Evelyn Brent: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Lady Crook (2009) – By James L. Neibaur

So many stories of silent screen stars whose careers once flourished as a part of Hollywood celebrity, and later plummeted to near-obscurity, end in tragedy.  Not so much Evelyn Brent.

A top drawer star in the silent era, with featured roles in such enduring films as THE LAST COMMAND (Josef Von Sternberg, 1928) and  UNDERWORLD (Von Sternberg, 1927), by 1935 Ms. Brent was toiling at RKO studios, and stating in interviews that her past stardom was, as she put it, a headache.  She continued to work, and lived well into the 1970s, ending her days content with what she had once accomplished, and enjoying a renewed popularity during the decade’s nostalgia craze when old stars from early cinema were once again acknowledged.

Author Kear delves deeply into the life and work of Evelyn Brent in her book, providing the ups and downs of her career, and her consistent strength throughout all of the highs and lows.  She enjoyed critical acclaime and endured articles that point-blank called her “washed up.”  She survived failed romances and marriages, ending her life with a woman companion.  But it is her tenacity that comes off as most interesting and appealing.  Like the tough characters Brent would frequently play on screen, the person was, herself, a survivor.  Her last appearance was in a 1960 episode of television’s Wagon Train series.

Along with biographical details, Kear  also provides an exceptional filmography, annotated with complete information including excerpts from several period reviews.  It is interesting to see how the films from Brent’s career had been received, especially the weaker ones she toiled in after her 1928 peak, each critic pointing out that Ms. Brent stood out in an otherwise dismissible project.

This book is certainly recommended for film historians and scholars, and a must for libraries with comprehensive sections on the motion picture’s rich history.

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