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MGM's Show People (1928), one of the biggest hits among Marion Davies' silent films, was written as a send-up of Hollywood and, more specifically, the career of Gloria Swanson. Davies plays Georgia-bred starlet Peggy Pepper, who has aspirations to become a great dramatic actress but instead scores a hit in slapstick comedies starring Billy Boone (William Haines, who later retired from films to become a successful interior decorator). The pair fall in love, but complications arise after Peggy - now billed as Patricia Pepoire achieves her goal of becoming a dramatic star and plans to marry her unctuous new leading man.
Davies puts her gift for facial clowning to expressive use in lampooning Swanson, and Show People also proves a romp for director King Vidor, noted for such hard-hitting dramas as The Big Parade (1925) and The Crowd (1928). For the final scene of the film, Vidor has the heroine and her true love reunited on the set of a World War I drama directed by - King Vidor! (The same year, Davies and Vidor were reunited for The Patsy, with Davies again putting her talent for mimicry to funny use in impersonations of Pola Negri, Mae Murray and Lillian Gish.) Show People is further enlivened by the cameo appearances of such stars of the day as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert and William S. Hart, along with gossip columnist Louella Parsons and Marion Davies herself.
Davies' romantic relationship with publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, famously satirized in Citizen Kane (1941), had led to the creation of Cosmopolitan Pictures, established by Hearst for the sole purpose of producing Davies vehicles. After moving from Paramount to the Goldwyn Company, Cosmopolitan became part of the package when Goldwyn merged with Metro to become MGM. Production chief Louis B. Mayer began financing the Cosmopolitan films and paid Davies a weekly salary of $10,000.
An irony of Davies' relationship with Hearst is that, while her natural gifts lay in the field of comedy, he wanted to see her playing frail, virginal heroines in the Mary Pickford mold. Hearst was also overly protective of Davies' on movie sets. One scene in Show People requires Davies to wear a fancy party dress which will be ruined during a slapstick routine at a social gathering. According to Fred Lawrence Guiles in his biography Marion Davies, the scene was altered to please Hearst. "Originally, Peggy was to have been struck by a custard pie, but Hearst refused to allow it. Vidor thought the pie was necessary and there was a conference in Louis B. Mayer's office about the matter. 'You're right,' Hearst told Vidor, 'but I'm right, too and I'm not going to let her be hit by a pie.' The seltzer bottle was a compromise and, in one way, it was an improvement, since Peggy Pepper's pretentious, frilly costume is wrecked along with her composure."
Director: King Vidor
Producer: Marion Davies
Screenplay: Laurence Stallings, Wanda Tuckock, Agnes Christine Johnston, Ralph Spence
Cinematography: John Arnold
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Editing: Hugh Wynn
Cast: Marion Davies (Peggy Pepper), William Haines (Billy Boone), Dell Henderson (Oldfish Pepper), Paul Ralli (Andre Telefair), Polly Moran (Peggy's maid).
by Roger Fristoe