Behind the glitz and glamour, Marie Prevost faced personal struggles and heartbreaking setbacks. From her scandalous marriages to the secrets she held close to protect her career, her life was a fascinating blend of triumphs and tragedies.
1. She Had A Tragic Start
Born on November 8, 1896, Marie Prevost grew up in a happy Canadian family—but tragedy tore them apart. Her birth father, Arthur "Teddy" Dunn, worked as a railroad conductor. Sadly, when Prevost was just an infant, Dunn passed when gas leaked into one of the rail tunnels. However, it wasn't long before Prevost's mother, Hughina, found a new man to warm her bed.
2. Her Life Changed Dramatically
Shortly after the dreadful incident, Prevost’s mother married Frank Prevost, giving birth to a girl named Marjorie—her family called her “Peg”. Prevost’s life had already begun to change at a very fast pace—the family constantly traveling due to her stepfather's job. They finally settled in Los Angeles. But little did Prevost know, her life was about to change forever.
3. She Landed A Good Job
Following her high school graduation in 1915, Prevost began working as a secretary at a successful law firm. She was mostly an “errand girl” for the firm, but the firm had some “big-time” clients, such as the Keystone Studios. On one occasion, Prevost went down to Keystone Studios—and experienced the biggest plot twist of her life.
4. She Had A Bizarre Encounter
On that fateful day, Marie Prevost had a simple task: She had to get a signature from Mack Sennett, the head of Keynote Studios. But while waiting to see him, a large man approached her in an excited manner and said, “You, stand over here, and when I give you a signal run to the table over there and sit down on the chair. And remember to smile for the camera”.
5. She Took A Tumble
The man bossing Prevost around was director Ford Sterling. Finally giving into his demands, she went to sit on the chair—but horrifyingly, there was something she didn't know. Rigged from the beginning, the chair and table fell apart the moment she sat down upon it.
Mortified by her embarrassing fall, Prevost turned to the Sterling, but he simply said it was a good take and bustled away. Confused and humiliated, Prevost composed herself and returned to her original task. She had no clue there was a surprise waiting for her.
6. They Gave Her A Contract
Though Prevost managed to secure Sennett's signature, he summoned her the very next day. Prevost, feeling nervous, recalled that she was “ready to cry” as she entered his office. However—to her surprise—Sennett smiled and said, "I want your signature today," presenting her with a contract.
Prevost skimmed through the writing and immediately signed the contract when she saw the offer: a weekly salary of $15, which at the time was a significant amount of money. This was an actor’s contract, and Prevost had just become one of Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.
7. She Had A Unique Funny Bone
Sennett’s Bathing Beauties were a group of actors who dressed up in their teeny tiny bath suits and acted in silent films. However, Prevost was no regular "Bathing Beauty”—and one day at the Venice Pier, she proved why. During a scene, Sennett asked Prevost to pretend to fall off the pier in a comedic way.
Having a sense of humor quite different from Sennett, Prevost did the mise-en-scene with a risky improvisation.
8. She Took A Huge Risk
While Prevost pretended to fall, she pushed Sennett off the pier in front of all the crew and the cameras. Even though she initially liked how her idea played off, the horrifying looks from the staff gave her anxiety. Prevost thought that Sennett would fire her, but instead, he climbed back on the pier and told her, “Marie, your salary is increased $25 a week”. Jackpot.
After that, she had the stardom and the freedom to improvise.
9. There Were Outrageous Rumors About Her
After Prevost did a couple of movies, people began wondering about her private life. Then, Sennett stepped in and told people all about her past. He went around and told people things like how she was fluent in French, or how she'd received an education at a convent in Montreal. We don’t know how Prevost reacted to these rumors, but we know that she had a more pressing matter on her plate.
10. She Was Desperately Smitten
In 1918, Prevost fell head over heels in love with an infamous socialite named Henry Charles “Sonny” Gerke. Gerke shared the same feelings towards her, but he knew that his “bougie” family would certainly not approve of a Sennett Bathing Beauty who dressed all skimpy and acted all funny in front of a camera. This wasn’t an enormous issue when they were having fun, but one bold move changed everything.
11. She Married Him
Prevost and Gerke had a good thing going on, but Gerke ruined everything by making a single suggestion. One night after a party, Gerke convinced Prevost to marry him. Even though this sounded like a romantic gesture, the proposal came with one big caveat: the marriage must be a secret. Blinded by her love, Prevost agreed—not knowing that this would be the biggest mistake she ever made.
12. Her Husband Had To Break the News
In the blink of an eye, Prevost and Gerke secretly tied the knot, but bitter heartbreak quickly followed on the heels of this rash decision. Six months after the wedding, Gerke told Prevost that he wanted to visit his mother to tell her about the wedding. Prevost knew that she should feel relieved, but somehow, the whole situation made her feel unhinged—and she had every right to feel that way.
13. He Never Came Back
Prevost realized something iffy going on with Gerke because not only did she learn that Gerke never told the truth to his mother, but he also he came back as a very different man. It was now very clear: Gerke wanted to leave Prevost without even celebrating a wedding anniversary together. Looking for a shoulder to cry on, Prevost ran to her good friend Sennett—and confesses her scandalous secret.
14. She Confessed It All
When Prevost ran to Sennett in tears and told him that her husband had left her, Sennett, in shock, responded, “How can you have a husband? You aren’t even married”. Prevost responded, “I’ve been married six months and we haven’t even had a honeymoon. Now he’s left me”.
Now Prevost had to find a way to divorce Gerke as quietly as she'd married him.
15. The Two Kept Their Separation A Secret Too
Despite no longer being together, Gerke and Prevost didn’t want to get a divorce because of very different reasons. For Gerke, a divorce meant letting people know—in particular his mother—that he'd gotten married in the first place. Prevost, on the other hand, feared that news of her divorce would damage her career.
As a result, the two remained as a married couple, but their secrets would come back to haunt them.
16. She Wanted To Change Jobs
Prevost also entertained a career transition that involved parting ways with Sennett, who had been nothing but supportive towards Prevost in her rollercoaster of a marriage. In 1919, Prevost was not happy at Keystone Studios because she believed, “A lot of the fun had gone”. Sennett knew that Prevost was about to leave him for a bigger studio, so he had one last trick up his sleeve.
17. She Had One Last Job To Do
Sennett came to Prevost with a project called Yankee Doodle in Berlin, his most expensive production yet. The project included big names like Bothwell Browne and Prevost’s earlier acquaintance Ford Sterling. Prevost happily signed on for this, and the movie was a commercial success, yet it wasn’t enough to lure Prevost back to Keynote Studios.
She didn’t want the money, she wanted the creativity, so she hit the road leading to Universal Studios.
18. She Started Fresh
With some help from one of her director friends—King Baggot—and her irresistible charm, Prevost got herself a contract at Universal in 1921. Prevos began making a mouth-watering amount of money: $1,000 per week. Therefore, people like the producer Irving Thalberg took a special interest in making her an even bigger star.
They started with small publicity stunts and events, which paved the way for a sensational show.
19. She Burned Her Suit
It was finally time for Prevost to make her debut with Universal Studios. Keep in mind that the creativity and freedom to express herself was the reason why Prevost left Keynote, so when Thalberg made a shocking request of the actress, Prevost was already on board.
She went to Coney Island and burned her bathing suit to officially say goodbye to her “bathing beauty” days. But fate had a few more twists in store for her.
20. She Moved On To Another Studio
Even though Prevost had a good run and did a couple of light comedies with Universal, her contract was about to expire. Right on time, the industry giant Jack L Warner stepped in with an irresistible deal with Warner Bros. The prestige and the money made the offer too good to refuse, so Prevost committed herself to a brand-new establishment, without knowing its shortcomings.
21. Her Boss Gave Her A Makeover
With a new studio came another makeover to rebrand Prevost’s public image. Warner had a multilayered plan to boost Prevost’s stardom which began with creating this image of Prevost as a champion swimmer in her hometown Quebec. He even got some phony gold medals made to put on display.
After presenting her as a world-class champion, Warner wanted to move on to his next idea, which was extremely complex to execute.
22. There Was A New Gentleman In Her Life
In 1922, Prevost had already started working on her new project, The Beautiful and Damned—but behind the scenes, sparks flew. Not only was she working with Kenneth Harlan, but she also saw him in her spare time. The on-set chemistry quickly turned into a romance, which Warner recognized immediately.
This gave him an idea to monetize the palpable chemistry between his two stars. However, Warner didn't know Prevost's dirty little secret.
23. She Didn’t Know What To Do
Following the movie announcement, Warner made a shocking announcement. He purported that Harlan and Prevost were on the verge of tying the knot. It garnered huge attention as fans sent gifts and letters to the couple. Warner was over the moon about his dishy publicity stunt—but it was about to explosively backfire on all of them.
24. People Were Harsh
It didn’t take long for the media to learn about Gerke and Prevost’s marriage, and they certainly didn’t think twice when they published a story about it. One morning in 1923, Prevost woke up to a headline from The Los Angeles Mirror that stated, "Marie Prevost Will Be A Bigamist If She Marries Kenneth Harlan".
This was about to shatter her attentively-drawn public image, and more importantly, shatter her relationship with Warner—who had never known the truth.
25. She Divorced Him
Marie Prevost's scandalous first marriage kicked up some negative publicity and Warner was "livid"— but at least, some good came out of it. How? Well, when Gerke heard about it, he finally filed for divorce, which Prevost didn’t fight at all. After years of being stuck in a pretend marriage, Gerke and Prevost divorced in October 1923.
She was finally able to move on with her life out in the open, and her new beau Harlan still waited for her with open arms.
26. She Didn’t Stay As A Divorcee For Long
Prevost and Harlan quickly became inseparable. Their on-screen dynamic entertained audiences one more time in the movie Bobbed Hair while their off-screen relationship moved to the next level. In 1924, only a year after Prevost’s divorce, they decided to become husband and wife. They started off on a high. But no amount of marital bliss could save her from life's inevitable tragedies.
27. She Was Happily Married
Even though Prevost and Harlan preferred to keep their marriage under the radar, they were soon widely celebrated as "the romance of the Hollywood year". While the media dubbed them "Hollywood's perfect marital team," they bought a large home in Hollywood Hills and continued with their successful careers.
It seemed like a fairy tale—but there was a nasty surprise around the corner.
28. She Fell Down The Ranks
One day in 1926, Warner met with Prevost and Harlan to give them some troubling news. Their contracts were about to expire, and Warner let them know that he was not going to renew them. This came as a shock and a huge inconvenience for the couple who had just started a luxurious life together.
Regardless of their feelings, the decision was final, and this marked the beginning of a chain of unfortunate events for Prevost.
29. She Received Some Horrifying News
Just as Prevost tried to recover from her career disappointments, another disaster struck. On February 5, 1926, Prevost got some news about a car crash in Lordsburg, New Mexico. There was an overturned vehicle with actress Vera Steadman, the studio owner Al Christie, and Prevost’s mother—Hughina—in it.
The consequences were horrifying.
30. She Lost Her Mom, And Her Mind
Steadman and Christie luckily survived the accident, but Prevost’s mother died instantly—crushed by the car. Prevost didn’t know how to deal with the loss of her only remaining parent, so she began to numb herself by finishing one bottle after another. Her grief, her mental instability, and her new habit greatly affected her life—and more tragedy kept coming.
31. She Had An Incident
According to her sister Peg, Prevost's already fragile mental state completely broke down after an incident near Christmas time that year. According to Peg’s accounts, Prevost had a scarring interaction with a girl on her way home from dinner. While she driving her car, a little girl jumped in front of her car, and despite Prevost hitting the brakes, the girl suffered some bruises.
Luckily, the girl’s light injuries healed in time—but for Prevost, it was a different story.
32. She Stopped Driving
Constantly in fear, Prevost stopped driving for a year. She didn’t even want to be in a car, so she would often take the streetcar to work, which was an odd thing to do if you are a well-recognized Hollywood star. As her sister Peg put it, “Imagine, earning more than a thousand dollars a week, and riding on a streetcar!”
Prevost grew weirder and depressed by the day, and her husband started acting up.
33. Her Marriage Was A Disaster
As of 1927, her teetering career and personal problems sent Prevost spiraling into a pit of despair. Even her husband Harlan dealt with his own downfall. Prevost struggled with drinking, and Harlan joined her on the self-pity train with a dire gambling addiction. The couple was already disastrous, but Harlan made everything worse.
34. Her Husband Used Her For Money
Harlan’s gambling problem quickly got out of hand, and Prevost was too busy with herself to realize it. According to one of Prevost’s good friends Phyllis Haver, Harlan began losing thousands of dollars and often forged Prevost's name on cheques when he ran out of money in his own account. It’s a good thing that our girl finally had a wake-up call and the couple separated.
However, their journey wasn’t over yet.
35. She Filed For Divorce
In May 1927, Prevost wanted to officialize her separation from Harlan, so she filed for a divorce. Then began the most exhausting period of her life. Prevost believed that the court hearings would be short and fast, but her husband’s actions blindsided her. Even though he acted all on board with the divorce, his allegations towards Prevost turned the hearings into a mess.
36. Her Husband Blamed Her
Harlan began babbling about how Prevost was never home and that her workaholic and absent behavior was the major factor in their separation. Knowing how publicized their relationship was, Harlan obviously wanted to hurt Prevost’s public image, but instead, he ended up aiding it. Here comes a plot twist.
37. Someone Rooted For Her
As a retaliation, Prevost called one of her coworkers to give a testimony. Surprisingly, this coworker was not an actor, she was a nurse. This key witness let people know that Prevost worked as an unpaid nurse at the Los Angeles Hospital in her spare time. After the nurse basically called Prevost an angel, Harlan looked like a total villain.
38. A Judge Humiliated Her Husband
As the exhausting court hearings came to an end, Harlan was nowhere to be found. Despite his best effort, the judge granted an interlocutory divorce and even called Harlan “a cruel, uncaring, and uncivilized man”. Prevost rose above all the drama as the hero of this story, but soon enough, she proved to everyone that she didn’t learn her lesson.
39. They Reunited
Only 13 months later, people spotted Harlan and Prevost together. The news of their reconciliation was everywhere as the two prepared to embark on a second honeymoon. Harlan even gave a public statement saying that Prevost planned to set aside the divorce papers. She did set them aside them for a short amount of time….until she realized the mistake she'd made.
40. She Said Goodbye To Him For Good
Of course, Harlan and Prevost’s reunion was short-lived. They got back together in 1928, only to break up in 1929. This was probably because Prevost was still trying to get out of a career rut and an emotional whirlwind, while Harlan seemed to be in recovery. The divorce was final as of 1929 and it was the healthy thing to do, but it still exacerbated Prevost’s depression.
And now, her depression had physical consequences too.
41. She Began Binge Eating
Quickly after the divorce, people began noticing changes in Prevost’s appearance. Due to the occasional binge eating and excessive drinking, she gained a considerable amount of weight and lost her charming looks. Already struggling to find new projects, she had been officially downgraded to secondary roles.
42. She Accepted Her Fate
Reportedly, Prevost wasn't too bitter about losing her "leading lady status." In fact, when she landed a smaller role in one of the last silent films of the acclaimed director Cecil B De Mille, she did everything in her power to give a good performance. She even said, “That’s the way it is,” when it came to getting smaller roles as an actor.
She wasn’t complaining, but life soon tested her limits.
43. Her Parts Kept Getting Smaller
As the silent movies transitioned into “talkies," Prevost slowly realized that she'd begun fading into obscurity. Following two years, she tirelessly worked to rescue her career to an extent, but no matter how strong her performances were, her roles kept getting smaller. Without her even realizing it, she was almost out of the job market.
That's when she became more desperate than ever before.
44. She Tried To Look Good For The Producers
With weight problems on the one side and the fear of not getting a job ever again on the other side, Prevost had lost control. She desperately tried crash diets and developed unhealthy habits to look in shape, so that maybe she could get a tiny part in a movie. Despite all her best efforts, her career ended in 1934. Then came another set of problems.
45. She Struggled Financially
When Marie Prevost transitioned from a Hollywood star to an unemployed adult, she began rescaling her life because of her financial problems. At first, she sold her glamorous Malibu home and moved into a small apartment, relying on her friends for handouts. Then she began isolating herself from the rest of the world. But it was about to get even more heartbreaking.
46. She Asked For A Poignant Favor
In the meantime, Prevost’s sister Peg tried to contact her. She wrote to Prevost a couple of times, but the only reply she got was a brief postcard in 1936. In the postcard, Prevost asked Peg to go see her last film 13 Hours by Air, in which she only had one scene. Prevost didn’t even have a line in her scene, yet she only wanted the one person left in her family to watch her act.
Her sister, worried about Prevost, wrote and asked to see her, but she never got a reply.
47. No One Heard From Her
Days and months passed, and nobody knew what Prevost was doing. She lived alone with her dog, and it was clear that she didn’t want anyone to bother her. Nevertheless, one day in 1937, the apartment manager—or houseboy, depending on the source—decided to take action. The neighbors had began complaining about Prevost's dog and its constant barking.
He went to investigate—and made the most disturbing discovery.
48. She Left A Note
When the apartment manager Harry Jenks approached Prevost’s door, he found a note. It said, “Please do not knock on this door more than once as it makes my dog bark. If I'm in, I will hear you. I am not deaf”. At first, the manager knocked once, but as the dog kept barking and there was no answer, he entered with his key.
What he saw in the apartment was bone-shaking.
49. She'd Been Gone For Days
On January 23, 1937, the apartment manager found Prevost’s lifeless body on the bed. What made this death even more tragic was the fact that Prevost had already passed a few days ago, yet no one knew about it. Tragically, the official report stated that Prevost's little daschund "had chewed up her arms and legs in a futile attempt to awaken her".
But this disturbing scene wasn't all they found.
50. She Left A Note
At the young age of 40, Marie prevost had died from alcoholism and malnutrition. She'd stopped eating in an effort to drop some weight, but combined with her drinking problem, this only led to her demise. Additionally, on her bedside table, there was a note to Joan Crawford—and its contents were shocking.
It was a promissory note to Crawford for $110. Prevost had been accepting money from the actress and owed her. However it was Crawford who ended up paying for Prevost's funeral. Big stars like Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck attended the heartbreaking ceremony. But that wasn't all. When people caught wind of her passing with her dog by her side, they started the most outrageous rumors.
51. People Made Up Stories About Her
Prevost’s poignant end was breaking news, but the stories about her demise made this incident even more sad. Some said that she took her own life, and some claimed that her dog chewed on her remains. In fact, the outrageous stories inspired a popularized book called Hollywood Babylon which included a story about how Marie Prevost’s dog ate her to survive.
This myth continued to spread until the reports showed otherwise, but it still left a tragic mark on Prevost’s legacy.