With all the commotion in my personal life and relatively little amount of coverage it received, I just recently heard of the passing of Barbara Kent at the age of 103. Her passing signifies the last living connection we had to the dawn of cinema, an era defined solely on the visual content of the medium. There are a few child actors still alive as of this writing, as well as screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas who turned 111 this year, but Kent was the last adult silent actor still living, at least in regards to American cinema.
Born Barbara Cloutman in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 16, 1907, she graduated high school from Hollywood High School and, subsequently, got involved in motion pictures after winning the 1925 Miss Hollywood beauty pageant. Under contract to Universal Pictures, she mad a few appearances in uncredited roles, before making a strong impression as the protagonist, Hertha, in the 1926 Garbo vehicle Flesh and the Devil. No Man’s Law followed in 1927 and created a bit of an uproar with a scene that looked like she was swimming in the nude, though it was later revealed that she was wearing a flesh colored bathing suit.
Also in 1927, she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of that year and would eventually make a smooth transition into sound films with the 1929 Harold Lloyd comedy Welcome Danger. She further appeared with Lloyd in Feet First in 1930 and would continue to appear in various films sporadically until 1935. Never wanting to become an actor, her interests in the profession waned dramatically in the 1930s and she would make her final appearance on film in Guard That Girl in 1935.
Kent married Hollywood agent Harry Edington in 1932 and remained married until his death in 1949. She met and married Lockheed engineer Jack Monroe in the mid-1950s and would remain with him until his death in 1998. She became an avid golfer and even received her pilot’s license following her film career. For the past decade, she made her home in an assisted living facility in Palm Desert, Calif., and was mentioned by many on various forums online to be in good mind and spirits even well into her 100s.
Never glamorizing her career or having much of an interest in the past, Kent rarely gave interviews or even acknowledged her time in motion pictures. In the end, I guess it is ironic, yet fitting that one of the last remaining stars of that era remained, for lack of a better word, mostly silent of her time in the industry.