Patricia claimed to have known since she was 11 that the man she and everyone else called "the Chief" was really her father. Davies took her aside one day and revealed the whole mess. ("Never divulge this, but your father is the Chief--William Randolph Hearst.") On her wedding day six years later, Hearst told her privately, the first time he embraced her. She pretended not to know.
Davies was by then playing leading lady to Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, and Patricia--at 5-feet-7 with wavy blond hair--fit nicely at the center of that glamorous life. She traveled the world with Davies and Hearst and was one of the few brides ever married at San Simeon. (Davies was a bridesmaid.)
She never drove a car or washed a dish. A limousine would pull up and she was off to the Ranch. She did little acting to speak of, but her glamour photo was plastered on the cover of the January, 1950, Sunday Mirror magazine--a W. R. Hearst publication. She named her son, Arthur, after her husband. But Hearst decided that the middle name would be Patrick so he could call the boy A. P.--the abbreviation used in newspaper circles for the Associated Press.
In death, her son said, Hearst left her a huge trust that was later squandered by a crooked lawyer. Davies willed her a Steinway piano, among other treasures, and a generous trust of her own that Patricia drew on throughout her life.
Hearst and Davies treated her like a daughter, but called her a niece until they died. Indeed, in Davies' biography, "The Times We Had," Patricia rates little more than a footnote as "niece and companion who . . . like Marion, was a striking blonde."
For all of their trouble, it seemed to be Hollywood's worst-kept secret. Gloria Swanson blustered about it on the set of her TV show in 1951. "Marion and that old bastard had a daughter up there," recalled Ed Simmel, the show's producer and a Lake family friend.
Patricia Lake did not tell her two children until they were teen-agers, around the time of Davies' death. "She was taught from the ripe age of 11 to keep her mouth shut," her son said. "That would sink in after a while."
She was a footnote in all the bizarre goings-on of Hollywood, fodder for a town that cut its teeth on rumors and is still chewing on some of them: Did Jean Harlow's husband kill himself because he could not consummate the marriage or was he really murdered by a jealous ex-wife? Was David Janssen's mystery father actually Clark Gable? How did Marilyn Monroe really die?
The world may never know if Patricia Van Cleve Lake is America's Anastasia or a dying woman making a last grasp at fame. (Simmel and Arthur Lake are already cooking up a mini-series and book--"Hidden Hearst.")
"It's a very old rumor and a rumor is all it ever was," a spokesman for Hearst Castle, now a state-owned tourist attraction, said primly. Hearst's only surviving son, Randolph, did not return calls.
Family and friends say it is not such a mystery that no paperwork exists. "If Hearst could start a war, he could sure as hell fog up a birth certificate," said one.
"He was a man who could alter the tides," said another.
The flat-roofed house sits on the 18th fairway of the exclusive, gated Indian Wells Country Club near Palm Springs. The furniture is marred and the walls need paint but there is nevertheless something glamorous about this place where Patricia Lake lived out her life.
A portrait of Marion Davies, draped in black tulle, hangs near the kitchen; another one of the Chief is by the front door. Her life with Arthur Lake--they remained married until his death in 1988, Errol Flynn notwithstanding--was enchanting enough. They did a roadshow together and most of his movies were considerable successes. But if the memorabilia she chose to display is any indication, she considered herself less the wife of Dagwood Bumstead than the daughter of Citizen Hearst.
At her death, Patricia Van Cleve was not sure if she was 70 or 73 or something in between. "Hell, I never had a birth certificate," she would say.
She was laid to rest at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery in a crypt near Marion Davies' (marked Douras, her given name). It was a small, private ceremony. Son Arthur got started right away fulfilling his mother's last wish, dictating the obscure death notice that appears to be the first black-and-white acknowledgment that one of the most talked-about love affairs of the century had produced a daughter.
There was a time when all of Hollywood would have salivated to read those words. Walter Winchell would have considered it quite a scoop. But most interested parties are long dead. If Patricia Lake invented this story for glory's sake, her timing was terrible.
"No, she was just a lady," one admirer said. "She did not announce it until all the interested parties had shuffled off the mortal coil."