For many decades, Marion Davies's story has been a source of fascination to the public. From her humble days in Brooklyn to her rise to fame alongside press baron William Randolph Hearst, her story seems like a modern fairy tale. Gossip columnists and fan magazines have tried to capture her unique story for over one hundred years, and biopics and documentaries have tried to incorporate her story into countless screenplays. Amid the interest, the real Marion Davies has been largely hidden. Due to her wariness of strangers and the press, she shied away from interviews and trusted very few with the details of her own unusual life story. Through Gabrielle's archival research, and letters, notes, tapes, and interviews of Davies with family and friends, a woman emerges of enormous strength and resolve.
An entertaining, first-rate biography that necessarily serves, like it or not, as a corrective to Hollywood myth ... Gabrielle...spent nine years digging through archives and interviewing anyone she could find who knew Davies ... Among the delights of Gabrielle’s book are its forays into very old-school slang ... Despite the evident breadth and depth of Gabrielle’s research, her many insights, and her obvious affection for Davies, the woman herself remains at a bit of a remove—a vivid presence seen and felt, but not quite grasped. One problem is that, as a stutterer, she was a reluctant interviewee ... Davies the performer is an easier get.
A deeply researched and fair-minded biography of Davies’s life and movie work ... Gabrielle’s work offers a look at my own family’s mythology through the opposite end of the telescope: from the viewpoint of a woman who was part of my grandfather’s life—but who saw the world in different terms ... The author deserves special credit since this was a difficult subject that she took on with intense scholarly devotion. This biography is not merely a summer beach read but a careful examination, a precisely drawn work, so it’s an enormous adjunct to our understanding of Hearst and Davies’s era and the movie business back then ... Davies’s life story has been in the shadow of so much mythology ... I admired Gabrielle’s effort to excavate the real Davies. It was a project facing a stiff headwind ... Gabrielle has done a wonderful job of presenting the raw facts. It’s a story told from Davies’s point of view ... As well as being a detailed biography of Davies’s film career, this is a profile that does not lend itself to easy, moral, or psychoanalytic answers ... Readers who expect juicy tidbits about the fabled 32-year romance of Marion and W.R. may be disappointed. Captain of Her Soul is a university-press publication, with pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography ... Gabrielle’s book is two stories interwoven seamlessly. One thread is a detailed narrative, told chronologically, of a genuine romance ... The other thread is an equally detailed narrative of the motion picture industry, in the same time frame ... In the final analysis, Gabrielle, like a detective or an archaeologist, has reconstructed a life history and made a convincing case, contrary to the prevailing cliché, that Marion was a complex, happy, and talented actress—and that whatever sorrow darkened her days, her love affair with W.R. Hearst was genuine, long-lasting, and intensely satisfying.
Sparkling ... 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.