21 January 2008

M. Who?

I wonder how many people walk into the old Warwick Hotel on Sixth Avenue, clap eyes on the gold metal letters reading "M. Davies" on a wall near that entrance, and known what they're looking at.

The Warwick has an interesting distinction among old Manhattan hotels. It was built by a tycoon specifically as a playpen for his mistress. The tycoon was publishing baron Williams Randolph Hearst and the mistress, of course, was film actress Marion Davies—little "M. Davies."

Hearst, as history tells, would do anything for his blonde Venus, so what's $5 million in construction costs in 1927 America? Davies has her own floor in the 36-story building. And rumor has it that a secret tunnel ran underground from the Hearst Building on Eighth Avenue to the hotel.

At one point, the Ziegfeld Theater was right across the street, making the hotel very popular with stars such as James Dean, Cary Grant (who lived there for 12 years), Jane Russell and Elizabeth Taylor. Elvis Presley and The Beatles assured that the Warwick has a place in musical history.

The Warwick hardly gives off a salacious air today. The hotel is sweet, but rather fusty and square. The cocktail lounge Randolph's is tame and touristy and, if you don't watch out, they'll serve you your Negroni on the rocks. Catching that now-forgotten name cast in gold on the wall, however, can draw one's mind back to snazzier times.


Anonymous said...

from wikipedia, about robber baron James Fisk:

"In New York, Fisk had a relationship with Josie Mansfield, a show-girl. Fisk housed Josie in an apartment a few doors down from the Erie Railroad headquarters on West 23rd Street and had a covered passage built linking the backdoors of the headquarters and her apartment building."

Those monied adulterers and their secret passageways! Of course, from 57th and 8th to 54th and 6th does seem a bit of a haul underground, what with the various subway lines and all (although perhaps the underground trains were in the future in 1927--anyone?). Of further scandalous interest: it is a long-standing rumor that "Rosebud," the immortal last word of Hearst stand-in Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' film, "Citizen Kane," was what Hearst nicknamed Davies' clitoris.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Ha! Just goes to show, KOB, that there are no new ideas under the sun. Probably Manhattan is just crawling with underground tunnels. And, yes, I had heard about the Rosebud rumor.

Anonymous said...

The Rosebud rumor is indeed amusing, but given that a real rosebud is so very much larger than, well, you know, it sounds rather fanciful to me.

As for the tunnel rumor, here is an interesting site which, while not addressing that particular tunnel, points out that "secret" tunnels in general are quite rare in the city.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

One tunnel that I do know exists run under the street between the old Centre Street police station and a nearby bar that was once a speakeasy. The bar now uses it as its wine cellar, I hear.