Sunday, October 19, 2008

Birthday Girl: The Fallen Star

Happy birthday to silent siren Evelyn Brent, born today 109 years ago.

In 1928, chances are that if you asked a passer-by to name a big film star, Evelyn might have been in the top five or six responses.

She had a kind of reserve, a stillness, that served her well in the lavish late-20s dramas in which she made her name.

She did three pictures with Josef von Sternberg, who would seem to have used her as a sort of preparatory canvas for his later, more fully realized work with the divine Marlene.

The coming of sound revealed a handsome, dark, but rather unmodulated voice. She kept on working, but not as a top star, and by the 40s was doing leads on Poverty Row and small parts, some just this side of bit-work, in the majors.

In a late interview with Kevin Brownlow, who found her living in reduced circumstances in LA, she seemed more puzzled than anything else by the downward spiral of her career, not really able to piece together everything that had happened to her.

There is something austere in her face, ungenerous; it undercuts the glamor of even her best stills and makes one wonder just what she's thinking. It gives every sign of not being very kind.

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