless dependent, she asserted herself against the maniacally controlling Hearst and even offered him $1 million of her own money to rescue his bankrupt company during the Depression. Gabrielle’s narrative is a breezy, colorful saga of Old Hollywood, full of showbiz picaresque, glamorous parties at Hearst’s San Simeon castle, and a touching romance between two flawed, magnetic personalities. Film buffs will want to check this one out. Photos. (Sept.)