Born Mary Bickford Dunn in Sarnia, Ontario, she was still a child when her family moved first to Denver, Colorado and then later to Los Angeles. While working as a secretary, she applied for and obtained an acting job at the Hollywood studio owned by Mack Sennett. Sennett, who was from a small town outside of Montreal, dubbed her as the exotic "French girl", adding Dunn to his collection of bathing beauties under the stage name of Marie Prevost.
In 1919, Prevost secretly married socialite Sonny Gerke who left her after six months of marriage. Gerke's mother had forbidden him to associate with Prevost because she was an actress, so he was scared to tell his mother of the marriage—and he couldn't get a divorce without revealing that he was married. Prevost, fearful of the bad publicity a divorce would cause, would stay secretly married to Gerke until 1923.
One of her first publicly successful film roles came in the 1920 romantic film Love, Honor, and Behave, opposite another newcomer and Sennett protégé, George O'Hara. Initially cast in numerous minor comedic roles as the sexy, innocent young girl, she worked in several films for Sennett's studio until 1921 when she signed with Universal. At Universal, Irving Thalberg took an interest in Prevost and decided to make her a star. Thalberg ensured that she received a great deal of publicity and staged numerous publicity events. After announcing that he had selected two films for Prevost to star in, The Moonlight Follies (1921) and Kissed (1922), Thalberg sent Prevost to Coney Island where she publicly burned her bathing suit to symbolize the end of her bathing beauty days.
While at Universal, Prevost was still relegated to light comedies. After her contract expired, Jack Warner signed her to a two year contract at $1500 a week at Warner Bros. in 1922. During this time, Prevost was dating actor Kenneth Harlan. Jack Warner had also signed Harlan to a contract and cast the couple in the lead roles in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned. To publicize the film, Warner announced that the couple would marry on the film's set. The publicity stunt worked and thousands of fans sent gifts and letters to the couple. The Los Angeles Mirror got wind that Prevost was still married to Sonny Gerke and ran a story with the headline "Marie Prevost Will be a Bigamist if She Marries Kenneth Harlan". Warner was livid over the negative publicity and Prevost's failure to disclose her first marriage despite the fact that the publicity stunt was his idea. Warner quickly arranged an annullment and, when the publicity surrounding the scandal died down, Prevost and Harlan were quietly married.
In spite of the bad publicity, Prevost's performance in The Beautiful and Damned brought good reviews. Director Ernst Lubitsch chose her for a major role opposite Adolphe Menjou in 1924's The Marriage Circle. Of her performance as the beautiful seductress, Ernst Lubitsch said that she was one of the few actresses in Hollywood who knew how to underplay comedy to achieve the maximum effect. This performance, praised by The New York Times, resulted in Lubitsch casting her in Three Women in 1924 and in Kiss Me Again the following year.
Just as her career was blossoming, Prevost's mother was killed in an automobile accident while traveling in Florida with actress Vera Steadman, another Canadian friend, and Hollywood studio owner, Al Christie in 1926.
Devastated by the loss of her only remaining parent, Prevost began drinking heavily and developed an addiction to alcohol. Her marriage to Harlan ended in a 1927 divorce. Prevost tried to get past her personal torment by burying herself in her work, starring in numerous roles as the temptingly beautiful seductress who in the end was always the honorable heroine. After seeing Prevost in The Beautiful and Damned, Howard Hughes cast her as the lead in The Racket (1928). During filming, Hughes and Prevost had a brief affair. Hughes quickly broke off the affair leaving Prevost heartbroken and furthering her depression. After playing the lead in The Racket, Prevost's days as a leading lady were over.
Prevost's depression caused her to binge on food resulting in significant weight gain. By the 1930s, she was working less and being offered only secondary parts. A notable exception was Paid (1930), a role which, while secondary to star Joan Crawford, still garnered her good reviews. As a result of all this, her financial income declined and her growing dependency on alcohol added to her weight problems. By 1934, she had no work at all and her financial situation deteriorated dramatically. The downward spiral became greatly aggravated when her weight problems forced her into repeated crash dieting in order to keep whatever bit part a movie studio offered.
On January 21, 1937, at the age of 38, Prevost died from heart failure brought on by acute alcoholism and malnutrition. Her body was not discovered until January 23, after neighbors complained about her dog's incessant barking. A bellboy, who ignored the note Prevost posted on the door asking that no one knock on the door more than once, finally forced the door open. Prevost was found lying face down on her bed, her legs marked with tiny bites. Prevost's pet dachshund, Maxie, had nipped at her legs in an attempt to wake her up. This incident inspired Nick Lowe to write the song "Marie Provost" which first appeared on his 1977 EP Bowi.
In February 1937, it was discovered that Prevost's estate was valued at only $300 prompting the Hollywood community to create the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital to provide medical care for employees of the television and motion picture industry.
|1915||Those Bitter Sweets|
|1915||His Father's Footsteps|
|1916||Unto Those Who Sin||Celeste|
|1916||A Scoundrel's Toll|
|1917||Secrets of a Beauty Parlor|
|1918||Her Screen Idol||Billy McBride|
|1918||His Hidden Purpose||The Girl in the Case|
|1919||East Lynne with Variations||The Girl|
|1919||Uncle Tom Without a Cabin||Eliza|
|1920||Down on the Farm||The Faithful Wife|
|1920||Love, Honor and Behave!||Newlywed|
|1921||A Small Town Idol||Marcelle Mansfield|
|1921||Moonlight Follies||Nan Rutledge|
|1922||The Dangerous Little Demon||Teddy Harmon|
|1922||The Married Flapper||Pamela Billings|
|1923||Red Lights||Ruth Carson|
|1923||The Wanters||Myra Hastings|
|1924||Being Respectable||Valerie Winship||Credited as Mary Prevost|
|1924||The Lover of Camille||Marie Duplessis|
|1925||Bobbed Hair||Connemara Moore|
|1925||Seven Sinners||Molly Brian|
|1926||His Jazz Bride||Gloria Gregory|
|1926||Up in Mabel's Room||Mabel Ainsworth|
|1927||Man Bait||Madge Dreyer|
|1927||The Girl in the Pullman||Hazel Burton||Alternative title: The Girl on the Train|
|1928||A Blonde for a Night||Marie|
|1928||The Rush Hour||Margie Dolan|
|1929||The Godless Girl||Mame|
|1929||The Flying Fool||Pat Riley|
|1930||Ladies of Leisure||Dot Lamar|
|1930||Sweethearts on Parade||Nita|
|1931||The Good Bad Girl||Trixie|
|1931||The Sin of Madelon Claudet||Rosalie Lebeau||Alternative title: The Lullaby|
|1932||Three Wise Girls||Dot|
|1932||Slightly Married||Nellie Gordon|
|1933||The Eleventh Commandment||Tessie Florin|
|1935||Keystone Hotel||Mrs. Clarabelle Sterling|
|1935||Hands Across the Table||Nona|
|1936||Thirteen Hours by Air||Waitress||Uncredited|
|1936||Cain and Mabel||Sherman's Receptionist||Uncredited|