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The love affair between Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst produced two masterpieces. One, Citizen Kane, whose plot pulled liberally from their lives, has survived. The other, a sprawling estate on the Santa Monica seashore, has not.
He was the original media tycoon, a yellow journalism-pioneering Logan Roy to end all Logan Roys. She was the bubbly showgirl from Brooklyn who stole his heart — though, as Hearst refused to divorce his wife, she was destined to remain his mistress. By the 1920s, Davies was a successful screen star appearing in a string of releases for Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, filmed on the MGM lot. In 1922, a strip of property on Pacific Coast Highway came up for sale, and the wealthy stars of the day started buying up plots on what was being called the “Gold Coast.” Among them were Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Jack Warner, Cary Grant and Clark Gable.
W.R., as Davies lovingly called him, wanted to give her the most extravagant house of all. He purchased 15 separate oceanfront lots and hired architect William Flannery (later a production designer of films like 1956’s Picnic, which won him an Oscar) to design an extravagant play palace. Julia Morgan, Hearst’s architect on his San Simeon estate, was hired to design the 110-foot-long pool and a guest house. The Georgian Revival main mansion, known as Ocean House, had 100-plus rooms, 36 fireplaces and 55 bathrooms.
It changed hands many times and was demolished in the ’50s; earthquake damage in 1994 led adjoining buildings to be torn down as well. In 2009, the Annenberg Community Beach House, which stands on the footprint of the original mansion, opened to the public. The pool remains, as does the North Guest House.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter‘s Nov. 7 daily issue at the American Film Market.
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Jamie Lee Curtis