A vivacious, charming leading lady of the silent era, Marie Prevost is, fortunately, remembered for her work in several sparkling Ernst Lubitsch comedies of the 1920s and, unfortunately, also remembered for the grim (if often misrepresented) circumstances of her tragic early demise.
Born in Canada, Prevost relocated to Denver and then Los Angeles while still young. After a very brief stint as a stenographer, Prevost broke into silent films before the age of 18 as one of the "Bathing Beauties" featured "en masse" in so many of Mack Sennett's comedy shorts. Before long the perky brunette was playing leads, especially after she signed with Universal in 1921. She soon became a prominent embodiment of the Jazz Age in films including "Moonlight Follies" (1921) and "The Married Flapper" (1922).
In 1922, Prevost began her tenure at Warner Bros., with whom she would be associated for over four years during the peak of her career. She soon began a 10-film liaison with leading man Monte Blue and also made three films with her greatest director, Ernst Lubitsch. Recently imported from Germany, Lubitsch quickly became the master of Hollywood sex farce, and Prevost was one of the stars of his breakthrough, "The Marriage Circle" (1924). As flirtatious Mizzi, Prevost attempted to seduce a happily married doctor (Blue) away from his wife, to delightfully witty effect. She enjoyed a change of pace with a dual role in the gangster drama "Cornered" (1924), and continued her fine work for Lubitsch in "Three Women" (1924) and "Kiss Me Again" (1925). A portent of the future occurred in the latter, though, as Prevost was almost outshone by rising newcomer Clara Bow.
Prevost didn't possess the sex appeal of Bow or the pep of Colleen Moore, two stars close to her in type, but her popularity continued in the likes of "Getting Gertie's Garter" (1927). She also starred in the first version of a very similar farce, "Up in Mabel's Room" (1926), one of half a dozen co-starring appearances Prevost made with Harrison Ford (no relation to the modern star) after she signed with Producers Distributing Corporation. When her mother was killed in a car accident, though, Prevost became despondent, and took to the drinking which would eventually kill her.
Prevost was not under contract to a big studio when sound came in, and, as the Jazz Age gave way to the Great Depression, the public looked for new faces in its cinema. Cecil B. DeMille's "The Godless Girl" (1929), plagued by production problems, died at the box office, and Prevost began having weight problems as well. Suddenly, she was relegated to supporting roles: In "Three Wise Girls" (1932), Jean Harlow had the allure and Mae Clarke the drama, while a fourth-billed Prevost struggled gamely with the comic relief. She continued to perform well as Joan Crawford's reckless prison pal in "Paid" (1930) and was especially superb as Barbara Stanwyck's wiseacre crony in "Ladies of Leisure" (1930). By mid-decade, though, Prevost was playing bits in major films and larger parts in "Poverty Row" productions. Kenneth Anger's dishy book "Hollywood Babylon" tells of a sensationalized death by starvation in a desperate attempt to lose weight, and of the hungry, trapped dog who resorted to nibbling on her, but it was really a slow decline from changing audience tastes and that actors' bane, alcoholism, which did in a delicious blaze of 20s Flaming Youth.