“She was a winner, Who became a doggie’s dinner…” — Nick Lowe
Would a dog loving movie star leave her pooch to starve?
Memorialized in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and in the eponymous pop song, Marie Prevost is best-known today as a overly-nasal actress who killed herself without anticipating that her pet dachshund would get hungry after days of not being fed.
It’s a memorable Hollywood fairytale, the falling movie star who killed herself in despair and ended up being consumed by her starving if reluctant pup. But is it true?
At the end of the 19th century, Mary Dunn was born in Canada and later moved to Hollywood with her family. As a young teen, the beautiful girl found success as a Sennett Bathing Beauty. (Other Sennett Bathing Beauties include Gloria Swanson, Mabel Normand, and Carole Lombard.) Mack Sennett changed her last name to the fancier, French-ier Prevost, and she went on to star in movies as an unflappable flapper and later a charming comedienne at Universal and Warner Bros. Her career spanned 21 years, during which she not only survived the transition to sound, but managed to make over 120 films!
Marie had the requisite bee-stung lips and perfect pouty insouciance to embody the 20s female ideal. She was featured on the first cover of The Flapper magazine, which asked readers:
“How do you like our girl on the cover? Some fascinating little minx, Marie Prevost, isn’t she? And who but she could assume such a fascinating pose?”
Marie as The Flapper Magazine’s first cover girl
Prevost flappered it up in lots of films, occasionally scoring a juicy lead, as she did in an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned (1923) where she had sufficient chemistry with her leading man to merit their marrying Kenneth Harlan the next year. She made three films with Ernest Lubitsch where his infamous “Lubitsch touch” was in full-effect in mischievous movies like The Marriage Circle (1924), where Marie once again got to play an impish, slightly risqué jazz baby who turns out to be a “good girl” in the end. She made films with other famous directors as well, including Frank Capra, Mervyn LeRoy and Cecil B. DeMille.
But in 1926, while starring in one of her six films with the original movie star Harrison Ford (you didn’t know there were two, did ya?), Marie’s mother died in a car accident. It hit Prevost pretty hard, and that, coupled with her divorce from Harlan, sent Marie straight to the bottle – and the fridge.
Her drinking and eating made her put on the pounds, and roles became harder to get. Too curvy to represent slim, flat-chested flapperdom (a trope that was losing steam, and steaminess, anyway), she was now primarily playing “blowsy tough dames” or the wisecracking sidekick to stars like Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford. She tried all kinds of crash diets with hopes of getting back in the game. In a 1936 New York Times article, “Sometimes They Do Come Back”, Prevost ‘s slide is evident:
“In the studio restaurant at Warners there is an “Old-Timers Tables” that is reserved, in tacit arrangement, for the group of former stars who like to talk over together their halcyon days. A few weeks ago, Marie Prevost sat down at the table. The siren of Mack Sennett days had been successful with a reducing course and had got herself a job as a contract player…She was put to work almost immediately, in a small part in The Bengal Tiger…Miss Prevost is unbilled in The Bengal Tiger: She has only three lines to say, and those short ones.”
Full-on Marie Prevost!
Prevost’s “reducing course” consisted of drinking and not eating. A star just a few years before, Marie was now an “old-timer” and a has-been who was subsisting almost solely on booze –and hope.
On January 23, 1937, neighbors in her rundown apartment building called police to complain about a dog ‘s non-stop barking. Inside, they found Marie dead. Initially diagnosed as having died of acute alcoholism, the major cause of death was actually severe malnutrition.
To get back into pictures once again, Marie had basically starved herself to death. She was only 38.
Though she ate one too many hot dogs, today it’s the appetite of a different kind of weiner dog that has put poor Marie into the Hollywood Hall of Infamy. Despite Nick Lowe and Hollywood Babylon, the truth is that her poor distressed pet was only trying to rouse his sleeping mistress. The police report clearly states that the dog “had chewed up her arms and legs in a futile attempt to awaken her.” In her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1937, the paper details the more poignant than putrid scene:
“Whining at the-bedside was her pet dachshund, Maxie, and teeth marks on the actress’ body indicated animal had tugged at his mistress in ant attempt to arouse her.”
In fact, one can plainly see from the photo in Anger’s book that Marie’s corpse is intact. (And as far as the accuracy of Nick Lowe’s song, he even misspells Marie’s name in title!)
Prevost died a pauper, with only $300 and a few IOUs made out to Joan Crawford, a pal from silent days who’d lent her some money. Marie was also remembered by other luminaries; stars attending her funeral included Barbara Stanwyck, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clark Gable, and her old boss Mack Sennett, and her destitution prompted Hollywood to form the Motion Picture Relief Fund and the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital.
Marie was a lovely, talented woman who died not of despair but from the hope that fueled her starving for stardom. Her end is sad, not sickening, both for poor Marie — and poor Maxie.
Leslie at a Harry Potter Convention
Imagine that you grew up loving movies and art—and the artists who made them; And as an adult you wanted to hang out with all the cool people who made moves and art and loved this stuff as much as you do. Oh, and you wanted to make money and be your own boss while doing it. Your days would be jammed with Jedi—and animation, art, aliens, elves, Batmen and Catwomen.
Sounds as impossible and fantastical as one of your favorite movies? Well, Leslie Combemale is living the dream! For the last 22 years, Leslie has owned and run ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery, selling original art used to create movie posters and animated movies, as well “concept art” created in the making of the movies themselves. Artists that work with the movie studios sell art through her gallery; for example, she recently sold the original art used to make the Blade Runner and E.T. movie posters. Hers is the the only gallery that specializes in selling original film art, and she’s known for finding the best and rarest original art from cartoons and movies.
“I basically help people embrace their inner movie geek in every way I possibly can, by helping them find great art that represents their favorite movies (both old and new) and teaching them about film through interviews with directors and artists,” explains Leslie. She also spreads movie gospel by introducing folks to movies via her nationally syndicated film reviews as Cinema Siren.
As you can see, they don’t get much dame-ier than Missy Leslie! I recently interviewed Leslie for LikeaBossGirls.com on how she stepped up, leaned in and started her own business, but as we’re both vintage-loving, redheaded classic movie lovers, I had to dig deeper and find out which dames inspired this go-getting “Cinema Siren”:
DIXIE: Leslie, how would you define a “dame”?
LESLIE: A dame is a woman who knows her own power, or is actively working on embracing it.
DIXIE: What a great definition! What movie icons or characters are your “dame-iest” role models?
LESLIE: Claudette Colbert as Bea Pullman in Imitation of Life and as Agnes Keith in Three Came Home. Katharine Hepburn as Bunny Watson in Desk Set. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. Eve Arden as Cornelia Jackson in Cover Girl.
And Ida Lupino in real life…she broke tons of barriers..she wrote, produced, and directed. When something got in her way, she just shifted direction but never stopped moving forward, and never accepted defeat. I love her!
DIXIE: I love that you got Eve Arden from Cover Girl in there. Because she’s a supporting player she’s too-often overlooked. Of course you, Leslie, are a living, breathing example of damery in action. I also feel like your business, the ArtInsights Gallery, promotes eternal Dame Nation as well, right?
LESLIE: I try in every way to support and promote women in business. Certainly when I know of other women forging ahead with integrity in any field, I’ll do all I can from where I am. I have interns that are often young women who are drawn to me for not only my knowledge, but my sense of self, and I take their desire to live my example very seriously.
I also have had many women in my gallery who love getting affirmation that collecting and loving science fiction and horror movies, really any movies that move them, is not only absolutely ok, It’s great! Movies have great archetypes that can inspire us, and as of the late 70s (1979 Alien’s Ripley!) we have all the more strong characters to emulate for inspiration from that movie genre.
“To me, promoting damery really comes down to living by example. I believe as women, we can do anything. It seems sometimes here in the US we are taught that being self effacing and deprecating is appropriate. Why not exclaim from the highest peak how awesome and unique we are? There is nothing wrong and everything to gain from knowing your own power.”
DIXIE: Was it your abiding love of all things film and female that led to your starting ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery?
LESLIE: When I first got out of school, I started working for one of the first galleries in the world that exclusively sold animation art. In order to move on to sell and acquisition the best art, I felt I had to learn all I could. I was voracious. I was and am extremely passionate about movies, and about art that had a purpose—as animation cels and movie campaign art does. I started getting to know artists and animators who have since passed away. I realized I wanted to be the one to decide what art I promoted. I could see that there was no one promoting or selling the kind of art I loved, so wanted to own my own gallery. I found great artists I could trust, worked to find people inside the movie studios I could trust, and learned absolutely everything I could about Hollywood and film art. Everyone I did business with trusted me, and told me if I started my own gallery they would support it, which they have to this day. As for money, I kind of jumped first, and trusted the net would be there, so to speak. In small business, that doesn’t always work, but with vision, enthusiasm, knowledge, and business savvy, It absolutely can. I’m proof.
Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I was in my early 40s that a lot of people really realized that it was my business! Everyone always thought my husband (who is my partner, but works largely behind the scenes), was my boss. You’d think in the 21st century people wouldn’t still think that way, but they do.
DIXIE: All together now: “Sigh.” What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
LESLIE: First, I wish I had been more trusting of my own power. I think it takes many of us as women a long time and many experiences to allow ourselves to celebrate what we know, and trust in what we can achieve. Second, I’ve always been a bit of a “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” kind of business woman, and I wish I could have learned earlier to ask for help. We don’t have to do it all ourselves! Lastly, I’d stop giving away so much information to competitors. I’ve always believed there is room for everyone, which is a beautiful way to approach much of life, but in my business, being first and being inventive is essential to success.
For those looking to give a special someone a super special gift, check out Leslie’s Gift Guide and find out how you can be Boss of All Gift-Giving and rock their world while you blow their mind (and socks right off)
Why can’t this be me?
I’m surprised, and sort of outraged, that I’m still not a French woman. True, I don’t smoke, but I only shave my underarms sporadically so that should even things out. In fact, when my corpse is found I’m sure my underarms, and undergarments, and my closet crammed with Isabel Marant and striped T-shirts will lead detectives to infer they’ve got a dead Mademoiselle on their hands.
See, when I was knee-high to a Hedda Hopper, I loved to get those little booklets they sold by the cash register at the supermarket. I’d read and re-read all the 1,000 Baby Names books. Even now, decades later, I know dozens of useful facts like Ellen means light, Todd means fox, Thurston (as in Howell) means Thor’s stone, and that Sally is a diminutive of Sarah which in turn means princess. I never tired of naming my dozens of unborn future children; Clementine, Eudora (well-born), Tristan (Old Welsh for sad) and Tallulah (Native American for fabulous throaty bisexual) were all serious contenders. Now of course the joke’s on me since I don’t even have one child to tar with a fabulously peer-ostracizing moniker.
But my all-time favorite 39 cent* booklet was the wee What Real-Life French Women Wear. (That may not have been the actual name but that was the theme.) Being in third grade and all I couldn’t implement all the advice right away, but one thing has stuck with me all these years. Stuck with me, but sadly alluded me. It said that the typical French women had only about 5 things in her closet. The point was that French women are smart and sophisticated enough to just buy a few really good things and wear them every day in various permutations. I pictured a existentially nearly empty, pristine closet with 5 lone hangers bearing a black pencil skirt, a crisp white shirt, a good-quality black turtleneck, an LBD of course, one pair of always well-pressed pants, and one of those stripe-y shirts Jean-Paul Gaultier is always wearing. The lesson was quality over quantity and that sorting out some sort of uniform was the easiest, quickest and best way to dress.
Ever since the uniform idea has always appealed to me. Later on when I was a teen a book came out called Cheap Chic which basically reiterated this strategy. Later when I was a young woman I bought a book called French Chic which once again advocated a few staples as being the answer to sartorial sophistimacation. Again and again I was taken with this idea. I envied men who can have a few things in rotation and always feel pretty good. How simplifying and freeing it would be to have just a few good things not cluttering up my closet. How stylish, how elegant, how French I’d be. How non-me I’d be. Despite my firm conviction that this was indeed the way to go over the years I have just been constitutionally incapable of not acquiring more and more clothes, clothes that are not staples, not of good quality, and clothes that are generally 2 sizes too small.
What the hell is wrong with moi? Now that I am a femme d’un certain age (am I ever) I am determined to get bullish on my wardrobe and get my closet as bare as I can bear. A few black and white staples, a black or camel trench, some comfortable shoes, a pair of heels, a pair or three of jeans, c’est tout.
But what to do with my heaps of DVF wraps and 40’s rayon dresses? Surely I can’t be expected to jettison these reliable wraps and one-of-a-kind antique frocks? And all those sarongs – where do they go to die?
I periodically have sales where people come and buy my vintage and designer things for a fraction of their retail price. The money goes to various animal charities I support. So, I may not actually be French, but like the French, I do love me some dogs, so hopefully maturing me and my immature wardrobe can finally do something worthwhile. And one of these days I will actually have just a few good things in my closet, and actually wear things that fit me, AND fit the occasion.
And then I’ll know that little girl has finally grown-up.
*Hey, where is the cent symbol on the keyboard? Has it been gone all this time and I just never noticed before? This makes me kinda sad.
“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” – Oscar Wilde
I’ve heard some folks insist “Every day is Mother’s Day” but for me, October 17th celebrates an occasion I feel should not be relegated to just one measly day a year. I refer, of course, to “Wear Something Gaudy Day”.
October 17th . . . → Read More: October 17th Celebrate “Wear Something Gaudy Day”
Adrienne and Stephanie Vendetti, rocking it like redheads!
In my never-ending search for dames to inspire me — in deed, dress and perspective — it just so happens a lot seem to be redheaded. A coincidence…or is being a redhead a way of life as well as a hair color? Adrienne and Stephanie . . . → Read More: Rock It Like a Redhead’s Sister Act
People often ask what started me thinking about creating this blog about the “lost art of being a dame”. I think it all started in an elevator…
Years ago I was riding an elevator at work with a couple of (very) young female co-workers and an older gentleman I’d seen from time to time . . . → Read More: Elevator Bitch — or Why I Started This Blog
Want to conquer the world, or at least your very own tiny piece of it? Then get to know Chris Guillebeau, the easy-on-the-eyes, hard-to-put-down-books-writing self-help helper extraordinaire. His very popular blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, explores entrepreneurship, travel, and personal development topics. At his site you can also download his Brief Guide to World . . . → Read More: Chris Guillebeau’s Secrets to the Happiness of Pursuit
Check it out! I couldn’t have put it better than E.A. Hanks in her piece in Time Magazine — Enough With the Kooky Ingenues — Bring Back the Dame!
Lauren Bacall — Archetypal Dame
By Guest blogger Deborah Ingles Schwalbach
Met Deb, 65-years-old and still getting all hot and bothered (but mostly hot) when she discovers a classic film she haven’t seen before. Like me, she grew up crazy about old movies; turns out we’d both sneak out of our bedrooms as children to . . . → Read More: Guest Post: Ava Gardner and Me
I always thought Teresa Wright was talented and sweet, but kind of an ineffectual limp noodle. She plays the good girl well, and I guess that was my problem. Sure, her screen characters had pluck, but pluck is an anemic version of the charming ballsy-ness of a Stanwyck or the fearless hijinks Irene Dunne . . . → Read More: I Was Totally Wrong About Teresa Wright!