from my sketchbook: marie prevost

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She was a winner/who became the doggie's dinner
Mary Bickford Dunn was born in 1898 in Ontario, Canada. After her father died, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and sister. While working as a secretary, the attractive Marie applied for and landed an acting job at the Hollywood studio owned by Mack Sennett. Sennett dubbed her “the exotic French girl,” and rechristened her “Marie Prevost.” Prevost joined his gang of infamous Sennett Bathing Beauties. Marie was in good company with other Sennett Beauties including future screen legend Gloria Swanson, Mabel Normand (who is credited with throwing the first custard pie in movies, it’s target being Fatty Arbuckle), and future Mrs. Clark Gable, Carole Lombard.

Marie’s star was rising fast. She showed the studio heads that she was more than just a pretty face and was given roles that allowed her to display her smart, comic timing. Often playing roles just short of risqué, her characters always turned out to be good girls by the end of the pictures. Marie worked with some of the greatest directors of the time, including Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille, Mervyn LeRoy. She was one of the busiest and most popular actresses of the 1920s. In 1926, while traveling in Florida, Marie’s mother was killed in a car accident. Her mother’s death hit her hard and she drowned her depression in alcohol.

Marie continued working, but the alcohol started to affect her physical appearance and she started to put on weight…and the studios began to notice. She found herself sliding down the Hollywood ladder. In the early 1930s she was able to find work, often portraying the wisecracking best friend. But, the girl who had once been a major player was reduced to bit roles with few lines.

A star just a decade earlier, Marie was now in her mid-thirties and considered a has-been. By 1934, she had no work at all and her financial situation deteriorated dramatically. The downward spiral became greatly aggravated when her weight problems forced her into repeated crash dieting in order to keep whatever bit part a movie studio offered. Her “crash diets” consisted of large amounts of alcohol and no food.

On January 23, 1937, police were called to a rundown apartment building in Los Angeles after neighbors complained of a continuously-barking dog. Inside, they found Marie dead on her bed. Her dog, without food or water for days, had chewed up her arms and legs in a futile attempt to awaken her. With the combination of alcoholism and self-imposed malnutrition, Marie had starved herself to death.

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  1. Your stories are just more and more uplifting. Love the Hollywood underbelly. I can see it now, twenty years from now, you’ll be drawing Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and telling their sordid tales.

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