Incredible picture, isn't it? It's part of a group scene from a party in February 1936, and it shows Carole Lombard with good friend Marion Davies and Douglas Fairbanks...senior at top, junior below him. Now that's a dynasty -- and speaking of such, today marks a major anniversary for another American dynasty; it was 50 years ago today that John F. Kennedy took the oath of office as president of the United States.
So what do the two events have in common? Marion Davies, that's what. She's somewhere on the stand, fairly close to the new president, though to be honest I can't specifically pinpoint her. (She is reportedly behind the Kennedy family.) She was there as a guest of JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, a longtime friend from his days as a filmland mogul. Marion had also contributed money, and time, to John's campaign, letting him and his entourage stay at her Beverly Hills home while the Democratic convention was being held in Los Angeles in July 1960.
(Imagine if something similar happened in today's environment of highly-charged talk radio and cable TV -- a presidential candidate getting help from, and then paying tribute to, a woman who had been a longtime mistress. We would never hear the end of it, regardless of which party or ideology was involved.)
Davies was relatively apolitical compared to some other Hollywood notables who aided the Kennedy campaign. (Myrna Loy, a longtime Democratic activist, made appearances on behalf of JFK, and it is said her visit to Syracuse, N.Y., my hometown at the time, helped put that city in the Kennedy camp.) But as said, Marion felt obliged to help a family friend.
Davies also used her considerable wealth in other ways; in October 1960, a children's medical wing at UCLA was opened and named for her after she donated $1.5 million. With extensive real estate holdings and a good business sense, Davies was worth about $20 million in 1960.
Marion could still be charming, but she was now in her sixties and it had been close to a decade after William Randolph Hearst, the man she dearly loved but could never marry, had died at age 88. Alcoholism had taken its toll on her. This is one of the last photos ever taken of Davies, in 1959 with her husband, Horace Brown:
The Kennedy inauguration was essentially a public last hurrah for Davies. She was suffering from cancer of the jaw that would result in some disfigurement, and not long after returning from the east, she broke her leg. She was hospitalized much of the summer of 1961, took a turn for the worse and died in Los Angeles on Sept. 22.
To commemorate this historic anniversary, here is Kennedy's complete inaugural address, just as Davies witnessed it close to the new president. It remains stirring oratory, and if all you've ever heard from it is the phrase "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," I think you will more fully comprehend this speech, and how Kennedy inspired millions. Embedding of the address -- from the JFK library -- has been disabled by request, but you can see and hear it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEC1C4p0k3E.