Friday, February 5, 2010

Considering Evelyn Brent

Of all the actors and actresses with which Louise Brooks worked, only three appeared in more than one film with the Kansas-born star. Those three were Adolphe Menjou in A Social Celebrity (1926) and Evening Clothes (1927), Wallace Beery in Now We're in the Air (1927) and Beggars of Life (1928), and Evelyn Brent in Love Em and Leave Em (1926) and King of Gamblers (1937).

Based on a popular stage play of the time, Love Em and Leave Em is an entertaining film which proved equally popular with movie goers. It's quite good, as is each actress in their roles as sisters. The proto-noir King of Gamblers (alternately known as Czar of the Slot Machines) is also recommended, though Brooks' role was cut from this Robert Florey-directed crime drama and Brent only appears briefly. [The image of the two actress pictured here dates from 1937. It was a publicity still taken at the time each were working on King of Gamblers.]

If you ever have the chance to see either of these Brooks-Brent pairings, don't miss out.  Evidently, Brooks herself felt there was something special about Brent. In 1975, Brooks penned a brief, little known essay titled "Stardom and Evelyn Brent" for the Toronto Film Society. The essay has yet to be published in a book.

Recently, the McFarland publishing company issued Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook, by Lynn Kear and James King. This 300-page work - which includes a forward by Kevin Brownlow, tells the remarkable story of a remarkable actress whose personal life and professional career paralleled that of Brooks' own.

In his review of this new book, film historian Anthony Slide (whose work I appreciate) evokes Brooks' reputation in relation to Brent's. In reviewing the book, Slide states that this new book ". . . . looks at the career of one of the most coldly beautiful and very up-to-date in terms of her good looks and restrained performances of silent actresses. No, I am not talking about Louise Brooks. The latter is not quite frankly as talented an actress, and certainly does not boast a career as long as that of the lady to whom I refer."

Anyone familiar with the up and down trajectory of Brooks' life and career will feel on familiar ground in reading Lynn Kear's new book. 

The publisher encapsulates this new book this way: "Evelyn Brent's life and career were going quite well in 1928. She was happily living with writer Dorothy Herzog following her divorce from producer Bernard Fineman, and the tiny brunette had wowed fans and critics in the silent films The Underworld and The Last Command. She'd also been a sensation in Paramount's first dialogue film, Interference. But by the end of that year Brent was headed for a quick, downward spiral ending in bankruptcy and occasional work as an extra. What happened is a complicated story laced with bad luck, poor decisions, and treachery detailed in the first and only full-length biography." Like I said, anyone familiar with the up and down trajectory of Brooks' life and career . . . .

Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook is half biographical study and half filmography. It's packed with details, and a few images. Any fan of Louise Brooks will want to check it out - as it does contain a good number of references to Brooks and the two films Brooks and Brent made together. Kear, who authored an earlier book on Kay Francis, has done a more than worthwhile job in telling Brent's remarkable story. Evelyn Brent is available on-line and through the publisher.

3 comments:

  1. Boy of boy was I wrong. One reader, Gianluca Chiovelli, emailed to point out that there were 7 actors - not 3 - who appeared in more than one film with Louise Brooks. The other four are

    Richard Allen (Rolled Stockings + Beggars of Life)

    James Hall (Rolled Stockings + Canary Murder Case)

    Sterling Ford (American Venus + The Show Off)

    Eugene Pallette (Canary Murder Case + It Pays to Advertise)

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  2. Interested readers may find John Kobal's interview with Miss Brent in "People Will Talk" elucidating in its own way - it's one of his more heartbreaking interviews, and an interesting pairing, as it's right after Louise Brooks' completely different set of remembrances.

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