The Times We Had ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Times We Had book cover
The Times We Had
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Marion Davies (1897-1961) was a successful movie actress in the Golden Age of Hollywood. A competent comedic actress, she was one of the biggest box office stars in the 1920s and ‘30s. She left the movies in 1937 to pursue other interests, though, so her films today are little seen and little known, unless you are a fan of Turner Classic Movies.

Perhaps more important than her movie career was her association with newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, one of the richest, most influential and most powerful men of the twentieth century.

W. R. Hearst met Marion Davies in 1916 when he was 53 and she was 19. He was immediately taken with her, even though he had a wife and several children. Marion became his mistress and remained so until his death in 1951. (Mr. Hearst couldn’t divorce his wife and marry Marion because of his Catholic religion.)

At a more rigid and morally strict time in America, many people considered Marion a “fallen” woman. For a man and a woman to “live in sin”(unmarried) was about the worst thing two people could do.

Mr. Hearst owed several palatial homes, but he and Marion lived primarily at Mr. Hearst’s fabulous estate in California, at San Simeon. It was a castle, but Mr. Heart called it a farm. It was about as lavish a home as anybody has ever seen, with a zoo, priceless art works, artifacts, and antique furnishings. San Simeon was the scene of many lavish parties for the Hollywood set, with sometimes hundreds of guests at a time.

The dozens of newspapers that Mr. Hearst owned all across the country always reflected his own views, values, and tastes, and nobody else’s. Fabulously wealthy as he was, he always spent freely, buying anything that he wanted. Every year he and Marion went to Europe for three months, giving Mr. Hearst the chance to go on a spending spree. His free-spending ways would steer him into trouble later in life, when his empire began to crumble and he needed help.

Marion stayed with Mr. Hearst until he died, at age 88, in 1951. She thought that being a loyal companion to him was the least she could do, after all he had done for her. After his death, she turned actively to charity work and was never tempted to return to the screen. She had had her time and it was over. She penned her memoir, The Times We Had, about ten years before her death in 1961 at age 64. 

The Times We Had is an entertaining, though superficial, showbiz autobiography, especially if you are interested in movie stars of the bygone era. Since Marion Davies wrote the story of her own life, she left out all the dirt, including her alcoholism and some of the bad press she received for living as a rich man’s mistress. There were some things that she thought weren’t worth talking about.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

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