“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.
What if you had an interest that made some people think you were weird (and made other people think you were awesome)? What if you could take that weird/awesome passion and turn it into a successful business where you called the shots? AND…what if you had a super cool look to boot?
Well then, you’d probably be Annamarie von Firley, the owner and designer of reVamp. creating fine reproduction vintage clothing focusing on 1910-1957 for both men and women. (Um, did I mention even her name is pretty groovy?)
The sexy secret agent name, the cool Louise Brooks-on-acid look, the amazing business incorporating her passion for vintage clothing – it seems too good to be true. I, for one, am envious, but I’m even more incredibly inspired. I have been into 40s clothing for a loooong time, and was a big-time swing dancer, but all I ever did was shop, and the lindy hop.
As a Goodwill-trolling vintage clothing freak, I gobbled up Sophia Amuroso’s #GirlBoss and learned how about how I missed the ball and how she ran with it. (Seriously, check out #GirlBoss, great book!) And while I didn’t get it together to start my own vintage clothing business (I suck), I was savvy enough to be a reVamp customer, and smart enough to catch up with Annamarie and get the goods for us all:
How did you get interested in vintage clothing?
ANNAMARIE: I started collecting in high school. I would go to the Salvation Army and buy 1950s ball gowns for $25 each. I did not really know what I was doing. I just bought what I liked. In my 20s, I met a group of people who were really into vintage clothing and culture. I started collecting vintage more deliberately. I collected vintage magazines that informed me about the periods from which the silhouettes I owned and ones that I responded to. It helped me to identify the difference between 10s and 20s clothing or 30s and 40s silhouettes.
What does dressing vintage mean to you?
ANNAMARIE: I respond silhouettes from 1910-1957 because they celebrate the female form. After 1957 designers start to deconstruct the female form. The designs are less about making the wearer look the best that she can, and more about the designer flexing his/her design muscles. Before 1910, there is too much body modification. This window of time was the Golden Age of Fashion to me. I wear clothing from this period because the designs are fascinating and flattering. Although the designs are at least 50 years old, they have a timeless quality to them.
ANNAMARIE: Why do you think women like to dress in vintage clothes and accessories?
Because the designs are figure flattering and have design details lost in modern garment design. Design is always a balance between Form and Function. There are periods of time where design is all Form and no Function like the Victorian period. Now design is all Function and no Form. Clothing is designed exclusively for comfort and not to make you look good.
Are there particular vintage role models or icons that resonate for you?
ANNAMARIE: My favorite film is “My Man Godfrey” (1936) with William Powell and Carole Lombard. I can watch that movie 100 times and find something new that is funny that I did not catch before. Carole Lombard is also one of my favorite actresses. She is funny, smart and playful. You can see that she is having fun which is great to see. She portrays characters that are both strong and vulnerable. Lending a complexity that is fascinating to watch and aspire to.
If you are asking about designers who I admire from the past, then, yes, I think Vionnet was a genius. If you are asking if there is anyone today who “lives vintage” in a way I find admirable, then I would say no. I think that if you dabble in vintage that is great and if you are a “vintage immersive person” that is great as well. I wear vintage everyday, but I would not say that it makes me more or less interesting than anyone else.
Why this fascination with women and style of yesteryear?
ANNAMARIE: I am fascinated by it because it is elusive…like ghosts from the “silver screen” dazzling us with a version of history that was not and will never be. We cannot go back in time. But we can hold the artifacts from the past like books, magazines, garments, shoes, purses, etc. They are touchstones to the past. Vintage garments are fossils skins of women who no longer live. I like to imagine the woman who worn them before. Whose body was just like mine. Was she a Gold Digger, mother of 5 or a secretary in a law office? What did she do while wearing this dress, these shoes, or while holding this purse? Did she fall in love, see a play with her lover or find out that she is now a young widow. You can imagine, but never know. Fascinating.
For women who don’t yet know how great vintage style is, what would you tell them?
ANNAMARIE: Once you realize that you can have a garment that fits you properly and celebrates your best assets, it will be hard to go back to contemporary designs. Vintage clothing does not necessarily need to mean uncomfortable, stained or stinky. There are companies, like mine, that bring back the past. We offer historically accurate vintage clothing without the vintage DNA. You can wear it without contributing to its inevitable destruction. It is all out there. Now is a great time to enjoy vintage style. You can have your cake and eat it too.
OK, now that everyone’s psyched to rock a vintage look, can you tell us more about Revamp. How’d it start?
ANNAMARIE: I was Swing Dancing on the USS Jeremiah O’Brien with a friend. We were lamenting on how poorly people were dressed. She suggested we start a company that recreates vintage clothing. Initially I said no because I worked for a start-up -and saw that my boss never got paid. But, soon after the business was sold and I did not want to go with it, so since I was between jobs, I decided to give her idea a shot.
How did you grow Revamp, what were the “steps” you took?
ANNAMARIE: reVamp was founded in 1998. We always had a website; you might say we grew up with the Web. As more people became comfortable with purchasing clothing online, so did we. Our growth was organic. We tapped into the peak of the Swing Scene in the 90s where there was pent up demand for vintage reproduction clothing. For about 10 years, we and a couple of other companies pretty much owned the market for vintage reproduction clothing. We never needed to work hard to get sales or hits on our website until Google’s “Penguin update” in 2012 (see below). Now we have to do all of the social media, blogs and website optimization like everyone else.
At the time reVamp was opened, there were only 3 companies making vintage inspired clothing: Stop Staring, Dixie Fried, and us. Stop Staring grew a lot because they wholesale their clothing. We are not as big because we retail clothes made here by our own in-house cutters and sewers and have no economy of scale. It costs us the same amount to make 1 garment as 100. So our wholesale price is a full 2/3 of our retail price. This makes us too expensive for most stores to carry our line, so we mostly sell directly to the consumer — plus museums, theaters, TV, movies and national parks. We do a lot of bridal as well. Since we aren’t really set up to wholesale, we are really limited to how much we can grow.
What kind of clothing is most popular?
ANNAMARIE: When I started reVamp in 1998, we sold about the same amount of clothing to men and women. Originally we catered to Swing Dancers. Men in the early Swing Scene dressed the part. Then in about 2003, they didn’t. I sold mostly women’s clothing. Now I think I sell more men’s clothing than women’s.
Is this surprising to you?
ANNAMARIE: Yes and no. Yes because I don’t see more men dressing vintage and there isn’t a “scene” that I can see that they are attaching themselves to like the “Swing Scene” or “Cocktail Culture”. There are some great period shows that might have pique their interest. But it seems that these men are buying because the recognize great design. It is not that they are vintage junkies.
As far as the “no” part of my answer, there are way more companies making repro vintage dresses now. When I started reVamp in 1998, there were three. Now there are a whole lot more plus sellers on Ebay and Etsy. However, there are not so many focusing on men’s vintage. So I seem to be in the “catbird seat” there.
I know we all benefit from the clothes you make, we “vintage vixens” out there. What are the biggest rewards in doing what you do?
ANNAMARIE: Seeing my designs on the big and small screen, on a happy bride or on a satisfied customer who has sent me a photo of herself in reVamp clothing!
My favorite part of my business is doing the research for new designs. I have 1000s of vintage patterns as well as 1000s of vintage garments in my private collection, hundreds of vintage magazines and fashion plates. I love to pour over them and decide what extinct design I want to reintroduce to the world. It is like bring new life into a dried flower.
Clearly, Annamarie never rests on her adorable laurels; she’s coming up with new ideas and strategies to not only superserve loyal customers and keep them coming back, but to make her products more accessible and desirable at multiple price points. Not rich – use the payment plan. And for those who can afford it, now vintage repros can be as exclusive and luxurious as a couture item.
P.S. Interested in learning the biz? Annamarie and reVamp have an Apprenticeship Program where I train people in Sales/Marketing, Patterning/Grading, Cutting and Sewing. Each section is 3 months long, and the apprenticeship lasts one year. Go to the reVamp website to find out more!
Photo credit: Jon Lile
Parts of this interview were also published in LikeaBossGirls.com
What if one day you got an email out of the blue from someone claiming to be your sister? What would you do?
I was 50 when I met my brother. It was a month or so after I met my mother. Wait, let me back up a little.
Growing up, my biological mother was the sole star of my adoptee’s curiosity. I knew out there somewhere was an inhibitionless, loves-conditionless woman with an unruly curly mane who would mend the hole in my heart and maybe had a hole of her own that I could mend. Well, wrong.
After a lifetime of being number one on my bucket list, meeting my biological mom, Doris, proved to be startlingly underwhelming. She was a sweet little old lady, never married, never had any children (other than me). She was polite and unguarded, but she had little to say, and no interest in, or anything in common with, yours truly. All my years of wondering and pining may have begun with a clichéd one-night bang, but it ended with a whimper. Despite my lifelong focus on the mystery of the missing mythical mama, it turned out the most interesting and valuable thing about finally finding her was when she coughed up the name of the man chance had made my dad. It was poor Doris’s bad luck to get knocked up by her boss the second time she had sex (at 37!), but it was my incredible luck to not only get all born and everything, but to get some really awesome relatives out of it.
I hadn’t given a lot of thought to my biological father, save for a vague fantasy where Perry Mason or some other smart, even-keeled grown-up swooped in to rescue me. I certainly never gave any siblings much thought. That makes sense – after all, why would I want to share a brand-spanking new loved one with a bunch of interlopers armed with their meddlesome better-than-me-ness? I think my needy heart and its gaping hungry mouth just nudged any fledgling brothers or sisters out the fantasy nest.
So, laughing and hugging and being inappropriate with my birthmother never came to pass, but I got the unexpected gift of a lifetime when I met my brother – and sister, and uncle, aunt, and cousins on my father’s side.
When I called my Dad (the one who raised me) to tell him I’d found out who my biological parents were, I mentioned my birthfather was a big Kennedy administration mucky-muck, with my uncle being an even bigger mucky-muck there, and a well-known writer and politician. “Too bad he wasn’t your father,” said my Dad, and that was the end of the matter. Well, much as I hated to disappoint my father with, well, my father, I am personally overjoyed to have had the birthfather that I did, because now I have 4 brothers and a wonderful sister.
In this last year and a half I’ve been treated to an assortment of sweet cousins, aunts and uncles. I also met Adam S., the best brother anyone could hope for (seriously, look in the dictionary under World’s Best brother and you’ll see his handsome kisser), his wife and a darling niece born this year that I’m already obsessing over how to spoil. I also met Ann, a wonderful big sister who’s already bestowed upon me the most incredibly loving blend of affection, interest and well-meaning badgering. (Hi Ann!) She sent me lots of photos, and even our father’s wristwatch. She came all the way to New York City to meet me, tell me stories, gossip, tease me, support me, and give me advice. In other words, she’s a real sister. I’ve also met an aunt and uncle and cousins and I love them all to pieces.
And this Thanksgiving weekend I’ll meet my third biological sibling, an older brother and his wife and family. While it’s a little nerve-racking, I am getting better at it.
But I was really scared the first time I tried contacting a new relative. My birthmother never told a single living soul about me, and to honor her secret I couldn’t very well go looking for any leaves on her side of my family tree. So I went about finding family on my father’s side. Since my birthfather’s family were pretty hot hot-shots, it wasn’t hard to track down family members’ names. I knew one of my biological brothers was named Adam. (Coincidentally, I grew up with a brother named Adam with my adopted family; he was their biological son.) When I Googled the name, I saw that an Adam S. wrote for TIME Magazine, just the sort of place someone like he, and me, would work. I wrote poor Adam the most awkward email I’d ever written. (And that’s saying something.) Basically, it was along the lines of “Excuse me, are you son of ——- , nephew of ———? If so, well, uh, I’m your illegitimate sister. Um…Hello!” I hit “Send” and then prepared to wait awhile but then, pretty quickly, I got a response. Basically, a “Yes, that’s me. Wow. So, what can I do for you?” We agreed to meet near his office (he worked about 3 blocks from my apartment!). I don’t recall too much about our meeting, except how kind and smart and good-looking he was. I was so nervous and overwhelmed I thought I might pass out.
But I do remember that when he asked what I wanted, I slowly, gingerly reached out with my index finger and touched his forearm. You see, for you to be near someone who shares your genes, or ancestors or DNA, isn’t a big deal. You’ve been surrounded by them your whole life. But for me, Adam S. was only the second person I’d ever met to whom I was related. I’d gone half a century without ever knowing anyone related to me by blood, and it was, well, exciting isn’t really the word. I don’t know what the word is. But the word that leaps to mind is, oddly enough, relaxing. I felt like a part of me could, at last, exhale.
This whole wonderful story with a very happy ending is due completely to the insanely loving welcome the ——- clan has given me. It is well beyond what I ever would have expected or dared hope. I mean, remember my question: What would you do if some woman just popped up one day and you had a surprise sister? I can imagine it would be unsettling, maybe disturbing, unnerving and bring up things about your dad (brother, uncle, etc.) you might not be interested in knowing. But my brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousins -– they’ve all been so kind to me, so accepting. The only thing that keeps me from being clumsily stymied and speechless by their sweetness is their earth-shaking smarts. They’re all really, really smart. The two qualities I most admire in anyone are kindness and intelligence, and this family has both in spades. (But frankly, they had me well before I said, “Hello”; I was smitten the moment I touched my brother’s forearm.)
A special lucky surprise was the fact that my big mucky-muck uncle, the writer, wrote a memoir detailing the family’s history with a cast of fascinating and impressively civic-minded, socially conscious, progressive intellectuals. To have photos of grandparents and great-grandparents is such a wonderful gift, and a remarkable backstory like this is more than I’d ever dreamed and so much grander than any childhood delusions of adequacy I might have harbored.
And now in a few days I’ll be privileged to meet more kind, intelligent relatives. I’m looking forward to meeting another brother, Alan, and his wife and children. This Thanksgiving, I’m looking forward to feeling at home.
If you passed Hannah Brencher on the street, you might assume she’s merely one of those lovely young girls with the kind of tousled hair and effortless Isabel Marant-y style you see in the pages of a Free People catalogue. You’d have no way of knowing that behind that ingénue exterior is the ingenuity . . . → Read More: What The World Needs Now Is…Love Letters!
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 . . . → Read More: Leslie Combemale is One Animated Cinema Siren!
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 . . . → Read More: Turns Out I’m STILL Not a French Woman!
“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