Marie Prevost – The Movie Star Eaten By Her Dog (Or Was She?)

“She was a winner, Who became a doggie’s dinner…” -- Nick Lowe

Would a dog loving movie star leave her pooch to starve?

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

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!

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.

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12 Responses

  1. Seth Madej says:

    I love this story, though it did kind of breaking my heart thinking of poor Maxie.

  2. Richard Bank says:

    Excellent article, well written and informative.

  3. David says:

    And don’t forget Norma Desmond’s line in SUNSET BOULEVARD, “Marie Prevost was always stepping on my toes”, or something like that.

    • Dixie Laite says:

      David, I love those kinds of lines — it’s so great to find these “Easter Eggs” in movies, little things thrown in there to give movie nerds like us a little buzz.

  4. Dixie Laite says:

    David, I love those kinds of lines — it’s so great to find these “Easter Eggs” in movies, little things thrown in there to give movie nerds like us a little buzz.

  5. Thank you for the post on Marie Prevost and for dispelling the rumor about her dog. It’s such a disrespectful way to “remember” anyone, let alone someone who worked hard for years to make a name for herself. (And as far as common sense goes, it would take a lot longer than two days for a pet to turn on its master, even if she was deceased. She whole story screams urban legend. People just like to believe the unthinkable.)

    By the way, the Motion Picture Fun was established back in 1931, years before Ms. Prevost’s death.

    Thanks again!

  6. Thanks for clearing this up. Part of the problem of reading Hollywood Babylon at such a young age is that it formed my perceptions and opinions about various bygone stars wholly through Anger’s bitchy and frequently erroneous narratives (I’m thinking here of how Fatty Arbuckle was completely exonerated–a fact that Anger conveniently chose to ignore in Hollywood Babylon’s floridly prurient description of Virginia Rappe’s supposed rape and murder).

    Incidentally, reading about Marie’s desperate attempts to lose weight, I thought that a possible modern-day parallel might be Brittany Murphy…? Given how dramatically she changed in order to transform herself into yet another gaunt blonde starlet, and how she ultimately paid for this with her life, it’s unbearably tragic to see how the skeletal Hollywood standards have claimed yet another victim. (Presumably without any hungry dachshunds this time, though. 😉

  7. Marko says:

    It’s a shame that so many Hollywood actresses were so caught up in their dispair to obtain stardome! where was help for this poor soul when she was in her despair. I wonder sometimes how much judgement will fall on Hollywood’s shoulders for creating such covetousness!

  8. carmel delaney says:

    Until I read Nick Hornsby’s book “A long way down” Marie Prevost was unknown to me.
    I checked up on her name and was sad to read her story and the poor dog who barked for days because of his mistress lying dead .To think that Marie was so alone in the world with only Maxie for comfort.

  1. November 8, 2013

    […] The Lost Art of Being a Dame looks at Marie Prevost’s sad life and tragic death, and does some good in dispelling the old rumor that she died being eaten by her pet dachshund. […]

  2. August 3, 2014

    […] An­ger’s Hollywood Babylon, this was the story of a silent movie queen (Marie Prevost, actually), broken by the talkies, whose decomposing body wasn’t discovered until her pet dachshund had […]

  3. July 29, 2016

    […] moved to Universal and, a year later, signed with Warner Bros., often playing, according to the Lost Art of Being a Dame, a flapper during the height of the Jazz […]

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