The huge, glowing indoor pool at San Simeon—where people swam in winter, and met at night—has the stars and planets paved in blue-and-gold mosaic on its bottom. They are magnified and illuminated, these heavenly bodies, so they seem not settled under the water but rather floating on its surface. Above, on the ceiling of the pool house, is a representation of the ocean floor: fish and seaweed and shells.
“It’s an upside-down world,” a tour guide says, her voice echoing gently off the far wall. “And when you stand at the end of the diving board and look down, you are diving into the night sky.”
Inside San Simeon, in the Assembly Room, a wedding is progressing. It is the wedding of Patricia Van Cleve and Arthur Lake. She is very young, maybe 16 or 17. Her hair is still dark and unlightened. He is older but doesn’t look it. She is a creature of money and indulgences. He is the son of circus people. They both like to drink. Right now, Lake is not all that famous, or recognizable, but next year, at 33, he will become Dagwood Bumstead, the silly, bumbling, bellowing, skyscraper-sandwich-eating physical comedian and star of the Blondie series.
William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher and would-be movie mogul, is watching the wedding take place. This is his house. This is La Cuesta Encantada, the castle he built on a remote coastal hill halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is the greatest of the excesses that almost made him broke. He calls the place “the ranch,” a lowbrow affectation as conspicuous as the ketchup bottles and paper napkins he always keeps on the dining-room table.
It is July 1937, but the weather is the weather of all Julys on the central California coast—dull and overcast in the morning, burning off by 10, then clear and warm and blue. Hearst doesn’t own the sky, of course, but he’s got 250,000 acres around the castle, including 50 miles of oceanfront. The hills are brown and bald for as far as you can see, shaped like knuckles on a laborer’s fist, and high up, on the lushest one, with live oaks and oleander, Spanish broom and cypress, sits his house. It looks like a colossal white Spanish cathedral, like a place where you’d want to pray.
Today, the bride and groom are standing in front of an old altarpiece. It is smothered triumphantly with flowers. Empty choir stalls, carved black walnut from the 15th century, are plastered up against the sides of the 2,500-square-foot room like cheap wallpaper. Massive Flemish tapestries rise up to the ceiling, 24 feet. Near the middle of the room is a 16th-century mantelpiece, in soft beige-gray stone carved like soap, over a fireplace you can walk into.
The actress Marion Davies has planned the wedding, clearing the Assembly Room of her jigsaw puzzles and Monopoly games and gramophone, and is the maid of honor too. She is 40, and has the most delightful stutter. She is sweet, and bighearted—why, this very year she coughed up $1 million in cash to help bail out the Hearst empire, selling real estate, furs, jewelry. She is about to retire from pictures, but will keep being the maid of honor at weddings for years and years to come, over and over, and for most of her life, for the 36 years she will spend as Hearst’s mistress and companion, until his death in 1951. It’s only then that she’ll marry for the first time herself, eloping to the El Rancho Vegas Hotel on Halloween night, 11 weeks after Hearst is gone, feeling desperate, afraid, and so drunk somebody has to hold her up to say “I do.”
Patricia’s wedding dress is silk and as preposterous as any wedding dress, but at least it goes with the décor. She’s comfortable at the castle. She’s used to it. Patricia Van Cleve Lake wasn’t born at San Simeon, exactly. Nobody really knows anymore where she was born—maybe France, maybe Santa Barbara or New York—but Marion Davies pretty much raised her, shuttling her around from the big beach house in Santa Monica to the castle up the coast to the Ritz Tower or the Warwick in Manhattan.
Patricia is Davies’s niece, you see— if that explains anything. Summers, she’d go with Hearst and Davies on tours of Europe, becoming part of a familiar entourage, a grab bag of folks: some of Hearst’s five sons and their wives, Davies’s sisters and their children, a small number of business associates, corporate types, and then, of course, the nurses, governesses, maids, all creating a line of cars and cargo and people that went on and on, single file.
Arthur Lake had been on one summer tour. He was a friend of Jack Hearst, one of W.R.’s sons, and was thrown together with Patricia. Davies and Hearst had a way of doing that, throwing people at each other, making a match in their minds. Patricia and Arthur were both funny, kooky, childish. They were also sweet, and a little oblivious. And it didn’t take long for the magic to happen, for the match to manifest itself physically. It was a good one, too: they would stay together for 50 years, for thinner and fatter, richer, poorer. They sang together (“She’s Funny That Way”), partied, and stayed up all night until Arthur’s heart stopped in an ambulance on his way to the hospital eight years ago. But it’s too soon to talk about that.
Let’s go first to Patricia’s death, a year and a half ago: at the bitter end, she sat in her hospital bed in the desert, at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, wheezing into the microphone of a tape recorder, down to one lung and counting, slowly making tapes in which she tried to remember her life. She wanted us to know who she was, or thought she was: the child of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst.
The day of her wedding, she says, Hearst telephoned her in one of the bungalows and asked to see her in his private rooms below the towers of the castle. She was in awe of him. She called him “the Chief.”
“So I went up there,” she says on a tape. “He said to me, ‘You know I’m your father.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is a secret between the three of us.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ . . . I gave him a kiss on the cheek, and he said, ‘I have to go wake up Marion. See you later.’ That’s it, O.K.?”
And that was it. That was the secret between Patricia and Marion and W.R., which Patricia kept until the day she died and her son, Arthur Patrick Lake, made it public. The response was mixed. The Palm Springs Desert Sun ran a huge spread with pictures (THEIR GREATEST SECRET, October 13, 1993). The Los Angeles Times followed up with a somewhat more skeptical article (OBITUARY REVIVES RUMOR OF HEARST DAUGHTER, October 31, 1993), but then things died down. First of all, there was no actual proof, unless permission was given to start exhuming bodies and doing DNA tests. There was no record of birth, birth certificate, or mention of the birth in Hearst’s or Davies’s papers. The Hearst family refused to comment.
Patricia Lake started making the tapes around 1990, after Arthur died and couldn’t stop her anymore. So much to tell. So much to blab about, finally. She has a husky voice, a certain graceful facility with profanity, and a rich baby-talk accent. Sentences are tossed off in a babble.
Patricia meanders. She seems quickly bored by herself. Her lack of introspection and insight is stunning. She reveals things, but dispassionately, as though everything behind her were one long, flattened, dead road. What was, was. “These things happen, baby,” she says, and her shrug is almost audible. Maybe she’d been numbed by pain, but, also, maybe memories weren’t as much fun as dancing, breathing easily, getting to live forever.
Just before Patricia’s wedding, she says, Hearst asked to see her. “He said to me, ‘I’m your father.’ ”
Patricia says she was 11 when Marion Davies found her one day, alone, bored, sitting by the side of the big Neptune Pool at the castle. Davies sat down next to her, put her feet in the water, and told her the whole story, told her that she wasn’t the daughter of George Van Cleve, an Arrow shirt model, and Marion’s promiscuous glamour-girl sister, Rose, but that she had been born secretly in France, to Marion, in “a chateau or some sort of a little private hospital.” And that when Marion brought her baby back home to New York, Hearst had the birth certificate faked.
Patricia celebrated June 18, 1923, as her birthday, but thinks she could have been born as early as 1920. “It sounds a little complicated,” she says in the tapes, “but for someone in the position of W. R. Hearst that could easily be arranged. . . . It sounds kind of strange, but much stranger things have happened, I’m sure, throughout history.”
But on her wedding day, who cared about all that? Oh, baby, who cares? There is a big dinner for everybody in the endless, dark dining room of the castle—tapestries and choir stalls, rows of silk flags from Siena hanging from the ceiling. Patricia and Arthur change in their rooms, then walk outside, out the west entrance, where a pair of stone saints flank the doorway, and into the blinding sunlight. The church bells ring, high above them, inside the twin spires. Out front, a pickup truck waits for them. This is their idea of a joke, just the beginning of a lifetime of jokes together—pretending to be on fire, putting ice cubes down people’s backs . . .
Because everything is funny, isn’t it? The tall, great sky was looking out for Patricia in those days. Baby, the whole world was looking out for her. Things beyond La Cuesta Encantada might have been depressed and confused in 1937, but here, in the Santa Lucia hills, the fun was continuing. The 20s were preserved inside this enormous villa—as romantic and holy and sexual a place as you’ve ever seen. It wasn’t like Citizen Kane at all, that monstrous Xanadu, cold and forbidding. It was happier than that. Sunnier.
There were fruit trees—tangerines and lemons and oranges. There were colored tiles, tall Mexican fan palms, purple bougainvillea. There were zoo animals, milky statues, a stable. A breeze brought the smell of jasmine inside the house. And Hearst and Davies were looking out for Patricia then, and, despite everything you may have come to believe from seeing Orson Welles’s gloomy movie, they were upbeat, unconventional, creative. And, yes, some would say a little careless.
On their honeymoon, Patricia and Arthur drive north up the coast to Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco, then eventually almost to Oregon, to another huge Hearst compound that tried too hard—this one with a Bavarian-village theme—called “Wyntoon,” near Mount Shasta. They are a little bored there. A little stir-crazy. Soon enough, they get sick of the servants, sick of the nearby quiet town of McCloud, and sick of each other. The Lakes start calling up their pals. Come up, join us, baby. Have some fun.
And this tells you how they lived— for years and years. After their two children, Arthur Patrick and Marion Rose, were born, they became part of the group too, just another subset of the entourage, the traveling show of “pals” and family members who wandered from place to place, from the beach to the desert, from Scandia to the Del Mar racetrack. For several years after they were married, the Lakes simply lived with “Aunt Marion” in Santa Monica, at her white plantation plopped down on the sand—110 rooms, 55 bathrooms, 37 fireplaces—but soon enough they were given a house of their own, and a staff.
Arthur Lake found a job. The Blondie movies began in 1938, and Arthur would play Dagwood pretty much for the remainder of his career. These were light films, very successful, and he was in demand for appearances across the country. Rehearsals for various traveling shows were held at the Lakes’ house, a 30-room Spanish-style place off San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica, and the cast and crew would come and stay for days and days. Oh, as long as they wanted. The house “was as big as a hotel,” Patricia says. Nobody was ever turned away—Arthur’s sister, Florence, and her family were already living in a huge apartment over the garage—a policy that became problematic later on.
The San Vicente place is gone now, torn down to make way for a development of modern homes. But the entrance remains. Cement-and-plaster pillars are standing, and two wrought-iron swinging gates—held back permanently by overgrown ivy—vestigial reminders of the old days, when endless Hearst money flowed endlessly to Davies and then from Davies to her family.
Marion’s family. How do you begin to describe the Douras clan? They were outrageous, shocking. They were hilarious and, at times, disgusting. They were Irish, maybe some Dutch, maybe some French—and Catholic. There were so many Douras girls back then that it was hard to keep them straight. Ethel and Reine and Rose and Marion were all dancers under the stage name Davies, aspiring to the Follies, and living in a small house near Gramercy Park in New York City. Their father drank and gambled and kept a separate residence.
The spoiling started right off. When Marion was 15, she told her mother, Rose, that she wanted to go on the stage, that she hated convent school. Well, the matter was turned over to “Papa Ben,” to Bernard Douras, but what did Papa know? Let the girls do what they want! And when Marion was 18 and started seeing a married man, a 52-year-old guy named William Randolph Hearst, and when he’d come by the house to have dinner and stare at her, well, who was to criticize? The man seemed honorable enough. He’d declared his intentions: he was in love with Marion, and would marry her if he could, if only his wife would give him a divorce . . . That was good enough, wasn’t it?
Hearst began pursuing Marion, following her, buying her watches and rings, sending her love letters. She kept them all. She started liking him back. And after a while he decided to make her a star, finance her silent pictures, then promote her way, way beyond overkill. He had all those newspapers, you see. But she wasn’t talentless or charmless, like Susan Alexander, the ear-piercing soprano in Citizen Kane, and even Orson Welles had to say so, finally. The backing Hearst gave Marion was “less of a favor than might appear,” Welles wrote in the foreword to The Times We Had, Davies’s memoirs. “That vast publicity machine was all too visible; and finally, instead of helping, it cast a shadow—a shadow of doubt. . . . This question darkened an otherwise brilliant career.”
Second to San Simeon, Davies would continue to be Hearst’s main obsession. There was something wild about her, reckless and unpossessable. He spent his life trying to control her. Hearst wasn’t just Marion Davies’s lover—he was her agent, her producer, her father, her brother, and when her mother died in 1928, he said to her, “I’m awfully sorry. . . . May I be a mother to you?”
Welles also wrote, “Theirs is truly a love story. Love is not the subject of Citizen Kane.”
Hearst never did get a divorce—Millicent remained his wife until he died— but he spent a lifetime trying to make it up to Davies and her family. Bernard Douras eventually became a New York City magistrate, thanks to Hearst, and the rest of the Dourases would follow Marion to California after Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures signed a deal with MGM in 1924 giving her $10,000 a week. One by one, they arrived and stayed, living either with Marion in a big house on Lexington Road in Beverly Hills or later in separate houses she bought for them.
“Forget Jackie O. Pat Lake was the first American princess and nobody knew about her.”
The Dourases were passionately close, but there was a certain amount of sponging. Marion’s sister Reine, who was divorced from theatrical producer George Lederer, came to California with her children, Charles (who would write the screenplay for His Girl Friday) and Pepi (who hurled herself out a window of Good Samaritan hospital in 1935), and stayed for years. There was Marion’s sister Rose, who was married six times and enjoyed countless men along the way, including a 10-year affair with Washington newspaper publisher Edward Beale McLean and a notable fling with Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa.
It seems Rose was the wildest, the most drunken. She was also the official mother of Patricia Van Cleve. “It was a touch-and-go relationship,” Patricia says. “Rose could be sweet as sugar, had a good heart, but too many gin martinis and look out—Jekyll and Hyde.”
Biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, who began researching his well-received book Marion Davies in 1969, wondered then about the possibility of Patricia’s being Marion’s daughter instead of Rose’s. Since the 20s, there had been wild stories about Marion’s love children—the cook’s daughter at San Simeon was supposedly hers, the French actress Simone Simon was supposedly hers. One outrageous rumor even had it that Hearst’s twin boys, Randolph and David, who were being raised by Millicent in New York, were really Marion’s.
Guiles tends to believe Patricia’s story. And he is working on a new edition of his biography of Davies that will consider her claim. Why? “Rose was totally out of the picture as a mother,” Guiles says during a telephone call to his home in Florida. “Nobody could have been more unmotherly to Patricia than Rose was.”
While Patricia says on her tapes that she loved “Mama Rose,” she also claims there was always the danger of Rose’s getting drunk and revealing the truth. At a time when Marion’s career in pictures would probably not have survived further scandal, Hearst and Davies were careful to take good care of Rose—she wound up with her own house in Bel-Air. George Van Cleve, who was one of Rose’s husbands and ostensibly Patricia’s father, found cushy jobs within the Hearst empire. He ran off with Patricia several times between the years 1925 and 1930, and fought for legal custody of his daughter on the grounds of Rose’s promiscuity and drinking, but Patricia came to believe it wasn’t to protect her. He wanted ransom.
It was this mess Patricia was trying to escape by marrying Arthur Lake, she says, this confusing childhood of floating between a mother who wasn’t motherly and an aunt who was—but who was also a wildly successful movie star—and floating between a father who kidnapped her and a father figure who was 74 years old and could never decide if he wanted to be a rich bohemian or the president of the United States.
’As a little girl I wanted to call them Mama and Papa,” she says of W.R. and Marion on her tapes, “but I just couldn’t do that. Then time marches on—I was so used to the position I was in, and as you grow up, it’s easier to cope. You know what I mean?”
But, for many years beyond her wedding day, Patricia’s life continued to be centered on both sets of parents. She was essentially a cheerleader, a beautiful, kept companion. Everybody wanted her around. She had grown up tall and lean and attractive, with Marion Davies’s sense of the absurd. She had Hearst’s long face and high-bridged nose, his horsey teeth and huge smile. “It was seeing her in a home movie,” says archivist and historian Nancy E. Loe, the author of several books about Hearst and San Simeon, “that made me even consider her story.”
Rose called Patricia frequently in the middle of the night, drunk and crying about something. When George Van Cleve suffered a series of strokes, Patricia took him in and gave him a bedroom suite in the back of the San Vicente house until he died in 1949. And when Hearst began having serious heart problems and moved into a house on North Beverly Drive with Davies, Patricia dutifully kept Marion company while Marion held a four-year vigil for the failing tycoon.
“As a girl I wanted to call them Mama and Papa,” she says of Hearst and Davies, “but I just couldn’t.”
Hearst was wheelchair-bound toward the end of his life. The house was kept at a suffocating 80 degrees. And Davies was by then a hopeless alcoholic. “There were always a lot of nurses around,” remembers Marion Rose Canessa, Patricia’s daughter-nurses for both Hearst and Davies. Patricia spent nearly every day with them, but it wasn’t until after W.R.’s death, in 1951, that she realized her actual status within the Hearst empire: she was nobody.
Upon hearing the news their father was gone, William R. Hearst Jr. and David Hearst went to Davies’s house and had their father’s body removed— presumably to save their mother any further embarrassment. As Davies sobbed over the corpse, according to Patricia, she was injected with a sedative to get her out of the way. By the time she woke up, Patricia and Arthur and their kids were there, but Hearst was gone, his stuff was gone. And no invitations came, for any of the Dourases, to attend his funeral.
In his 1991 book, The Hearsts: Father and Son, William junior denies that Davies was injected with a sedative at the Hearsts’ request. When his father died, she was asleep, he says, already passed out in her bedroom—and never aware that the sons had arrived or that the mortician had been called to come for the body. There was no conspiracy to exclude Davies from the funeral, he says, but he writes that he “didn’t want to see her drunk in a face-to-face confrontation with our mother. Nor did Mother.”
Finally, he says, it’s not true that he refused to give Davies information about the funeral in San Francisco—as Davies claimed. But William junior doesn’t seem to realize that his version of events is only slightly less cruel: “I never had a phone conversation with Marion during that time. Therefore I could not have refused, as she asserted, to give her the time and place of the funeral. The truth is, it was published in many California papers.”
Patricia becomes animated on her tapes when talking about Hearst’s death. She speaks more quickly, and turns sarcastic. “Not only did they come over, knock her out, take her lover’s body away, my father’s body away, but later. . . . Christ!” Patricia says. “Years before, she had saved the goddamned Hearst empire, saved it by coming up with tremendous cash, selling jewels, furs, property, stocks, saved all the bastards, you know. And I thought, I just don’t believe this. I cannot believe that people can be like this, when there is so much there, there is so much for everybody. . . . My mother was a very good friend to all the Hearst boys. . . . And I can’t believe they could do that to a good, loyal woman, with a good heart.”
And she adds, “Thanks a lot, gang.” Marion Davies wouldn’t die for another 10 years, but it was a bad 10 years—made worse by her increased drinking and by her new husband, Horace Brown.
The minute Davies sobered up from her Vegas wedding, she called Patricia on the phone.
“I think I’m married,” Davies said.
“What?” Patricia said.
Brown, a merchant marine whom Rose had dumped a year or so before, looked just like Hearst, Patricia says. She came to call him “Hor-ass” Brown, but he would stay until Marion died, despite the scenes and fights and threats to divorce him. “I don’t know how many times she filed,” Patricia says. “Hundreds.”
Despite the drinking and the fights, Marion Rose Canessa, Patricia’s daughter, who lives in France, has many positive memories of the woman she grew up believing was her great-aunt. Marion “would hold court in her boudoir or in her bathroom, in her powder room, sitting there in her pink pajamas,” she says. She would read Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays, “and sometimes she’d even read in French, Molière or something, and then act out scenes. . . . She was quite funny. And she spoke beautifully when she read, but she’d stutter a lot when she spoke normally to people—she was very emotional.”
In 1960, Patricia and Arthur Lake moved to the beach, to Santa Monica—down the way from Marion Davies’s old seaside monstrosity, which she’d sold in 1945 for $600,000, about what it had cost to put in the 37 fire places. The Lakes’ house was big and white too, but not so grand. Times were changing. It had three floors and blue shutters, and it was located right between the sand and Highway 1: a little shabby and noisy— beachy—but with room enough for all the partying freeloaders, stray dogs, and family members in crisis. There were 10 bedrooms, seven bathrooms.
“You should have seen the linen closet. Like Bullock’s,” says one of Patricia’s granddaughters. “And the kitchen had restaurant refrigerators-one whole wall of them.”
Davies died the following year, leaving a fortune estimated at as high as $20 million. When Patricia received roughly a third of the estate (the rest went to Charlie Lederer and Rose), the Lakes acquired not just a new monthly income and the deed to their Santa Monica beach house, but all kinds of Davies stuff as well. Cherubs carved in marble. Old ball gowns and costumes, fur coats. Patricia put up paintings of Davies everywhere, and one big portrait of Hearst. “It was totally human-looking,” says another granddaughter, “with piercing eyes that would watch you wherever you went.”
Patricia got the assemblage of important photographs in silver frames, too, and placed them on top of Rose’s old Steinway: Davies with George Bernard Shaw, Davies with Douglas MacArthur, Davies with Lord Mountbatten, Davies with Charles Lindbergh. There was J.F.K., and Richard Nixon, and Martha Raye, and a tiny, tiny little oval gold frame containing a blurry snapshot: Hearst and Davies, heads close, smiling.
Arthur and Patricia never fought about anything, except when to start drinking. Arthur didn’t approve of it until after six in the evening—unless, of course, you’d been up all night and it was suddenly morning. That was O.K. The Lakes had parties like that all the time. Patricia wouldn’t stay up for just one night or two. When she was going strong, really out there, even in her last year, her 73rd, a party could last three days, three nights sometimes, without sleep, without morning newspapers and television, without the humdrum day slipping in and ruining everything. People remember her swinging her gigantic diamonds around, holding a vodka, and laughing. She was always laughing. Patricia Lake knew what fun was, and laughs.
“Pat led a tremendous life,” says Peter Linder, an old friend. “She’d lie on the beach with diamond rings as big as your knuckle, getting sand in them.”
She never did the dishes, or cleaned up, or made the food. She didn’t know how. At the beach house, there was a housekeeper and a maid and a butler to do that. And when Patricia got older—and the money began to run out—her friends did it: just stopped reveling long enough to put on a pair of rubber gloves and squirt liquid soap into the sink, run the water. They didn’t care, either.
“There was no week, or weekend, no waiting to celebrate,” says Lillian Morley, who knew the Lakes for 25 years. “Every day was Christmas for them, and every night was New Year’s Eve. And I never saw either of them get mad at anybody.”
Their son, Arthur Patrick—who owned eight cars by the time he was 18 years old—dropped out of school. (His dad had never gone at all, teaching himself to read and write as a teenager.) He grew tall and blond, with deep-set blue eyes—Patricia thought he looked like W.R.—and became an actor. He appeared in several episodes of Wonder Woman and Baa Baa Black Sheep. He worked as a stuntman. Between gigs, he was a drinker, a troublemaker. He laughed and called himself “a trust-fund junkie.” When things got desperate, he would pawn a piece of his mother’s jewelry—an American-flag pin with rubies, diamonds, and sapphires that had belonged to Davies.
She didn’t mind. Unconditional love: that’s how Patricia had been raised, and that’s how she raised her own. “Dad did horrible things,” says Arthur Patrick’s daughter Patricia Lake Hashi, “but my grandparents were always there. Helping out.”
“He was a bastard,” says Peter Linder, “a horrible monster boy.”
Marion Rose turned out quite differently from her brother. She liked school. She didn’t like drinking. She was serious; as a girl, she wanted to be a nun. Later she got interested in singing: church music, gospel, then Leonard Bernstein songs. In the summer of 1963, when she was 18, she was taken to France by Rose, given the tour—although it wasn’t the usual European trip with one’s grandmother.
“She’d been on the wagon since Aunt Marion died,” says Marion Rose. But when they got to Paris, to the H?tel de Crillon, all Rose’s old memories of her youth and her love affairs in France came back to her. She went wild, started drinking, and had to go home sick. “It killed her in a month. She went back and died of cirrhosis.”
After W.R.’s death, Patricia realized her actual status within the Hearst empire: she was nobody.
Patricia, according to several of her friends, was in Tangier visiting Russian socialite Nina Mdivani at the time of Rose’s grand finale and had to be persuaded to return to Los Angeles for the funeral. But she did return—mother, aunt, what does it matter who Rose really was?—and stood by the Douras-family crypt at the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery in an enormous black hat with a veil.
By the time Patricia’s grandchildren started being born, she was 40, and she took more of an interest, had the mothering thing down better. She raised some of them in her house. Sometimes she’d tell them stories—about her childhood, how Van Cleve used to kidnap her. “When I’m dead, you’re going to have to remember all this,” she’d say, but even so, when she talked about Rose and George, Patricia seemed vague on the details, as though her relationship to them was a rumor she’d heard thirdhand.
She threw the kids christening parties, and birthday parties, and parties when they graduated from kindergarten—and movie stars would come, not other children. The kids called her “Mama Pat.” Arthur was “Daddy Artie.” And later on, Patricia would introduce her granddaughters as her “daughters” or “sisters,” familial identities all jumbled up, just the way she was used to.
“They enjoyed us. They took us out,” says Patricia Lake Hashi, the oldest grandchild. “They’d go out to dinner clubs— Scandia and all those places—and we’d always be there. We’d be asleep in the big round booths at three in the morning, the waiters covering us with the tablecloths.”
Arthur Patrick’s kids grew up beach rats and surfers. The girls would come in from the ocean and dress up in Marion’s old ball gowns. His son drained all the water out of the swimming pool and started skateboarding inside, leaving wheel burns everywhere, and Patricia and Arthur loved it. Family stories include things like totaling Daddy Artie’s new Cutlass (“That’s O.K., baby”) and how he sent the kids to the store with signed blank checks, or left money for them in their shoes if he thought they were low on cash. There were always strangers in the house, men they called “uncle” and women who were “aunts.” And dogs everywhere—a family of Chihuahua-Pekingese mix that kept breeding and inbreeding.
“It was just a chaotic place,” says Lillian Morley, “you know, dog turds all over the place. . . . But in spite of the mess it was probably one of the only Edens I’ll ever find on this earth. Really and truly.”
It’s five or six miles up a winding, narrow road to the top, to the crest of La Cuesta Encantada—the enchanted hill—where William Randolph Hearst’s big dreams lie in state forever. You make this journey sitting in a groaning tour bus, after paying $14 a ticket. As the ride begins, a little speaker up by the bus driver’s head offers some crackling flapper music. A 1920s feeling breezes over you. A voice comes on, describing the history of California in brief (Mexican land grants), and then telling the story of how William Randolph Hearst came to own these gorgeous brown hills (his father, George Hearst, started buying them in 1865 for 60 cents an acre).
“Hearst Castle,” as it’s called on the mugs and key chains in the gift shop, receives about 800,000 visitors a year now. When Hearst died, there were attempts to sell the property (they say that Bing Crosby briefly showed interest), but it was given, finally, to the California Department of Parks and Recreation after U.C. Berkeley turned it down. The Hearst Corporation still owns 88,000 acres around the site, but the state owns the house and 160 acres of grounds and access routes. In 1958, it was opened for tours. It pays for itself, and for plenty of other sites in the state besides.
Today’s tour guide, a tall young woman with a stagy voice and long, dark hair, describes Hearst three times as “a regular guy.” She mentions the ketchup on the table, his love of trees and gardens, how devastated he was by his dachshund’s death. How he liked to tap-dance. The tours include amusing factoids and figures, some of which are hard to verify. Hearst’s father was the 15th-richest man in America “in his heyday,” the guide says. His son, an only child, “surely didn’t have to work for a living” and yet he came to run “92 businesses, 26 daily newspapers at his pinnacle in 1931.” He was a congressman, tried to be governor of New York, and tried to be president of the United States too. And he spent money, spent, spent, spent. Never cared about making it.
Inside the dark, red damask movie theater, a projector plays some old black-and-white footage of Hearst, clowning and laughing, pulling his sweater over his head to hide from a camera. “Hollywood,” the tour guide says, “doesn’t have the kind of fun anymore that it used to.”
There are tales and more tales, whispers of things—of parties, of romances, of nighttime swims and laughs. The castle still seems like a place that’s waiting for things to happen, for people to come back, for Amelia Earhart and Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and Cary Grant. In this room, Hoagy Carmichael played the piano. Over there, on the roof of the indoor pool, Charlie Chaplin played tennis. Here is the upstairs library where Harpo Marx pushed all the furniture aside and Marion Davies did somersaults from one end to the other, losing pieces of her jewelry along the way.
The gossip about illegitimate children began as early as 1924, when a famous but disreputable New York lawyer named William J. Fallon claimed to be in possession of birth certificates of Hearst’s children “born of a certain prominent motion picture actress.” Newspapers across the country printed the story, except those owned by Hearst, but Fallon never produced the birth certificates. The rumors faded and resurfaced, the way unsettled things do.
Fred Guiles, the biographer who wrote Marion Davies, remembers visiting Patricia Lake in Rancho Mirage in 1970, when he was researching his book. She was “tight-lipped,” he says, so much so that he didn’t dare ask about the rumors of her parentage, but he studied her appearance carefully, because “she did look so much like Hearst.”
He now proposes a possible year of birth for Patricia, 1920, when there’s a brief lull in Marion Davies’s moviemaking schedule. She made her first extended trip to California to see Hearst that year, and apparently had a very romantic tryst with him at an inn in Santa Maria For months, she lived in relative isolation on a ranch outside Santa Barbara. She didn’t work for a while. Then, even though Hearst hoped she’d stay with him in the West, she went back to New York. At this point, she could have gone to France with Rose and had the child, although Guiles thinks it is more likely that the baby was born while she was still in California. “The story is probably true,” Guiles says.
Patricia had nothing to gain. Hearst’s will is sealed—all 125 pages of it—but according to biographer W. A. Swanberg, who reportedly had access to the will when researching his book Citizen Hearst, provisions were made for claims such as Patricia’s. In the document, Hearst expressly denies the existence of any illegitimate offspring. He also provides for the discovery of some unknown illegitimate offspring: “then I give and bequeath to each such person the sum of one dollar.”
Nancy Loe, the historian and archivist, respects Guiles’s research but thinks the Patricia Lake story is bunk. When I ask why Patricia would tell the biggest lie of her life on the eve of her death, Loe suggests that perhaps Patricia believed it was true—either wanted Marion Davies to be her mother so badly that she came to believe it or was lied to by Davies.
“Marion’s alcoholism was so advanced,” says Loe, “and her desire to have children so strong, some wishful thinking might have become reality to her.”
Loe also wonders why Hearst would have needed to hide a daughter. He lived openly with Davies after 1925, and later in his life appeared to have abandoned his political ambitions. He was known to have wanted a daughter—badly—and so, if he finally had one, why would he not have claimed her publicly? “He relished his role as an iconoclast,” says Loe. “That makes me inclined to think that he wouldn’t have had trouble acknowledging a child.”
At the castle, meanwhile, nobody in authority seems able to cope with the touchy subject. “Since there’s no documentation on this that we’re aware of,” says James Allen, public-affairs assistant, “an investigation into the private affairs of Patricia Lake is not really part of the mission of Hearst Castle. The mission is the preservation and interpretation of the unique resources of Hearst Castle, such as the art collection.” (Though, as one scholar points out, “the art is really the least interesting thing about the place.”)
In the gift shop, it’s hard not to notice the absence of photographs of Marion Davies. No postcards of her. No gold-plated charms. On the tours, depending on the guide, her name is barely mentioned, as though she continues to be an embarrassment to the Hearsts, to the state of California, and to us. There’s an old-fashioned dismissal of her, despite the fact that she had a huge career of her own, and that she ran the house, invited her friends, influenced Hearst and his newspapers, helped manage his life and his finances. (He began listening to her in the early 30s, when she made a killing in New York real estate while he was losing his shirt.) Maybe the guides don’t know what to say because Davies wound up a drunk, because she was on morphine too, when her mouth cancer took over, because she somehow lost her respectability, whatever respectability she had had.
If a guide were to start talking about Marion Davies, well, suddenly he or she would be forced to discuss something as volatile and absorbing as passion and craziness, articulate to a busload of average Americans—who really just want to pay $14 to gape at splendor and big dreams and the Neptune Pool—that sometimes life doesn’t follow a predictable pattern, that powerful people do as they please, live on their own terms, drive where they want, build what they want, spend and waste and use.
The desert house was nice when Patricia and Arthur bought it, as were all the houses when they first moved in, then it slowly deteriorated. The dry wind beat it up, baby. The family beat it up too, and the friends. Pat and Artie’s place was still like a hotel, a refuge for countless friends whose marriages had fallen apart, for cousins on their way down or up, for people who came to drink and just stayed.
And it was still like a gallery, cluttered with pictures of dead people the Lake granddaughters could barely identify, dead people their boyfriends had never heard of.
George Bernard Shaw? Who was Marion Davies?
The sun was so strong in the summer that the air smelled like toast. Dust storms blew across Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage. The Lakes came to live permanently in the desert after 1977. The Betty Ford Center wasn’t far away, although it’s unclear whether any of the local population was choosing to take advantage of the facilities. Certainly not Pat and Artie. They were having too much fun.
They kept the beach house in Santa Monica for a bit longer, letting Arthur Patrick live there, then sold it—had to sell it, really—in 1979. Money was starting to be a problem. They were downscaling discreetly. They moved from a house at El-dorado to one at Thunderbird—both private golf-course communities—and then finally, in their twilight years, settled at the Indian Wells Country Club, in a one-story, three-bedroom modern house in front of the 18th hole.
The dogs had taken over by then. The Chihuahua-Pekingese mix was in its fourth and fifth generations, maybe more, and inbred to the point where some of them had eyes missing, legs missing. At the beach house, there had been one dog so infirm it was kept in a drawer in the kitchen with holes drilled in it and simply called “the Dog in the Drawer.” Diane Weissmuller, another friend, says they “all looked like E.T.,” and pretty much everybody remarks that Patricia never focused on housebreaking them. Billie Dove, the silent-film star who was Patricia and Arthur’s next-door neighbor for years, says there were 13 of those dogs. Lillian Morley says it was more like 18 or 20.
“I don’t know,” says Dove, “but the house got pretty rank.”
“It was,” says Morley, “like walking into a can of ammonia.”
Mind you, this is not criticism. Everybody loved Patricia and Arthur. Everybody. They were a crackup. They were clowns, the kind of people who dove into the pool with their clothes on, and pretended to lose control of their golf cart. They were lovable, sang at benefits, played Blondie and Dagwood. Billie Dove, sitting in her living room at Thunderbird, her flecked blue eyes still as young as when she made Blondie of the Follies with Marion Davies in 1932, says that Patricia “was the happiest person I’ve ever known.”
Arthur Patrick and his girlfriend called the house “Horror Manor” because it looked as if nobody had taken care of it for years. The doors were off their hinges, the roses were dying, only parts of the lawn got watered. By the 1980s, Arthur spent most days in his robe or pajamas, and Patricia was down to polyester muumuus. They rarely left the house, and sometimes went months without paying their bills—Arthur could go the longest time without opening the mail or even picking it up off the floor. Daily realities often eluded them. At Thunderbird, when the electricity was turned off, or the water, their old friends Earl and Lillian Morley would run over and show them how to get it turned back on.
“Oh, honey, you know what they were?” Lillian says, smiling. “They were children, absolutely.”
Patricia and Arthur sold off their assets, pawned jewelry, spent their monthly income before it came in. They were offered financial advice. They were offered temporary loans. But over time the Lakes just kept invading principal, kept getting Marion Rose and Arthur Patrick to sign off on permission to spend the Davies money that had been left in trust for them, which, pretty soon, was only the promissory note on the beach house.
It’s obvious they were drinking too much, isn’t it? You drink, and you tend to neglect things. So many of their friends drink, too: during an interview with one couple, old pals of the Lakes’, I found myself downing two straight vodkas in one hour just to keep up, but those friends aren’t broke. They still have two houses, clean, flat modern California places with tidy yards and healthy-looking pets.
Other people drink like that and don’t lose everything. It’s more. It’s something more.
Patricia went a little wild when Arthur died in 1987. She slashed a painting of Marion Davies. She talked, for the first time, about a fling she’d had with Errol Flynn. At the Hollywood cemetery, once again standing at the Douras-family crypt— where she’d buried Marion and Rose and Ethel and Reine, George Van Cleve, and God knows what other freeloaders—Patricia leaned over to one of her granddaughters, motioned to a marble bench marking a grave nearby, and said; “Hey, can you dig up Tyrone Power for me?”
Memories of Arthur’s wake: Friends and family laugh, then become protective. It was at the Linders‘ house. “It’s just too horrendous to go into now,” says Tisha Sterling, who lived with the Lakes for about a year when she was Arthur Patrick’s girlfriend. So many things happened. A door got broken at the Indian Wells house when Arthur Patrick, his son, Arthur David, and Johnny Weissmuller Jr., the son of the actor who played Tarzan, got into a fight. Then one of the Lake cousins was caught trying to steal jewelry from fellow guests. And Patricia turned up at the Linders’ blotto. She walked into the room, kicked off her shoes, lifted up her skirt, and said quite loudly, “Pussy says ‘Hello!’ ”
She spent the next couple of weeks in her dark bedroom, sober. She was keeping quiet, not really eating, either, just mourning Arthur. They had been only seven months shy of their 50th anniversary.
It seemed as if there was always something terrible happening to Patricia after that—things disappearing, money missing. Her drinking got worse. She was lonely, and took in some Lake cousins who wouldn’t leave—then shot out the windows of the house with a gun. Johnny Weissmuller Jr. remembers having to come down from San Francisco at least three times, at Patricia’s request, to help her kick people out. “She couldn’t say no to anybody,” Weissmuller says.
“It was like something out of Deliverance,” adds his wife, Diane.
Going broke, Patricia even hocked her wedding ring, hocked lots of things. She replaced them with huge fakes, big sparkling chunks that had the same effect, made her feel the same way.
And soon a guy named Paul Wallace turned up, a former Broadway dancer and onetime choreographer who was living in the desert. He was considerably younger than Patricia, lightened his hair, didn’t say much. They’d go out dancing together, and Patricia loved that. They got married. But there were scenes—screaming fights, with Pat running out to the guard’s kiosk at the country club—and then there was the time Wallace disappeared and was found, months later, in a nearby hospital. People liked him about as much as they had liked Horace Brown.
“It was a repeat performance of Marion’s [marriage to Brown],” says Marion Rose Canessa. “She married this nice little, poor little guy. She said she even took a blood test. And she changed her name! I couldn’t believe it, but in the end I felt sort of sorry for him.”
Patricia’s granddaughters were still around—Arthur Patrick’s three girls, all of whom now have kids of their own. They idolized her. They took turns living with her. And they did for her what she’d done for Marion and Rose. Poured drinks, talked, laughed. Meanwhile, somebody came up with the idea of taping Patricia while she talked about her life—Marion had done the same thing after Hearst died—and talked about her real parents. Maybe something would come of it.
The last years were rough. Patricia’s hair was still long and bright—but white, not blond. She still had a certain regal bearing. But Billie Dove remembers seeing Patricia being helped by two men into her golf cart outside the Hotel Indian Wells, and thinking, “I’ve got to call her and beg her to stop drinking.” Peggy Linder remembers seeing Patricia in the bank a couple years ago, after not having seen her for a long time, and is ashamed to admit it now, but, well, “I thought as long as she didn’t see me I could duck right out. And the next thing we knew, she was dead. We didn’t even know she had cancer, didn’t even know she was sick—anything.”
She never wanted anybody to know.
‘Truth is always stranger than fiction,” Patricia says with a groggy laugh, her mouth a little too close to the microphone. “I think you know that.”
Her death certificate listed her parents very plainly, in Courier typeface: “Marion Davies” and “William Randolph Hearst.” It’s an exciting sight, so final-looking, but in truth it means nothing. The next of kin provides the information about the deceased to a county official, and it’s not up to the official to check. You can’t help but wonder, though—as she came into this world, as she went out—who was lying about Patricia.
Arthur Patrick Lake was the next of kin who, in this case, provided the vital or not so vital information. Maybe he was doing something daring, honorable, for his dead mother, listing her parents that way. There was another reason too, of course, another motive for making this declaration so officially. Arthur Patrick wanted money. He wanted money so badly it was practically all he talked about, all he thought about.
“I’m going to make a million on this,” he’d say. “We’re selling this to TV and I’m making a million.”
Patricia and Arthur Patrick got together with Ed Simmel, a film and TV producer who lives in Palm Desert and who, along with his wife, Honey, had been a good friend to Patricia during the final years, when some of her tonier friends were less in evidence. They even had dinner with Paul Wallace. They liked Patricia, accepted her, and believed her. And the plan, before Patricia learned she had lung cancer in the spring of 1993, was that she’d tell her story, maybe put a book deal together, do the rounds of shows—Oprah and Phil and Sally Jessy— and that Ed Simmel and Arthur Patrick would get a treatment written for a TV mini-series. They would call it The Hidden Hearst—a title thought up by Tisha Sterling’s mother, actress Ann Sothern.
“I don’t know what Arthur Patrick cared about except money,” Sterling says now. “He just wanted to be loved and to have money.”
But he also liked to drink—did he have much choice? Arthur Patrick was a day-long beer drinker. And a year ago, just six months after burying his mother, he ran off with a woman he had been seeing, and got married at the Universal Life Church in Bullhead City, Arizona. Both newlyweds had been drinking, and were driving back to Indian Wells when their car swerved off the road. Arthur Patrick was thrown, killed instantly.
The task of seeing through the book and TV mini-series deal, the packaging and selling of Mama Pat to the networks, fell to Arthur Patrick’s four children, even as they made arrangements for his funeral and tried to deal with his widow, who had been living at Horror Manor and was refusing to leave. Marion Rose Canessa wanted nothing to do with the mini-series, which has yet to find a buyer. She read the treatment and found it “gruesome” and “melodramatic” and “like an episode of Dynasty,” she says, so she pretty much signed away her control over her mother’s story.
And what was the story, exactly?
“Forget Jackie O,” says Honey Simmel, “Pat Lake was the first American princess and nobody knew about her and that makes me very sad. Pat was the real thing.”
Of course, it’s hard to define “the real thing.” Perhaps a hopeless alcoholic who was loved by everybody she knew, who always laughed, who took people into her house, who never got mad, who burned through millions of dollars, who was already drinking champagne at 14 and dancing close to Errol Flynn, and who used to shrug and say, “These things happen, baby,” is more of an American princess than Jackie O, but I get a distinct feeling, talking to the Simmels, that some glossing is going on.
During the two days I spend in the desert with Ed and Honey Simmel and the four children of Arthur Patrick and a producer named William P. D‘Angelo from Grosso-Jacobson, the firm which is packaging the Patricia Lake story, there is no mention made of Paul Wallace, or the condition of the Lakes’ desert house. The dogs don’t come up, either.
And when I ask, point-blank, “Did Patricia have a drinking problem?” there is a rise of objection all around. “Party drinking,” says Honey Simmel. Of the grandchildren, Kimberly Lake Santori seems the most offended.
Kimberly Santori, 25, is the youngest of Arthur Patrick’s children. Her voice is exactly like Dagwood’s—with sudden elevations of tone, shifts in octave, and sometimes the loud, braying quality. She is pretty too, farm-girl pretty, with a few buttons on the front of her black summer dress unbuttoned. She is a secretary in Clovis, California. She has three children. Her husband is a “maintenance technician.” She wears a ring that belonged to Davies, which Patricia never took off: two ruby hearts next to each other.
“It was their two hearts together,” Santori says.
At the end of two long days, she looks up at me.
“So? Do you buy our story?” she asks.
I say that I do.
“Will other people?”
I look over at her brother, Arthur David Lake. It’s because of him that I “buy” the story. He is tall and lean, 32, surfs a lot, works as a mason, has a 6-year-old daughter. He lives in Hawaii and Malibu. He is quiet, lets the three sisters take over. His face is haunting. Arthur David has deep-set blue eyes, a long nose, and a certain shape of brow that I’ve seen one other place: in a portrait of the young William Randolph Hearst that hangs at San Simeon. Of course, it proves nothing, but it’s unmistakable—the resemblance—and later, after all the research and reporting, the talking to experts, it is because of Arthur David’s face that I have come to believe this ridiculous story—and maybe, too, because I am the sort of person who, given a tossup, likes to believe things.
“Growing up, we were always taught not to air certain things. We all knew basically who we were, but we didn’t put on airs or tell other people,” says Patricia Lake Hashi. “Maybe some paranoia was instilled in me.”
Patricia Lake Hashi is 34, a manicurist on the island of Kauai. She is wearing a sash around her forehead, like a flapper. She is also wearing jeans with high-heeled bone-white pumps. She is seriously beautiful; she has Marion Davies’s eyes, nose, mouth—pretty much everything. Like the other women in the family, she married young, and she has three children, aged 4, 8, and 13.
The curse of Millicent Hearst comes up several times. “When things would be going bad for Mama Pat, she’d say, ‘Oh, the curse of Millicent Hearst,’ ” recalls Victoria Lake, another granddaughter. “Hey, I’m not afraid to say it—Millicent Hearst cursed our family.” Each time I hear something like this, I think to myself that the curse of alcohol probably has more to do with the family’s problems than W.R.’s wife does, but I don’t feel like having to describe William Randolph Hearst using a word like “co-dependent.” I’m not sure that Patricia’s drinking has anything to do with her credibility, either. Sober people lie, too. But I do ask again, more boldly, “Is anybody going to tell me that Patricia had a horrible drinking problem?”
“Oh, no. Not at all,” says Kimberly Lake Santori.
“Pat did not. Everybody else in the family had a drinking problem. Even Marion,” says Victoria Lake.
“Pat could drink for 24 hours,” Victoria adds, “then snap out of it, and be doing needlepoint, and say, ‘I’m on the wagon.’ I saw her go six weeks without drinking.”
“It never stopped her from going to a meeting or a party,” says Kimberly Santori.
“She did smoke,” says Honey Simmel.
“It was a completely different era,” says Victoria. “You drank. You smoked.”
They do impressions of Mama Pat smoking—index finger and thumb pinched together, the way gangsters and German officers smoke in movies. They demonstrate how she checked out her lipstick at the dinner table—by looking at her reflection in the blade of a knife. They do her smoky, sultry voice too: Just close the curtains on the stage of your mind, baby.
Patricia Lake Hashi calls Orson Welles a “big pig.” It’s explained that “Rosebud” was the name Hearst had for Marion Davies’s genitalia—and the family was outraged that Welles had been cruel enough to make a joke of it.
They have hundreds of snapshots: Arthur Lake at San Simeon with the Three Stooges. Patricia on a sailboat, gorgeous and slim. Patricia at the castle, in front of the Neptune Pool, where her kids learned to swim. And then a picture of Marion Davies at the end of her life, when she had mouth cancer, sitting in a dining room full of people, with a scarf tied around her head, “to keep her jaw from falling off,” says Victoria.
Victoria Lake has a Douras face, too— but with a different configuration—and a kind of unsettling street smarts and honesty. She is 27. She has gained weight, she says, because it’s been a lousy year. She lived with Mama Pat the last year of her life, and is planning to move to Kauai to be with her older sister. She has porcelain nails that extend two inches beyond the ends of her fingers. She drums them on the coffee table in the suite at the Hyatt in Indian Wells, where we have all gathered.
Looking at a picture of William Randolph Hearst, she says, “He was hideouslooking. I don’t care how much money he had, I wouldn’t have gone with him.”
“We never talk about all this, you know,” says Kimberly Lake Santori. “This is the most we’ve ever talked about Marion and W.R. and Pat.”
Occasionally there’s a ruined feeling, a corrupted Tess of the d’Urbervilles quality, to the grandchildren, a sense that before all this, before the mini-series and the claims, they were happy just to be kids, beach rats, surfers, young moms. They had nothing to worry about—never cared about proving their ancestry. Never cared much about money. That was their dad’s obsession. And now they’ve got Ed and Honey Simmel sitting across the room from them, helping them push Patricia’s story, telling them what they should say and not say, like chaperons—keeping the Lake grandchildren under control—lest the blood of their grandmother and great-grandmother should rise inside them and demand some excitement, some life, some living.
And the blood does rise, at night. The Lakes have a wonderful way of hydroplaning beyond decorum and respectability. It starts with Kimberly Lake Santori, when she brings her baby daughter to the Hotel Indian Wells bar and lets her walk around on top of it. And then Arthur David Lake sits down next to me. “My grandmother would have liked you,” he says. Why? “Because you drink vodka straight.”
A huge maroon Cadillac pulls up in front of the hotel. It’s rented. It has a car phone and all the extras. Patricia Lake Hashi is at the wheel. Come on, get in, baby. The windows are all down. We drive off too fast, into the night, with the dry desert air on our faces. The radio is blasting. The music is up so loud you couldn’t know suffering. You couldn’t know anything. Everybody is swinging his head, singing. We are speeding in the dark, singing along, and laughing.
It is midnight, after dinner, and we have to go dancing, they say. The Cadillac takes us to a place called the Yacht Club, in a strip shopping center in Indian Wells. It’s all blue inside, and nautical and watery. The bar and dance floor are pretty much empty, except for a table of five men—where the granddaughters will eventually wind up. But, for now, we are ordering more drinks, more beer, and pretty soon Victoria Lake is out there moving around by herself on the floor and smiling. She’s wearing black jeans, a black T-shirt, and a black cowboy hat. And she’s really moving.
What’s particularly stunning is how confident she is, how sensual she is, how unabashed, and how powerful. She says she is 20 pounds over her usual weight, but still, at a time when other women might be hiding themselves, their bodies, she is wearing skintight black jeans. And at a point when other women would be sitting down all night, not wanting to dance until they were thinner, she is out there, going it alone, and beautifully. Soon enough, Kimberly Santori joins her.
“This is where Mama Pat used to come,” she says. “She never got old, you know. She was more of a kid than us.”
And Patricia Lake Hashi gets out there too, in her jeans and high heels and white sash around her forehead. She is laughing, huskily, from her guts. The three girls line up together with their arms around one another, and the next song comes on—a reggae beat, Bob Marley. They whoop. They love it.
“Don’t worry . . . ’bout a thing . . . ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.” They start singing into their beer bottles, moving around. And suddenly it’s impossible to feel sorry for them, for the beautiful granddaughters of Patricia Lake, and perhaps, if you give them the benefit of the doubt, the beautiful great-granddaughters of Marion Davies. Maybe nobody educated them, disciplined them, or nagged them. Maybe they’ve been cursed by Millicent, left with pieces of jewelry still in hock, left with unfinished business—a funny lie or truth in the air that nobody is going to get around to clearing up anytime soon—but here they are, gorgeous and laughing and dancing together.
And I think, It doesn’t matter who the parents of Patricia Lake were, or who her grandparents and great-grandparents were. We inherit all kinds of things from our parents, biological and spiritual, and it’s clear that these women didn’t get sensible things that others may have—money, schooling, a last name or middle name like Hearst—but, my God, they can dance like that. And they can laugh. They can stay out late, and dive headfirst into the Hotel Indian Wells swimming pool at three in the morning.
And it isn’t until some hours, some days, some weeks later, when responsibility and respectability begin creeping back into my body, that I realize this isn’t a small thing at all, their inheritance. Out on the dance floor, I can see Patricia, Marion, Rose, Marion Rose too, swinging, jiving, oblivious, beautiful and unrestrained and free and completely remarkable. Oh, these Dourases. They do know this: life is about fun, about right now, right here, take a break, take a breath, exhale, that’s it.
So what if the money’s gone?