Barbara Kent: “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but being an actress was not it.”
—The Sound of Silence, by Michael Ankerich.
Barbara Kent, b. Barbara Cloutman, who passed away a few weeks ago, was one of the last surviving movie stars—Mickey Rooney, ailing and frail might be the last—who worked in the golden era of silent movies and then made the transition to sound.
She was a reluctant actress, a star whose light shined quite briefly, and then with exquisite sanity, she stepped out of the limelight and into the embrace of private life and marriage.
In 1925 Kent won the Miss Hollywood beauty pageant. Apparently, her parents pushed her to enter the contest. Thus, from the very beginning, Barbara was playing a role she neither sought nor desired. Though she had no acting experience Universal offered the tiny—she was under five feet tall—baby-faced, 17 year-old beauty queen a contract.
In 1926, Kent was cast in ”Flesh and the Devil” (1926) as a young women in love with the dashing John Gilbert who has eyes only for the heartless vamp Greta Garbo. Garbo gets all the loving close-ups, but I’ve always felt that Kent was far more attractive and desirable than the remote and narcissistic Garbo.