By BRUCE WEBER
Published: October 19, 2011
Barbara Kent, one of the last surviving stars of silent films, who performed alongside Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo and Harold Lloyd, died last Thursday in Palm Desert, Calif. She was 103.
Her death was confirmed on Wednesday by a spokesman for the Marrakesh Country Club, where she lived.
A brunette, baby-faced beauty, both shapely and petite — most sources say she was under five feet tall — Ms. Kent made her film debut in "Prowlers of the Night," a 1926 western in which she was the only woman in the cast. She followed that with a featured role in "Flesh and the Devil," playing a lovelorn young woman with a crush on a man (played by John Gilbert) who is enthralled by the wily vamp played by Garbo.
Ms. Kent was an inexperienced performer, but Universal Studios had offered her a contract and provided rudimentary acting lessons after she won the 1925 Miss Hollywood beauty pageant.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” she told Michael G. Ankerich in an interview for “The Sound of Silence,” his 1998 book about Hollywood in the transition from silent to sound pictures. But, she added, “being an actress was not it.”
Nonetheless, she had a successful film career for several years.
In the 1927 film "No Man's Law", which featured Oliver Hardy as a lustful villain, she was shown swimming, apparently in the nude (though she was wearing a bodysuit), in a scene that caused a minor scandal. Her other silent films included “That’s My Daddy” (1928), a comedy with Reginald Denny, and “Lonesome” (1928), a romantic drama set in Coney Island that included a few talking sequences.
Ms. Kent made the switch to talkies with apparent ease. She appeared opposite Lloyd in his first talking film, “Welcome Danger” (1929), in which she plays his love interest, though when they meet he first thinks she is a man. The film was shot as a silent, but once it became clear that sound was here to stay, the dialogue was dubbed.
She worked with Lloyd again in “Feet First” (1930), in which, as a shoe salesman, he goes to ever more improbable lengths to impress the woman (Ms. Kent) he thinks is the boss’s daughter.
The same year, in the thriller “Night Ride,” she played a newlywed whose husband, a journalist (Joseph Schildkraut), is kidnapped by a murderous gangster played by Edward G. Robinson. In 1931 she played Swanson’s younger sister, who is in love with a rogue, in “Indiscreet," directed by Leo McCarey. She also had featured roles in the first talking adaptations of “Vanity Fair” (1932) and “Oliver Twist” (1933). But within a few years her film career was over.
Ms. Kent was born Barbara Cloutman in Gadsby, Alberta, on Dec. 16, 1907 (although many sources say 1906), and moved to California with her family when she was 13. She married a Hollywood agent, Harry Edington, in 1932, but by that time she was losing interest in her film career. She acted only occasionally for the rest of the decade.
Mr. Edington died in 1949. Ms. Kent married Jack Monroe, a Lockheed engineer, in the mid-1950s, and became an avid golfer and an airplane pilot. Mr. Monroe died in 1998. No immediate family members survive.
After she had left acting behind, Ms. Kent rarely consented to interviews for the rest of her life, or even acknowledged that she had ever had a film career.
KENT, Barbara (Barbara Cloutman)
Born: 12/16/1907, Gadsby, Alberta, Canada
Died: 10/13/2011, Palm Desert, California, U.S.A.
Barbara Kent's westerns - actress:
Prowlers of the North - 1926 (Anita Parsons)
No Man's Law - 1927 (Toby Belcher)
His Destiny - 1928 (Betty Baker)
Freighter's Destiny - 1931 (Ruth Mercer)