Star of the silent screen who was a leading lady to Harold Lloyd and flew light aircraft until her 85th birthday
Published 30/10/2011 | 05:00
Barbara Kent, who died on October 13 aged 103, was a star of the silent screen before making a smooth transition to talkies with Harold Lloyd.
A diminutive beauty, she tumbled into the role of Billie Lee in Welcome Danger (1929, Lloyd's first talkie) when she encountered the great comedy star at the oceanside home of the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (whose mistress, Marion Davies, often entertained Hollywood stars there).
The following day Lloyd's studio telephoned, offering her a screen test and a dinner date. She only accepted the first, and to her surprise was subsequently cast as the female lead.
Her pairing with Lloyd proved such a success that the next year she teamed up with the comedian again for Clyde Bruckman's Feet First.
Born Barbara Cloutman on December 16, 1907 in Gadsby, Alberta, she moved with her parents to California in 1910. A student at Hollywood High School, she was crowned Miss Hollywood in 1925 after her parents sent her picture to a newspaper.
Her first assignment was a modelling job for a prominent jeweller. Among the customers that day was Paul Kohner, one of the top brass at Universal Studios, who promptly signed her to a five-year contract. Replacing her surname and using her mother's maiden name of Kent instead, she made her film debut as a Western ingenue in Prowlers of the Night (1926)
She co-starred in a handful of Reginald Denny comedies before playing the well-mannered heroine Herta von Eltz to Greta Garbo's villainess Felicitas in MGM's The Flesh and the Devil (1926), with John Gilbert in the male lead. Oliver Hardy menaced Barbara Kent in the guise of an unlikely villain in the 1927 Western No Man's Law, a film distinguished by Kent's nude swimming scene (she actually wore a moleskin body suit).
Kent earned good reviews for The Drop Kick (1927), and played a French girl who marries an American aviator in The Lone Eagle, followed by a role in the Douglas Fairbanks Jr romantic melodrama Modern Mothers (1928). Her next two films, Lonesome and The Shakedown, were also made as silent features, but with the arrival of talking pictures, cast and crew were recalled to remake both films adding dialogue.
In 1933 Barbara Kent married the MGM executive turned Hollywood agent Harry Eddington. He took her out of films for a full year to groom her for big-time stardom. But the "new" Barbara Kent never caught on with the public and Kent found herself in independent productions churned out by Mascot, Educational and Eagle Pictures. She made her last appearance on screen with Columbia 's Under Age (1941).
With Eddington's death in 1949, Kent lost contact with most of her Hollywood friends. But unlike many former stars who dwell upon the glory years, she was happy to dismiss her Hollywood career as "ancient history". She married her second husband, Marc Monroe, in 1954.
"It saddened me when I watched the likes of Bette Davis and Anita Page crawling across the screen looking like a cross between Baby Jane Hudson and a tired, chipped old porcelain dolly," she said. "I am a firm believer in the Mary Pickford school, where one should quit whilst still good-looking and on top."
An active woman, Barbara Kent continued to fly light aircraft until her 85th birthday. She was still playing golf well into her mid-90s.
She had no survivors.