Monday, May 2, 2011

Evelyn Brent

Evelyn Brent (October 20, 1899 – June 4, 1975) was an American film and stage actress. Born Mary Elizabeth Riggs in Tampa, Florida and known as Betty, she was a child of ten when her mother died, leaving her father to raise her alone. After moving to New York City as a teenager, her good looks brought modeling jobs that led to an opportunity to become involved in the still relatively new business of making motion pictures. She originally studied to be a teacher. While attending a normal school in New York she visited the World Film Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Two days later she was working there as an extra making $3 a day. She began her film career working under her own name at a New Jersey film studio then made her major debut in the 1915 silent film production of the Robert W. Service poem, The Shooting of Dan McGrew.

As Evelyn Brent, she continued to work in film, developing into a young woman whose sultry looks were much sought after. After World War I, she went to London for a vacation. She met American playwright Oliver Cromwell who urged her to accept an important role in The Ruined Lady. The production was presented on the London stage. The actress remained four years in England, performing in films produced by British companies. She also worked on stage there before going to Hollywood in 1922.

There, her career received a major boost the following year when she was chosen as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. Signed by Douglas Fairbanks Sr., he failed to find a story for Brent. She left his company to join Associated Authors.

Evelyn went on to make more than two dozen silent films including three for the noted Austrian director, Josef von Sternberg. In 1928 she starred opposite William Powell in Paramount Pictures' (and her own) first talkie. One film, Interference (1928), did not live up to expectations at the box office. Not dissuaded, Brent played major roles in several more features, most notably The Silver Horde and the Paramount Pictures all-star revue Paramount on Parade (both 1930).

By the early part of the 1930s, she was busy working in secondary roles in a variety of films as well as touring with vaudeville shows.

Her career reached its least prestigious point in 1941. Too mature for ingenue roles, she played feminine leads opposite older leading men: Neil Hamilton in Producers Releasing Corporation's poverty row production Dangerous Lady, and Jack Holt in the serial Holt of the Secret Service, produced by the frugal Larry Darmour. Her performances were still persuasive, and her name was still recognizable to moviegoers: theater owners often put "Evelyn Brent" on their marquees. She worked in the Pine-Thomas "B" action features for Paramount Pictures release. Veteran director William Beaudine cast her in many "B" productions, including Emergency Landing (1941), Bowery Champs (1944), The Golden Eye (1948), and Again Pioneers (1950). After performing in more than 120 films, she retired from acting in 1950 and worked for a number of years as an actor's agent.

Evelyn returned to acting in television's Wagon Train for one episode in 1960, The Lita Foladaire Story.
Evelyn Brent was married three times. One of her husbands was movie executive Bernard P. Fineman. She married producer Harry D. Edwards. Her last husband was the actor Harry Fox for whom the foxtrot dance was named. They were still married when he died in 1959. Several biographical sources claim or suggest that Brent was actually a lesbian or bisexual; she was a fixture of the lesbian social circle in Hollywood during the 1920s.

Evelyn Brent had a hobby creating hand carved furniture.

Evelyn Brent died of a heart attack in 1975 at her Los Angeles home. She was cremated and interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6548 Hollywood Blvd.

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