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Marion Davies was one of the most enchanting comediennes of the 1920s and 1930s. Her career as a comic actress would probably have flourished if she'd pursued it on her own. But she had an enormously wealthy and powerful lover, newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who chose to mold Davies' career to his ideal of her as a romantic star of costume dramas. So it was only rarely that Davies was able to show off her comic flair in a contemporary story.
Blondie of the Follies (1932) was a humorous tale set in modern times, but had enough romantic drama to keep Hearst happy. Davies plays Blondie McClune, a plucky working class girl whose childhood friend Lottie, played by Billie Dove, becomes a Follies showgirl. Visiting Lottie uptown, Blondie becomes attracted both to show business, and to Lottie's rich boyfriend, played by Robert Montgomery. Blondie of the Follies was an ideal Davies vehicle. She had been a chorus girl, and was in fact appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies when Hearst fell in love with her. She knew the laughter and tears of a Follies girl's life. Veteran screenwriter Frances Marion was a friend of Davies, and she'd heard her stories. In her autobiography, Marion recalled that in her original script, she'd put in some of the racy and unsavory episodes that had actually happened in the heyday of the Follies. But Hearst removed them from the script. According to the writer, Hearst's attitude seemed to be that "there must be neither spice nor sadness in yesterday's dream."
Anita Loos was also a veteran screenwriter, a good friend of Davies, and the author of the comic novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She was brought in to write dialogue for Blondie of the Follies, and like Frances Marion, faced Hearst's interference. "I want you to curb your inclination toward humor, because I see this story as a great romance," Hearst told Loos. He should have known better than to try to curb Davies' and Loos' natural ebullience. They made Blondie a warm and witty character, even when the plot was at its most melodramatic. Davies had a gift for mimicry, and one of the highlights of the film is a scene in which Davies and comedian Jimmy Durante spoof a scene from Grand Hotel (1932) imitating Greta Garbo and John Barrymore.
Loos recalled that she used to watch the rushes with Hearst every day. Whenever there was a scene without Davies, he would ask, "Why wasn't Muggins [his nickname for Davies] in that scene?" Even when Loos explained that the scene was important for plot development, she claimed that Hearst would insist that the scene be thrown out and replaced by another featuring Davies.
Co-star Billie Dove had also been a Follies beauty, as well as one of the silent screen's most glamorous stars. She easily made the transition to sound, and was playing leading roles when director Edmund Goulding asked her to play Lottie in Blondie of the Follies. Even though it was a juicy part, Dove at first refused, since it was not the lead. But she agreed to take the role when MGM production chief Irving Thalberg asked her to do so. Dove was giving such a good performance that when Hearst saw the rushes, he commented, "well, it's a good Billie Dove picture." Without her knowledge, he cut some of her best scenes, shot new ones, and had the film edited to make her character the heavy. Even though she was disappointed, Dove claimed that Hearst's actions did not affect her friendship with Davies, who was one of Hollywood's most beloved people. Soon after making Blondie of the Follies, Dove retired to marry and raise a family. Blondie of the Follies would be her last film, except for a cameo in Diamond Head in 1963.
Marion Davies made seven more films before retiring in 1937, at the age of 40. She lived with William Randolph Hearst until his death in 1951. Of her nearly four dozen films, the handful of comedies are the ones that hold up, and best showcase her talents.
Director: Edmund Goulding
Producer: Marion Davies
Screenplay: Frances Marion, Anita Loos
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editor: George Hively
Costume Design: Adrian
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Songs by Harry Tobias, Gus Arnheim, Jules Lemaire, Harry Link, Nick Kenny, Ray Egan, Ted Fio Rito, Walter G. Samuels, Leonard Whitcup, Arthur Freed, Harry Barris, David Snell, Edmund Goulding
Principal Cast: Marion Davies (Blondie McClune), Robert Montgomery (Larry Belmont), Billie Dove (Lottie Callahan), Jimmy Durante (Jimmy), James Gleason (Pa McClune), ZaSu Pitts (Gertie), Sidney Toler (Pete), Douglass Dumbrille (Murchenson), Sarah Padden (Ma McClune), Louise Carter (Ma Callahan).
by Margarita Landazuri