Friday, December 2 - The Cat's Meow, 2001, 114 minutes, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Kirsten Dunst and Edward Herrmann
With guest speaker Lara Gabrielle, author of Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies
In 1924, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies hosted a party cruise aboard Hearst's yacht, the USS Oneida. Also aboard was screen star Charlie Chaplin, writer Elinor Glyn, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and film mogul Thomas H. Ince. The reason for celebration was Ince's 44th birthday, so why did he wind up dead?
The Cat's Meow is based on actual events, though the circumstances of Ince's death remain unresolved nearly a century later. The late director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon) was also a dedicated film historian and preservationist, and his respect and knowledge of film history infuses The Cat's Meow. Kirsten Dunst plays Davies, offering an interpretation of the popular actress we highlighted at CinemaLit in November.
(Image used with permission of Lion's Gate Films)
CinemaLit / November 2022 – Marion Davies: Captain of her Soul
Marion Davies (1897-1961) is primarily known today as publishing tycoon William Randolph Heart's mistress, and hostess non-pareil of legendary parties at San Simeon Hearst Castle on the Central California coast. That's most unfortunate, for Davies was also one of the finest film comediennes of the 1920s and '30s.
In honor of the recent publication of Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies (University of California Press) by Bay Area author Lara Gabrielle, CinemaLit will be screening Show People (1928) and The Red Mill (1927), two of Davies' best silent screen comedies.
Brooklyn born Davies became a chorus girl at 16, and joined the famed Ziegfeld Follies at 19, where she met the much older Hearst. He founded Cosmopolitan Productions to produce starring films for her, and promoted her heavily in his newspapers across the country. The effort paid off, and Davies became one of America's biggest film stars.
Hearst put her in highbrow costume dramas, but her true calling was comedy. She proved to be anything but his pawn. She was also a canny screenwriter, producer, and philanthropist. She made a number of films in the sound era, but retired in 1937. She later worked as an executive with the Motion Picture Relief Fund, wrote her memoirs (The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst), and married after Hearst's death in 1951. She died in 1961. We're happy to separate fact from fiction this November and give Davies her rightful place among the screen's funny women.
Lara Gabrielle is a film writer and researcher whose work on Marion Davies has been featured in the Missouri Review and on PBS's American Experience. She has spoken about Davies at film festivals and retrospectives worldwide and has served as a consultant on her life and legacy for books, dissertations, and film projects. Gabrielle lives in Oakland.
From Marion Davies's humble days in Brooklyn to her rise to fame alongside press baron William Randolph Hearst, the public life story of the film star plays like a modern fairy tale shaped by gossip columnists, fan magazines, biopics, and documentaries. Yet the real Marion Davies remained largely hidden from view, as she was wary of interviews and trusted few with her true life story. In Captain of Her Soul, Lara Gabrielle pulls back layers of myth to show a complex and fiercely independent woman, ahead of her time, who carved her own path.
Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies.
“I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."
“Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”
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