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Birth of a rumour is laid to rest

LOS ANGELES - One of the hottest topics of gossip and speculation ever to swirl through Hollywood and Beverly Hills may finally have been put to rest after the publication of a three- paragraph death notice in a newspaper, writes Phil Reeves.

Readers of the Los Angeles Times' obituary pages were informed that Patricia Van Cleve Lake, 'the only daughter of the famed movie star Marion Davies and the famed (publisher) William Randolph Hearst' was dead.

The announcement would have passed without much ado, were it not for the fact that Hearst, the eccentric publishing mogul who was the subject of the hugely successful film, Citizen Kane, and Davies, his mistress, never admitted to having an illegitimate child, apparently fearing scandal.

Actors, writers and other celebrities who visited Hearst's hilltop castle in California were told that Patricia Van Cleve Lake, then a little blonde girl who spent much of her time with the couple, was Davies' niece.

Although her suspiciously similar features did not go unnoticed in Hollywood, Ms Lake did not publicly comment on the subject for 60 years, even after the deaths of Hearst and Marion Davies. But, according to the Los Angeles Times yesterday, she announced on her deathbed that she wanted the world to know her secret. Ten hours before she died from complications of lung cancer, she told her son to reveal her identity in her death certificate and obituary.

While her birth in the Twenties was disputed for decades, there was no doubt that Ms Lake lived at the heart of the Hearst circle, mixing with some of the Hollywood giants of the age, including Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson. 'She lived her life on a satin pillow,' her son, Arthur, said. 'They took away her name, but they gave her everything else.'