The Cat's Meow (2001)
What occurred aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst during a mid-November weekend in 1924 has long been the stuff of Hollywood folklore. Though the closing credits assure us that the events depicted in The Cat’s Meow are fictitious, and that any similarities to actual persons is entirely coincidental, the opening narration advises that “this is the whisper told most often”. It is also version that's most intriguing, involving the death of one of the fourteen passengers on board.
Though ostensibly a birthday celebration for movie mogul Thomas H Ince, each of the passengers have their own reasons for being on board. Amongst them, Hearst is using the cruise as an opportunity to determine if the rumours of a romance between Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies are true; Chaplin is attempting to consummate the romance; Davies is hoping to escape his advances; Ince is desperate to form a business partnership with Hearst; while actress Margaret Livingston and gossip columnist Louella Parsons are seeking to advance their respective careers. Only scriptwriter Elinor Glyn seems devoid of any ulterior motive, allowing her to cast a cynical eye over the weekend’s events.
Once the dastardly deed is done and the cover-up begins, The Cat’s Meow tends to run out of steam. Nevertheless, blessed as it is with a first-rate cast, the biopic remains an entertaining film in which audience sympathies find root in the most unlikely of characters.
as Marion Davies
as Charlie Chaplin
as Margaret Livingston
as Thomas Ince
Whereas the biopic shows all guests boarding Hearst’s yacht in Los Angeles, Thomas Ince was actually late and the yacht left without him. Ince later took a train to San Diego, where he joined the guests the next morning.
Though the opening narration states that there was no coverage of the biopic’s events in the press, the front page of the morning edition of the Los Angeles Times contained the headline "Movie Producer Shot on Hearst Yacht!". According to Hearst’s biographer David Nasaw, the New York Daily News also reported on the cruise.
Only scene recreation in this biopic is a clip of rushes from Yolanda.