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Marie Prevost

Marie Prevost
Marie Prevost Stars of the Photoplay.jpg
Prevost c. 1921
Marie Bickford Dunn

(1896-11-08)November 8, 1896
DiedJanuary 21, 1937(1937-01-21) (aged 40)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Other namesMary Prevost
Marie Provost
Years active1915–1936
Sonny Gerke
(m. 1918; div. 1923)

(m. 1924; div. 1929)

Marie Prevost (born Marie Bickford Dunn; November 8, 1896[1] – January 21, 1937) was a Canadian-born film actress. During her 20-year career, she made 121 silent and sound films.

Prevost began her career during the silent film era. She was discovered by Mack Sennett who signed her to contract and made her one of his "Bathing Beauties" in the late 1910s. Prevost appeared in dozens of Sennett's short comedy films before moving on to feature-length films for Universal. In 1922, she signed with Warner Bros. where her career flourished as a leading lady. She was a favorite of director Ernst Lubitsch who cast her in three of his comedy films: The Marriage Circle (1924), Three Women (1924) and Kiss Me Again (1925).

After being let go by Warner Bros in early 1926, Prevost's career began to decline and she was relegated to secondary roles. She was also beset with personal problems, including the death of her mother in 1926 and the breakdown of her marriage to actor Kenneth Harlan in 1927, which fueled her depression. She began to abuse alcohol and binge eat, resulting in a weight gain that made it difficult for her to secure acting jobs. By 1935, Prevost was only able to secure bit parts in films. She made her last onscreen appearance in 1936.

After years of drinking, Prevost died of acute alcoholism at the age of 40 in January 1937. Prevost's estate was valued at $300 since she had squandered most of her earnings. Her death prompted the Hollywood community to create the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.

Early life

Prevost was born in Sarnia, Ontario, to Hughina Marion (née Bickford) and Arthur "Teddy" Dunn. Her father worked as a railroad conductor. When she was an infant, Teddy Dunn was killed when gas seeped into the St. Clair Tunnel. Hughina later married Frank Prevost and the family moved to Denver. In 1900, Hughina gave birth to another daughter, Marjorie, called Peg. Marie's stepfather, who worked as a miner and surveyor, frequently moved the family around the country following up on various get-rich-quick schemes. After living in Ogden, Utah; Reno, Nevada; and Fresno, California, the family finally settled in Los Angeles. Hughina and Frank Prevost later divorced.[2] Frank Prevost died in September 1933 and bequeathed Marie $1.[3]

While living in Los Angeles, Prevost attended Manual Arts High School. By 1915, Prevost landed a job as a secretary at a law firm which represented the Keystone Film Company. While running an office errand at the Keystone Studios, Prevost was asked to appear in a bit part for the film His Father's Footsteps. Mack Sennett, Keystone's owner, was impressed by Prevost's performance and sent word that he wanted to see Prevost in his office. Prevost later recalled the day to Motion Picture World magazine: "I asked for Mr. Sennett and was ushered in right away. He looked very stern as I walked into his office. I was ready to cry. Suddenly, he smiled. 'I want your signature today. Sign right here.' I suddenly realized the paper he pushed in front of me was a contract. I was to be one of his Sennett Bathing Beauties. Best of all I was to be paid $15 a week. I signed without reading a word. Fifteen dollars was a lot of money."[4]

As her career was beginning to rise, Prevost married socialite Henry Charles "Sonny" Gerke in June 1918. The couple soon separated, and Prevost kept news of the marriage a secret.[5]


Early years

c. 1918
c. 1918

Initially cast in minor comedic roles as the sexy, innocent young girl, she worked in numerous films for Sennett's studio. In 1919, Sennett cast Prevost in her first lead role in Yankee Doodle in Berlin. The film was a hit and helped to solidify Prevost's career. She scored another success in the 1920 romantic film Love, Honor, and Behave, opposite George O'Hara, another newcomer and Sennett protégé. By 1921, Prevost wanted to move to another studio, later stating that she left Keystone because Sennett was only interested in making money and was unconcerned with creativity. Director King Baggot helped secure her a contract with Universal for $1,000 per week. Prevost was released from her contract with Keystone, and she signed with Universal in 1921.[6]

At Universal, Irving Thalberg took an interest in Prevost and became determined to make her a star. Thalberg ensured that she received a great deal of publicity and staged numerous events which put her in the public spotlight. After announcing that he had selected two films in which Prevost would star, The Moonlight Follies (1921) and Kissed (1922), Thalberg sent Prevost to Coney Island where she burned her bathing suit to symbolize the end of her bathing beauty days.[7]


While at Universal, Prevost still was relegated to light comedies. After her contract expired, Jack L. Warner signed her to a two-year contract at $1,500 per week at Warner Bros. in 1922. During this time, Prevost was dating actor Kenneth Harlan. Jack Warner also had signed Harlan to a contract and cast the couple in the lead roles in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned. To publicize the film, Warner announced that the couple would marry on the film's set. The publicity stunt worked, and thousands of fans sent gifts and letters to the couple. In August 1923, Sonny Gerke, Prevost's first husband filed for divorce. The Los Angeles Mirror got wind that Prevost still was married and ran a story with the headline "Marie Prevost Will Be a Bigamist if She Marries Kenneth Harlan". Warner was livid over the negative publicity and Prevost's failure to disclose her first marriage despite the fact that the publicity stunt was his idea.[8]

c. 1923
c. 1923

In spite of the bad publicity, Prevost's performance in The Beautiful and Damned brought good reviews. Director Ernst Lubitsch chose her for a major role opposite Adolphe Menjou in 1924's The Marriage Circle. Of her performance as the beautiful seductress, Lubitsch said that she was one of the few actresses in Hollywood who knew how to underplay comedy to achieve the maximum effect.[9] This performance, praised by The New York Times, resulted in Lubitsch casting her in Three Women in 1924 and in Kiss Me Again the following year.

Marie Prevost singing "If I Had My Way" in the film The Flying Fool

In early 1926, Warner Bros. decided to not renew Prevost and Harlan's contracts (the two quietly married in 1924 after Prevost's divorce was finalized).[10] Shortly after she was dismissed by Warner Bros., Prevost's mother Hughina died in an automobile accident in Lordsburg, New Mexico on February 5, 1926. Hughina had been traveling to Palm Beach, Florida with actress Vera Steadman and Hollywood studio owner Al Christie when their vehicle overturned. Hughina was crushed by the vehicle and died at the scene. Steadman and Christie sustained serious injuries, but survived.[11]

Actress Phyllis Haver, who had been friends with Prevost since her bathing beauty days, later stated in an interview that she believed the loss of Prevost and Harlan's contracts with Warner Bros. caused problems in the marriage and was one of the causes of Prevost's alcoholism.[10]


Devastated by the loss of her only remaining parent, Prevost began drinking heavily and developed an addiction to alcohol. Prevost tried to get past her personal torment by burying herself in her work, starring in numerous roles as the temptingly beautiful seductress who in the end was always the honorable heroine. Adding to her depression was the end of her marriage to Kenneth Harlan – the two separated in 1927.

After seeing Prevost in The Beautiful and Damned, Howard Hughes cast her as the lead in The Racket (1928). Hughes and Prevost later had a brief affair. After the affair ended, Prevost was heartbroken which furthered her depression.[12] Her role in The Racket proved to be Prevost's last leading role.

Prevost's depression caused her to binge on food resulting in significant weight gain. Her career continued but she was relegated to secondary roles. In 1929, Cecil B. DeMille offered her a co-starring role in his final silent film The Godless Girl, starring Lina Basquette. In her 1990 autobiography, Basquette recalled that Prevost was not outwardly bitter about losing her leading lady status, stating "Aw, hell, that's the way it is." Prevost received generally good reviews for her role in the film. The following year, she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[13]

While at MGM, Prevost worked steadily but was offered only secondary parts. In 1930, she appeared in Paid, starring Joan Crawford. While Prevost's role was secondary, she garnered good reviews. In 1931, she played Academy Award winner Helen Hayes' loyal friend in The Sin of Madelon Claudet. In 1932, she was one of the three leads in the film Three Wise Girls, starring Jean Harlow. By 1934, she had no work at all, and her financial situation deteriorated dramatically. The downward spiral became aggravated when her weight problems forced her into repeated crash dieting to keep whatever bit part a movie studio offered. Prevost made her last on screen appearance in a bit part as a waitress in Ten Laps to Go (1936).

Personal life

Marie Prevost in 1926 cover art from Picture-Play Magazine
Marie Prevost in 1926 cover art from Picture-Play Magazine

Prevost was married twice with both marriages ending in divorce. Her first marriage was to socialite Henry Charles "Sonny" Gerke in June 1918. The marriage was not known to the public until Gerke filed for divorce in August 1923 citing desertion. Gerke claimed that the marriage was kept a secret because Prevost feared it would damage her budding acting career. News of the marriage was revealed shortly after Jack L. Warner devised a publicity stunt in which he claimed that Prevost and her The Beautiful and Damned co-star Kenneth Harlan would marry on the film's set in real life. To avoid negative publicity, Prevost did not fight the divorce. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Prevost admitted that she and Gerke married on a whim and had separated shortly after marrying. She also stated that she and Gerke had remained friendly and dated on occasion.[14] Gerke's divorce petition was granted in October 1923.[15]

In October 1924, Prevost married actor Kenneth Harlan. The two starred in several films together, including The Beautiful and the Damned and Bobbed Hair. Prevost and Harlan separated in May 1927, and Prevost filed for divorce. Later that year, she was granted an interlocutory divorce. However, the couple reconciled in June 1928.[16] The reconciliation proved to be brief and their divorce was finalized in January 1929.[17]


On January 21, 1937, Prevost died of acute alcoholism at the age of 40. Her body was not discovered until January 23 after neighbors complained about her dog's incessant barking. A houseboy found her body after entering her room.[18] Police found several empty liquor bottles in the room along with a promissory note to Joan Crawford for $110.[19]

Her funeral (which was paid for by Joan Crawford) at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery was attended by Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Beery, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mack Sennett, and Barbara Stanwyck.[20] Prevost's sister had her remains cremated and combined them with those of their mother, who had died in 1926.[21]

In February 1937, it was discovered that Prevost's estate was valued at $300.[22] Prevost's fate as well as that of others prompted the Hollywood community to create the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital to provide medical care for employees of the television and motion picture industry.[23]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Marie Prevost has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6201 Hollywood Boulevard.


Year Title Role Notes
1915 Those Bitter Sweets Short film
1915 His Father's Footsteps Short film
1916 Unto Those Who Sin Celeste
1918 His Hidden Purpose The Girl in the Case Short film
1918 Her Screen Idol Short film
1919 East Lynne with Variations The Girl Short film
1919 Uncle Tom Without a Cabin Eliza Short film
1919 Yankee Doodle in Berlin Belgian Girl
1919 Salome vs. Shenandoah Ingenue Actress
1920 Down on the Farm The Faithful Wife
1920 Love, Honor and Behave The Newlywed
1921 A Small Town Idol Marcelle Mansfield
1921 Moonlight Follies Nan Rutledge
1921 Nobody's Fool Polly Gordon
1921 A Parisian Scandal Liane-Demarest
1922 Don't Get Personal Patricia Parker
1922 The Dangerous Little Demon Teddy Harmon
1922 Kissed Constance Keener
1922 The Married Flapper Pamela Billings
1922 Her Night of Nights Molly May Mahone
1922 The Beautiful and Damned Gloria Lost film
1922 Heroes of the Street Betty Benton
1923 Brass Marjorie Jones
1923 Red Lights Ruth Carson
1923 The Wanters Myra Hastings Lost film
1924 The Marriage Circle Mizzi Stock
1924 Tarnish Nettie Dark
1924 How to Educate a Wife Mabel Todd
1924 Daughters of Pleasure Marjory Hadley Alternative title: Beggar on Horseback
Incomplete film
1924 Cornered Mary Brennan / Margaret Waring Lost film
1924 Three Women Harriet
1924 Being Respectable Valerie Winship
1924 The Dark Swan Eve Quinn
1924 The Lover of Camille Marie Duplessis
1925 Kiss Me Again LouLou Fleury Lost film
1925 Bobbed Hair Connemara Moore
1925 Seven Sinners Molly Brian
1925 Recompense Julie Gmelyn
1926 For Wives Only Laura Rittenhaus
1926 Other Women's Husbands Kay Lambert
1926 Almost a Lady Marcia Blake
1926 His Jazz Bride Gloria Gregory Lost film
1926 The Caveman Myra Gaylord
1926 Nana Gaga Uncredited
1926 Up in Mabel's Room Mabel Ainsworth
1927 Getting Gertie's Garter Gertie Darling
1927 The Night Bride Cynthia Stockton
1927 Man Bait Madge Dreyer
1927 The Girl in the Pullman Hazel Burton
1928 On to Reno Vera
1928 A Blonde for a Night Marcia Webster
1928 The Sideshow Queenie Parker
1928 The Racket Helen Hayes
1928 The Rush Hour Margie Dolan
1929 All Faces West Arleta Vance
1929 The Godless Girl Mame - The Other Girl
1929 The Flying Fool Pat Riley
1929 Divorce Made Easy Mabel Deering
1930 Party Girl Diana Hoster
1930 Ladies of Leisure Dot Lamar
1930 War Nurse Rosalie
1930 Sweethearts on Parade Nita
1930 Paid Agnes Lynch
1931 Gentleman's Fate Mabel
1931 It's a Wise Child Annie Ostrom
1931 Sporting Blood Angela 'Angie' Ludeking
1931 The Runaround Margy
1931 The Good Bad Girl Trixie Barnes
1931 The Sin of Madelon Claudet Rosalie Lebeau
1931 Hell Divers Mrs. Lulu Farnsworth
1931 Reckless Living Alice
1932 Three Wise Girls Dot
1932 Slightly Married Nellie Gordon
1932 Carnival Boat Babe
1933 Parole Girl Jeanie Vance
1933 The Eleventh Commandment Tessie Florin
1933 Only Yesterday Amy Uncredited
1935 Keystone Hotel Mrs. Clarabelle Sterling Short film
1935 Hands Across the Table Nona
1936 13 Hours by Air Waitress in Omaha Producer
1936 Tango Betty Barlow
1936 Bengal Tiger Chubby Saloon Girl Uncredited
1936 Cain and Mabel Sherman's Receptionist Uncredited
1936 Ten Laps to Go Elsie, Cafe Waitress Her last role. Alternative title: King of the Speedway

In popular culture

  • Prevost's death was featured in the book Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger. In the book, Anger claims Prevost's dog consumed her remains over the ensuing days to survive. However, Anger's claims that Prevost's dog made "mincemeat out of his mistress"[24] are false. While Prevost's pet dachshund Maxie did bite her legs in an effort to wake her, the dog did not attempt to eat her body.[25]
  • Nick Lowe's song "Marie Provost" (sic) from the 1978 album Jesus of Cool details her life and Anger's account of her death. The song includes the lyric in the chorus "She was a winner/that became the doggie's dinner".[26]
  • In 2019, novelist Laini Giles released Bathing Beauty, a novel that details her life.

See also


  1. ^ Family Search. Marie Vicford (sic) Dunn. Ontario Births, 1869-1911. Retrieved on October 28, 2016.
  2. ^ (Ankerich 2010, pp. 282–283)
  3. ^ "Dead Stepfather's Will Leaves Marie Prevost $1". The Los Angeles Times. September 30, 1933. p. 6.
  4. ^ (Ankerich 2010, p. 283)
  5. ^ (Ankerich 2010, p. 285)
  6. ^ (Foster 2000, pp. 302–303)
  7. ^ (Dumaux 2002, pp. 124–125)
  8. ^ (Foster 2000, pp. 303–304)
  9. ^ (Foster 2000, p. 955)
  10. ^ a b (Ankerich 2010, p. 292)
  11. ^ "Mother of Marie Prevost Killed". Youngstown Vindicator. February 6, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  12. ^ (Petrucelli 2009, p. 98)
  13. ^ (Ankerich 2010, pp. 296–297)
  14. ^ (Ankerich 2010, pp. 285, 290)
  15. ^ "Monte And Marie Both Divorced For Leaving Mates". The Evening Independent. October 6, 1923. p. 1. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  16. ^ "Marie Prevost and Husband Reconciled". Warsaw Union. June 21, 1938. p. 6. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  17. ^ "Divorce For Film Actress". Reading Eagle. January 13, 1929. p. 6. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  18. ^ "Marie Prevost Diets, and Dies". The Milwaukee Journal. January 24, 1937. p. 12. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  19. ^ "Marie Prevost Is Found Dead Of Alcoholism". Schenectady Gazette. January 22, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  20. ^ (Foster 2000, p. 309)
  21. ^ (Ankerich 2010, p. 301)
  22. ^ "Marie Prevost Left Only $300". The New York Times. 1937-02-02. p. 8.
  23. ^ (Golden 2001, p. 141)
  24. ^ (Anger 1975, p. 146)
  25. ^ (Golden 2001, p. 140)
  26. ^ (Petrucelli 2009, p. 99)

Works cited

  • Anger, Kenneth (1975). Hollywood Babylon. Bell Publishing Company.
  • Ankerich, Michael G. (2010). Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. BearManor. ISBN 1-59393-605-2.
  • Dumaux, Sally A. (2002). King Baggot: A Biography and Filmography of the First King of the Movies. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1350-6
  • Golden, Eve; King, Bob (2001). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0834-0
  • Foster, Charles (2000). Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood. Dundurn Press Ltd. ISBN 1-55002-348-9.
  • Petrucelli, Alan W. (2009). Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous (1 ed.), Perigee Trade, ISBN 0-399-53527-6
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Marie Prevost
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