Today is the birthday of Marie Prevost (Marie Bickford Dunn, 1898-1937). She started out in 1915 as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, gradually working her way up to supporting, then starring roles…and from shorts up to features. Many know her best today from her later career but from 1915 through 1921 she was strictly in slapstick shorts with the likes of Charlie Murray, Bobby Dunn and Harry Gribbon. Mack Sennett graduated her to features opposite Ben Turpin with Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919) and A Small Town Idol (1921).
King Baggot brought her to even more prominence in Kissed (1922). For awhile she was one of Hollywood’s principal flapper girls, starring in films like The Married Flapper (1924), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned (1924), and Bobbed Hair (1925). Lubitsch starred her in The Marriage Circle (1924), Three Women (1924) and Kiss Me Again (1926)
In 1926 her mother Hagina was killed in a car accident (Al Christie was driving the car). The death (combined with the loss her Warner Bros contract and her divorce from actor Kenneth Harlan) hit Prevost hard, and although she kept working, she began to gain weight and develop a serious alcohol problem. She slipped from leading lady to second banana in Pre-Code talkies, usually playing the funny fat friend (roles not unlike the one Rosie O’Donnell would play in Sleepless in Seattle. ) But her weight problem (and drastic efforts to diet) affected her health adversely. It stopped her heart in 1937. She was only 38.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.