Early Hollywood actress Barbara Kent, one of the last living stars from the silent era, has passed away.
Though not as well-known today as many of her contemporaries, Kent starred with some of the stalwarts of the silver screen in her all-too-brief career (she only made about three dozen movies between 1926 and 1935). In 1926, at the age of eighteen, she made her film debut in two silent features, the western Prowlers of the Night and Flesh and the Devil. The latter would arguably provide Kent with her best-known role as Greta Garbo’s somewhat pallid romantic rival for John Gilbert’s affections.
Though Flesh and the Devil marked her as a solid dramatic actress, Kent really excelled in a string of comedies. She was named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1927, which brought her a great deal of media attention and served to raise her stature in Hollywood. That same year, Kent rather scandalously simulated a nude swimming scene in the silent comedy No Man’s Law with Oliver Hardy (she reportedly wore a skintight beige suit to give the appearance of nudity). Two years later, she appeared as legendary comedian Harold Lloyd’s love interest in his first talkie, Welcome Danger, and again in 1930 in Feet First. And in 1931, she played Gloria Swanson’s sister in the romantic comedy Indiscreet, under the auspices of director Leo McCarey.
Other high-profile film roles came in the adaptations of two popular nineteenth-century novels: 1932’s Vanity Fair (opposite Myrna Loy as Becky Sharpe) and 1933’s Oliver Twist (opposite Dickie Moore as the title character). A year later, Kent got married and by 1935, she had essentially retired from acting altogether after appearing in her final film, Guard That Girl.
There is some debate about whether Barbara Kent was born in 1906 or 1907, but most media sources report the latter date, which means the former actress was 103 when she died last week. Ultimately, her exact age doesn’t really matter. It’s just sad to see another star from yesteryear leave us. Kent outlived most of the other silent-screen icons of her day, and though she allegedly spent her later years declining to talk about her early career, the films she left behind show that she was a talented, capable, and all-around lovely performer.