Gloomy Facts About George Brent, The Old Hollywood Playboy

April 28, 2023 | Rebecca Wong

Gloomy Facts About George Brent, The Old Hollywood Playboy

You might think that working for some of the most famous Hollywood ladies of his day would overshadow George Brent’s career, but you couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, constantly being surrounded by beautiful, talented women like Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, and Loretta Young only elevated Brent’s image—it’s just too bad he didn’t see it that way! No woman ever seemed to satisfy George Brent, and that caused him his fair share of trials, tribulations, and of course, tragedies.

1. His Beginnings Are Murky

George Brent’s childhood and life as a young adult are rife with mystery and intrigue, but if even half of the stuff said about him—and by him—is true, it’s no wonder he saw gloom and doom wherever he looked! Brent was born on May 15, 1904 in Shannonbridge, Ireland, just a little ways from Dublin. However, Brent didn’t get to call Ireland "home" for very long; at the age of 11, a tragic event forced Brent to say goodbye to his island home. 

george brent

2. He Faced An Early Tragedy

In September of 1915, George Brent, along with his younger sister Kathleen, moved to New York City. Sadly, this wasn’t just a fun field trip to the Big Apple; Brent and his sister left Ireland because they were now orphans. What exactly happened to Brent’s parents isn’t clear, but they ended up staying with an aunt until he was old enough to work.

As soon as he could be independent, George Brent left his family behind, and his life took an interesting turn.

George BrentWikipedia

3. He Was Unafraid Of Hardship

Around February of 1921, when he was roughly 16, the young teen returned to his true home: Ireland. He worked a variety of interesting jobs to make ends meet, from herding sheep to even working the gold mines of South Africa. Soon, Brent involved himself with the Abbey Theatre, and became interested in acting. While George Brent did have a genuine interest in theatre, there was a far more sinister reason for his sudden fascination with acting. 

George Brent factsWikimedia Commons

4. He Went To Bat For Ireland

You see, George Brent kind of came back to Ireland during a bad time. When he returned to the Emerald Isle, it was smack dab in the middle of a battle for its independence from the British. Brent became sympathetic to the Irish cause, and reportedly did everything he could to support them, which included working as a courier.

The authorities often stopped young Irish men who were out and about at odd times of the day, but Brent's gig at the Abbey Theatre gave him an excuse. This let him run messages for the Revolutionaries without getting stopped. This plan didn’t work for long, though.

George Brent factsWikipedia

5. His Life Was In Danger

Despite his best efforts to cover up his nightly activities, the British caught onto George Brent’s plan. They placed a bounty on his head, forcing Brent to leave his beloved home behind. Brent first fled to England, then to Canada, and eventually returned to the United States in August 1921. Needing a source of income, Brent turned wholeheartedly to acting—without realizing how this decision would dramatically change the course of his life.

George Brent factsGetty Images

6. His Acting Career Began

Thanks to his past experience as an actor, George Brent was able to make his Broadway debut in The Dover Road. Soon, he was taking on a whole host of roles in different plays throughout the 1920s, including playing the lead male role in Abie’s Irish Rose. While the play was incredibly popular, and helped to make Brent a recognizable name, critics absolutely hated it. This didn’t keep the budding actor down for long, however.

George Brent factsWikipedia

7. He Found His First Love

Around the mid-1920s, just as George Brent was experiencing his first taste of fame, he married Helen Louise Campbell, the first of many of his female co-stars. Although Campbell was roughly 10 years his senior, Brent didn’t let that stop their whirlwind romance. He was likely happy to marry his lovely new wife, who understood what it meant to be an actor that was constantly out on the road. Unfortunately, Brent’s new relationship quickly went sour. 

George Brent factsFlickr, John Irving

8. His Relationships Were Fleeting

Just six months after Brent tied the knot with Campbell, their marriage came to a sudden and abrupt end. The two informally separated, with Brent not officially obtaining a divorce until around 1930. What exactly happened between the two is a huge mystery, but sudden marriages and divorces became a bit of a running theme in Campbell’s life—which is putting it mildly!

Luckily for Brent, his career, at the very least, was doing much better than his love life.

George Brent factsGetty Images

9. Hollywood Captured His Heart

In 1930, Brent’s career got a boost when he appeared in a Broadway play called Love, Honor, and Betray. By this point, Brent was likely pretty used to acting on Broadway, but what made this play special was his co-star, who was none other than Clark Gable, the King of Hollywood himself! With this in mind, Brent’s next career move makes a ton of sense: A few months later, Brent made his debut under the bright lights of Hollywood.

Clark Gable FactsGetty Images

10. His Movies Shocked Audiences

George Brent packed up his bags and moved to Hollywood, where he soon got his first gig with 20th Century Fox in the film Under Suspicion. From there, Brent filmed a string of "pre-code" Hollywood films between 1930 and 1931. This meant that many of Brent’s films contained imagery that is pretty tame by today’s standards, but were absolutely scandalous in his time!

Thanks to this, Brent eventually got his chance at some bigger and juicier roles.

George Brent factsWikipedia

11. Hollywood Execs Loved Him

In 1931, Warner Bros, who saw Brent’s potential as a multi-talented leading man, signed him on. Just one year later, Brent proved Warner Bros right when he played Barbara Stanwyck’s leading man in the (not-so-subtly-named) film, So Big! This film got Brent noticed by Hollywood execs in a big way; not only was he quite the looker, but he worked incredibly well with female leads they considered "temperamental".

It’s no wonder that his next co-star fell for him!

Barbara Stanwyck FactsGetty Images

12. He Got His First Shot At Fame

In 1932, Ruth Chatterton, one of the biggest stars of the time, saw a screen test that George Brent made for Warner Bros. She was immediately taken by Brent’s acting, and requested he to play across her as the romantic lead in the film The Rich Are Always With Us. Brent, naturally, accepted her request—but he had no clue what he was in for.

George Brent factsGetty Images

13. He Blew Away Their Expectations

Things between Brent and Chatterton went extremely well. As The New York Times put it, Brent’s "dark good looks, sophisticated air and studious attention to his craft made him a solid, dependable performer". In fact, things between Brent and Chatterton went so well that he co-starred in another film with her, called The Crash.

Soon, it became clear that the romantic tension between Brent and Chatterton wasn’t just an act. That could only mean one thing...

George Brent factsGetty Images

14. His Onscreen Romance Became Reality

In 1932, Brent and Chatterton married. The wedding caused a massive scandal for a simple reason: Chatterton was already married to an actor named Ralph Forbes, but divorced him on August 12, 1932. Then, she turned around and married Brent the very next day. In a very short span of time, George Brent managed to completely charm Chatterton and capture her heart, and his marriage with her also came with a ton of perks.

George Brent factsWikipedia

15. The Studios Spoiled Him Rotten

Brent’s talent, combined with his status as husband to Ruth "The First Lady of the Screen" Chatterton, meant that Warner Bros treated him extremely well. The studio signed him on for a long-term contract, and eventually paid him a weekly four-figure salary. It was a high price, but Brent’s dedication to the art of acting meant that he definitely made it worthwhile for Warner Bros.

In fact, Brent once literally caused someone to bleed for the sake of a movie!

George Brent factsGetty Images

16. He Took On A Dangerous Role

In 1932, George Brent starred in a film called The Purchase Price. During one scene, Brent’s character and the character played by his co-star Lyle Talbot get into a fight. Pretty standard stuff, except for one major detail: The director, William A. Wellman, told Brent and Talbot to not hold back. Wellman wanted a real fight. Brent, ever the zealous actor, agreed. Needless to say, this was a recipe for disaster. 

George Brent factsThe Purchase Price (1932), Warner Bros.

17. Their Fight Was Savage

Brent and Talbot worked out the fight choreography beforehand, but still, the fight was pretty brutal. The nasty back-and-forth went as planned, until the two men reached the very end of the scene. Brent’s character, in a fit of fury, sent Talbot’s character crashing through a wall—just as the two actors planned. What Brent and his co-star didn’t plan for was for Brent to injure Talbot for real.

George Brent factsThe Purchase Price (1932), Warner Bros.

18. Their Plan Went Horribly Wrong

After the scene ended, Brent realized, likely to his horror, that he had sent Talbot through the wall…and right into a nail that was protruding from it. Talbot began bleeding profusely from his skull, and was sent straight to the studio’s infirmary for stitches. Luckily for Brent, Talbot recovered. Unluckily for Brent, the movie’s reviews were pretty mixed. The studio he worked for—and thus, his career with it—was in trouble.

George Brent factsThe Purchase Price (1932), Warner Bros.

19. His Career Hit A Roadblock

Under Warner Bros, Brent took on roles opposite a number of beautiful leading ladies between 1932 and 1933, including Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, and Kay Francis. While critics generally liked Brent and his acting, their views on the actual movies he starred in were less than positive. With Warner Bros approaching the edge of bankruptcy, Brent needed the studio to step up their game…and eventually, they managed to deliver in a huge way.

David Niven factsWikipedia

20. They Drove Him Hard

In 1933, Brent took on a role in the film 42nd Street, a bombastic musical complete with stirring songs and choreography. Warner Bros worked Brent and the rest of the cast hard; the filming schedule ran for 28 days, and the pressure was on to make this film work, or otherwise face the closure of the studio.

Not wanting to have his career as an actor cut short, George Brent worked hard. The end result was nothing short of spectacular. 

George Brent factsWikipedia

21. He Saved The Studio

Thanks to the efforts of Brent and the rest of the cast and crew, 42nd Street rocked the box office, bringing back $2,300,000 on a budget of around $350,000. For context, Brent and the rest of the team made roughly $45,982,262 in today’s money! With that success under his belt, Brent had more power to pick and choose the movies he wanted to work on.

Unbeknownst to Brent, this power was about to come in handy.

George Brent factsWikipedia

22. He Became Powerful

In October 1933, the newly revitalized Warner Bros gave Brent and Chatterton roles in the film Mandalay. In a shocking twist, the power couple turned down the assignment—and they got away with it! Brent’s wife didn’t want the role. As for Brent himself, he just really didn’t want to make the trip down to the filming location. After all, he had more important things to do.

George Brent factsWikimedia Commons

23. His Life Was Luxurious

Okay, so "important" is a bit of a stretch, but for George Brent, a life of luxury was important and kind of inevitable. Brent settled down in Hollywood, spending his cash on the finer things in life, like fancy cars, fancy planes, and even fancier yachts. As you can see, Brent was always looking for the next best thing. Sadly for his wife, this mindset applied both to material goods...and to his relationships.

George Brent factsGetty Images

24. He Searched For Perfection

In October 1934, after a little over a year and a half of marriage, Brent and Chatterton filed for divorce. While it’s not clear what happened between the two to trigger the sudden end of their relationship, at least some of his friends stated that Brent had a habit of "eternally seeking an ideal". In other words, Brent expected perfection, and Chatterton simply did not live up to his expectations anymore.

Having said that, George Brent still had plenty of ladies to chase after.

George Brent factsGetty Images

25. He Had Numerous Lady Loves

On screen, Brent continued to play across from (and possibly romanced) a number of big-name female co-stars. Greta Garbo, Merle Oberon, and Olivia de Havilland were just some of the stars he worked with throughout the 1930s, and some speculated that he even captured the hearts of these glamorous actresses. In 1937, Brent dispelled these rumors when he publicly tied the knot with his next love.

Greta Garbo FactsGetty Images

26. He Sealed The Deal

The name of the actress who Brent managed to charm was Constance Worth, an Australian performer who eventually made it big in Hollywood. Brent and Worth’s romance burned hot and fast; their courtship was only six weeks long! On May 10, 1937, Brent officially married Worth in Mexico, and the couple had a grand ol’ time…for a few weeks.

Worth must have thought she'd found a fairy tale romance—turns out, it was more like a horror story.

George Brent factsWikipedia

27. He Broke It Off

While the courts quickly granted Brent and Worth their divorce, Brent was not content with just ending it at that. Instead, he sought an annulment of the marriage, possibly so he could avoid splitting his fortune with his now ex-wife. The proceeding court trial in August 1937 became highly publicized.

For George Brent, who wasn’t a fan of the press, this was a complete nightmare. And, as the icing on the cake, Brent’s day was about to get a whole lot worse.

George Brent factsGetty Images

28. He Nearly Lost It All

During court proceedings, Brent’s ex-wife broke down into tears, which probably didn’t help his case. Furthermore, the court ruled his marriage to Worth 100% legal, which allowed Worth to successfully sue for divorce. Brent braced himself to lose a whole lot of money, but his ex-wife’s pride saved him; she "was too proud to accept money from a man who didn’t want [her]".

After, Brent once again set out to find the perfect woman—but for Brent and women, nothing could be that easy.

George Brent factsGetty Images

29. He Became The Star Of The Show

After taking on many, many roles as a romantic lead, Brent finally got a shot at the starring role in several films in 1940. Adventure in Diamonds, The Man Who Talked Too Much, and South of Suez all gave Brent top billing, and while he wasn’t terrible, he didn’t shine the same way he did in his roles opposite bigger female stars. By 1941, Brent was back to filling his usual role in Honeymoon for Three. The film also gave Brent another shot at love.

George Brent factsHoneymoon for Three (1941), Warner Bros.

30. He Fell In Love, Again

Honeymoon for Three marked the first movie where he played across Ann Sheridan, a rising actress who worked with Warner Bros. Brent fell hard for the hardworking young redhead, and by 1942, the two married. By all accounts, the two were a perfectly happy couple—according to Hollywood, at least. Behind the scenes, the story of Brent’s marriage to Sheridan was far from perfect.

George Brent factsHoneymoon for Three (1941), Warner Bros.

31. No One Believed In Them

According to many of Brent’s friends, Brent was a horrible match for Sheridan. As one friend put it, "George is a guy who has had his fill of the good things of life…and he’s pretty bored with it all. Ann is just getting into her stride, she’s having her first taste of fame, and being a normal girl she finds it thrilling. That marriage won’t work out, believe me".

Despite their misgivings, Brent and Sheridan tried to make things work. The results were disastrous.

George Raft FactsWikimedia Commons

32. They Couldn’t Be Together

At the time, Brent was living in a small bachelor home at Toluca Lake, while Sheridan lived on a ranch in Encino. After their marriage, Brent and his new wife had every intention of moving in together in a bigger home, but that plan fell through when the shadow of WWII fell across America. Building a new home became nigh impossible for Brent and Sheridan, and it became the first of many obstacles that marred their relationship.

When Did WWII EndWikimedia Commons

33. He Was Incredibly Shy

Another issue that became a problem in Brent and Sheridan’s relationship was Brent’s shyness, which Sheridan described as "out of this world". While Sheridan loved socializing with friends and other Hollywood celebs, Brent absolutely hated it. Although Brent was perfectly charming at the parties he was forced to go to, he was completely anti-social at heart.

This mismatch in personality only caused the rift between Brent and his new wife to grow wider. It was only a matter of time before they reached a breaking point.

George Brent factsWikipedia

34. He Controlled Her

The mismatch in personalities wasn’t the only thing plaguing George Brent’s marriage with Sheridan. Brent, thanks to his friendship with Greta Garbo, was a total health nut and insisted on having full control over his wife’s diet. Sheridan, who had very little interest in food, grated at this. Eventually, this led to a blow-out between the two—over a dish of carrots.

The relationship soon lost its luster for Brent, and he took drastic action.

Clark Gable FactsGetty Images

35. He Tore Her Down

In 1942, Brent finally sat down with Sheridan to have a talk about their marriage. If you think Brent wanted to talk to his wife about how they could improve their relationship together, however, you would be completely wrong. Instead, Brent outlined all the things that were "wrong" with Sheridan, including the fact that she was too focused on being a "career girl".

By the end of his lecture, the two agreed to a divorce, but Brent made sure he had the last word.

George Brent factsGetty Images

36. He Put A Knife In Her Back

Brent and Sheridan initially agreed on issuing a joint statement regarding their divorce to the press, but Sheridan didn’t realize that Brent was about to commit an act of betrayal. The next morning, Brent jumped on the phone and called the newspapers, saying the divorce "is the last thing in the world I wanted. But I don’t see what I can do about it".

Eventually, this act came back to bite him in the butt, in the form of karmic justice.

George Brent factsWikipedia

37. He Got His Comeuppance

As WWII wore on, Brent put his career on hold and enlisted as a pilot. They rejected his application due to his age; instead, he became a flight instructor with the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Even there, though, his relationship with Sheridan continued to follow him, with one particularly sassy recruit asking Brent for "a picture of Ann Sheridan".

It probably wasn’t the respected position that Brent expected it to be—and things only got worse when WWII ended.

George Brent factsGetty Images

38. His Fame Faded Away

When Brent returned to acting, he was notably less popular than before. The fact that he no longer had a contract with Warner Bros probably didn’t help; Brent was now a freelance actor, stuck looking for jobs on his own. Furthermore, his good looks were starting to fade, and leading man roles were becoming scarce. Brent needed to change with the times, which led to him making an unexpected career move.

George Brent factsGetty Images

39. He Shocked Them All

In 1946, Brent shocked moviegoers with the most chilling role of his career. In The Spiral Staircase, the normally debonair Brent took on the role of Professor Albert Warren, a psychopath whose goal was to permanently rid society of the "weak and imperfect" through any means necessary. The film, as well as Brent’s ability to give a performance that was completely outside his comfort zone, was well received.

However, this wasn’t able to save Brent’s career, which was slowly winding to a close.

George Brent facts The Spiral Staircase (1946), RKO Radio Pictures

40. His Career Slowly Ended

While Brent continued to film movies through the late 1940s and into the 1950s, the scope and scale of the films he participated in got smaller and smaller. While Brent supplemented his career with appearances in radio and television, it was clear that his acting career was coming to an end. Luckily, there was one bright spot that Brent had during this time of his life.

George Brent facts The Spiral Staircase (1946), RKO Radio Pictures

41. He Finally Found "The One"

In 1947, Brent married Janet Michaels, a former model and dress designer. This time, the marriage was a success—the two stayed together for 27 years, and even had two children together, named Suzanne and Barry. Sadly, the marriage ended when Michaels passed in 1974. Despite the devastating loss, Brent continued to work sporadically in television, but eventually, old age caught up with him as well.

Veronica Franco FactsShutterstock

42. He Made Them Famous

In 1979, Brent, who suffered from a lower respiratory tract disease, passed due to natural causes in 1979 in Solana Beach, California. He left behind a vast movie catalog, in which he played a pivotal role in making his fellow actresses look good. While it didn’t make him as glamorous as the actresses he worked with, there’s no doubt that these actresses couldn’t have reached their levels of fame without Brent at their side.

George Brent factsGetty Images

43. He Might Have Been A Body Double

According to some sources, Brent’s early interest in acting didn’t just help him cover up his activities as a courier in Ireland. These sources state that Brent actually acted as a doppelganger for the leader of the Irish rebellion, a man named Michael Collins. Brent would, allegedly, lead the British authorities on a wild goose chase, leaving Collins free to do what he needed to do.

George Brent factsWikipedia

44. They Downplayed His Achievements

Other sources claim that Brent’s role in Ireland wasn’t nearly as big as he made it out to be. Around the time when Brent joined the Irish cause, there were three men who went by the name of "George Nolan"—this included Brent himself, and two others. As a result, the accomplishments of the three men were allegedly conflated. Whatever the case may be, Brent certainly wasn’t above using these accomplishments to gain publicity for himself!

George Brent factsWikipedia

45. He Defined Her Career

While Brent worked with many, many ladies in his career, one particular actress popped up again and again in his life: Bette Davis. They first appeared together in Housewife back in 1934, and in subsequent years, Brent eventually made 11 films with her! There’s no doubt that this eventually led to something more between the two, but things between them really began heating up during the filming of Jezebel in 1938.

Bette Davis factsWikimedia Commons

46. He Fell For Her

Jezebel was unique in a number of ways. For one, this was one of the few films where Brent didn’t play the leading man; instead, Henry Fonda took on the leading role across Davis, with Brent providing his services as a supporting actor. That didn’t stop Brent from spending as much time as possible with Davis, though, and it eventually led to some heated discussions among the Hollywood execs.

Norma ShearerWikipedia

47. He Angered His Bosses

Although Brent was playing a relatively small role compared to Fonda, the director still spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting the scenes between Brent and Davis. In fact, Brent ended up spending two whole days filming a single scene with Davis, causing the film to fall behind schedule. The studio execs were left fuming, but Brent was probably in heaven.

Just one year later, Brent and Davis took their relationship to the next level.

George Brent factsGetty Images

48. He Kept Pursuing Her

In 1939, Brent once again found himself shooting a picture with Davis. The film, called Dark Victory, was an emotionally charged piece about a young lady struck down by an inoperable brain tumor. For Brent and Davis, many of the emotions in the film were all too real; Davis actually suffered from a nervous breakdown during filming as her marriage with her husband was crumbling.

However, for Brent, this was just the opportunity he was looking for.

George Brent factsGetty Images

49. His Emotions Bolstered His Acting

Eventually, Brent and Davis began having an affair during the filming of Dark Victory. Their sordid affair may have even helped the movie be more realistic, a fact that was probably not lost on the director. In any case, Dark Victory went on to do extremely well, with one critic describing Davis’s acting as "surprisingly self-contained and mature".

Meanwhile, Davis so enraptured Brent that he did something very stupid.

George Brent factsDark Victory (1939), Warner Bros.

50. She Broke His Heart

In 1940, Brent got down on one knee and proposed to Davis, begging for her hand in marriage. Davis, in a twist that broke Brent’s heart, refused. Despite their year-long affair, Davis had fallen for someone else. Their relationship now in tatters, Brent had little choice but to sit back and watch as his love married another man towards the end of the year.

Bette Davis factsFlickr, Laura Loveday

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

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