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The Beach House: a captivating love story

Ocean House
Ocean House

What an unexpected and thrilling evening Wednesday night turned out to be when I arrived at the Annenberg Community Beach House. I was there to view the opening of their new art exhibit, Vista Santa Monica, but instead I fell in love… with Marion Davies. I had no idea the scandal, love, and intrigue that enveloped her life in the Georgian mansion that once stood where the Annenberg Community Beach House now stands.
The original three-story mansion was built in the early 1930s by the famous architect, Julia Morgan (an amazing woman on her own terms), and bestowed upon Marion Davies by her longtime companion William Randolph Hearst, the media magnate.
All that remains of the large estate now is a small but lovely Georgian guest house, complete with white columns and verandas. It has been restored and hosts numerous photos and stories of the days when the house was filled with laughter, drinking, and dancing from dinner parties, cocktail parties, and costume balls hosted by Marion and Hearst.
Santa Monica is rich with history that is intertwined within all its buildings, sidewalks, and boardwalks but the history of Marion and Hearst plays out like a present day soap opera with a mix of Hollywood glamor, a scandalous love affair, a murder on the high-seas, and even an illegitimate child whose true identity was not revealed to her until her wedding day, so the story goes.
To give a brief history, Hearst first laid his eyes on Marion as she cascaded down the steps on stage as a Ziegfeld girl. From that moment on he began courting her. The persistent courtship lasted three years as Hearst showered Marion with flowers, gifts, and diamonds until she finally let him into her life and her heart (now that’s what I call playing hard to get!). She was only 20. He was 54 and married. For the next thirty years she was his beloved (and very public) mistress.
Around 1925 Hearst built Marion a dream house on the Santa Monica beach. Hearst divided his time between Marion and his life in New York City. He hoped to divorce his wife but she demanded too much of his precious money so he led a public double life instead. Marion took it in stride and became the life of the party both on screen and off. She loved hosting any type of party, up to three a day on some occasions, and the doors of her beach house were always open.
Though she was naturally an outgoing, social gal, she was not one to pass up a drink. Hearst did not approve of the amount of liquid fun Marion would throw back so she was known to hide a bottle of booze in the back of the toilet basin.
It has been said that she’d announce to her girlfriends that she needed to go to the loo and off the girls all went to sneak a few shots before heading back to the party (finally, the mystery of why girls go the bathroom in groups is revealed! Sorry, ladies. I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer). On one occasion she even escorted Winston Churchill into the toilets for a taste of gin.
Oh, the stories go on and on. I would highly recommend making your way over to the Guest House at the Annenberg Community Beach House for the entire history of this great love story. There is even a murder mystery which occurred on the high seas involving Hearst and Marion. It’s too much information to put into one short article. Besides, it’s best told in person by one of the very knowledgeable docents who pull you in deeper and deeper as they reveal the many fascinating lives of the original Santa Monica gal, Marion Davies.
Yes, I think Marion and I would have been great friends.

Marion Davies
Bain News Service


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