The Hearst and Davies Affair (1985)

The love affair between Marion Davies and William Randolph Heart was difficult for some to fathom. Apart from his wealth, what else could cause a beautiful young actress to be attracted to a media mogul 34 years her senior? This made for television biopic goes some way to answering that question, helped immeasurably by the casting of Robert Mitchum as Hearst.

Opening at a time when Hearst’s finances were in a perilous state, the film flashes back twenty years earlier to a happier time when Davies was a featured player in Ziegfeld Follies and Hearst was one of many ardent admirers. Through persistence, gentlemanly manners and an unwavering belief in her talent, WR successfully woos Davies who, in spite of her ill-informed reputation as a gold-digger, remains with the old guy through thick and thin… except when he is running for public office or visiting his wife and children.

There is a commonly-held belief that Hearst’s promotion of Davies as a dramatic actress stymied her natural abilities as a light-comedienne. Though this is often expressed throughout this biopic, Madsen’s portrayal is given little opportunity to suggest that Davies had a talent for either. Mitchum, who is provided with some of the film’s best lines, fares better. Appropriately stiff in his manner, the veteran actor humanises Hearst in a sympathetic depiction that comes with a stamp of authority and a twinkle in his eye.

This lavish production is set before the making of Citizen Kane (1941) and only briefly deals with the events depicted in The Cat's Meow (2001). Much like Mitchum's portrayal of Hearst, this biopic leaves it to others to give voice to the mogul's more odious traits.

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Biopic implies Hearst refused to accept Davies' cheque for $1,000,000. Though he did initially reject it, he eventually took it as a loan to avoid bankruptcy.

In her autobiography ‘The Times We Had’, Davies states that she was riding with composer Gene Buck, not her sister, when she had an accident on her bicycle in front of the Hearst’s car. Furthermore, it occurred before Davies began her relationship with Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst did not run for President of the United States while he was in a relationship with Davies. According to her, he had hoped to run for president in 1908 but didn't. His last effort for political office was his second try for Mayor of New York City, in 1909, on the Independent League's ticket.

Biopic depicts filming of Runaway Romany (1917), When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922) and Zander the Great (1925).

The next thing I knew I was at MGM, working on Zander the Great… I was supposed to be an orphan kid, and I had to fight a lion in a lion's cage. The big job was to get me into the cage. With the lion there. [The director] said to me, "Now look, we've got a big sheet of glass here, between you and the lion. All you do is get into the cage, and get near enough so that the audience thinks you're kissing the lion. Then he'll roar and you'll climb up the side of the cage."

Like a monkey, I guess. 

Somebody said they'd taken all the teeth out of the lion. But they hadn't. That lion had teeth, and he was mad because they had brought him over from the zoo. And he was kicking up a bit. They wanted a rehearsal. I was courageous and went into the cage, and the lion went "RRRRoooo-aaaarrrrr!" I started climbing, and when I got to the top of the cage I was yelling, "Help!! Murder!!" It was just one of those stunts for a laugh. That was the big idea, but I think a lion can go right through glass, which I had forgotten was there. Whoever whipped that one up didn't like me. But Charlie Chaplin came over and did the scene for me, in my clothes. And that was the first time I ever met him. He did the whole scene in two shots and then he left. Then I did my close-ups alone, in the cage, without that lion.

The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst

by Marion Davies

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