Gloria Swanson was right

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In Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson’s character, Norma Desmond, is looking at some old silent films, relics of her glory days. She wants to make a point to her companion, a writer, that his trade had little use in her day. With the actor’s faces flickering on the screen before them, she says: “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

They sure did.

I’ve been captivated the last few days by these silent screen ladies, especially Marie Prevost, pictured here. I knew nothing about her when I began my search–simply thinking the old screen actresses might be fun to draw–but have since found she had a very sad, short life. She started her career as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, had a talent for comedies, especially under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch, and made 121 films in 19 years, earning her a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But personal tragedy took its toll, as did the advent of talkies and Hollywood’s typical demand for skinny, young actresses. She died alone, alcoholic and malnourished, two years after her last small part. And yes, it does seem true that her dog, trapped in the apartment with his dead mistress, bit her arms and legs, either to wake her or because he was hungry. Sad way to go, Marie.

But she did shine. I’ve never seen any of her films, but in these glamour shots, the lighting was exquisite, evoking a sense of mystery and drama to which her own personality seemed to add a saucy gaiety. There are a few more images of Marie I’d like to draw–and maybe a few of her peers. If you don’t know Miss Prevost, you might enjoy this compilation of her work by Basil Nelson. If you are already a fan, I hope you like my tribute.

 

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