04 December 2013

Jean Kent (1921-2013)

On 30 November, British film star Jean Kent (1921-2013) passed away. The strawberry-blonde actress played good time girls, mean sluts and femmes fatales in the enormously popular Gainsborough melodramas of the 1940s and early 1950s.

Jean Kent
British postcard. Photo: Gainsborough.

Jean Kent
German postcard by Paul Hebert, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, no. A 004. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Jean Kent
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W. 331. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Turning Point

Jean Kent was born as Joan Mildred Summerfield in London in 1921. She was the only child of Norman Field and Nina Norre, who both performed in music-halls. Jean was a dancer from the age of 11.

She made her debut film appearance with an uncredited bit role in The Rocks of Valpre (Henry Edwards, 1935), followed by a supporting part in the comedy Who's Your Father (Lupino Lane, 1935), in which she was credited as Joan Kent.

When times got tough in the depression she joined the chorus at the Windmill Theatre at the age of fifteen (some sources say thirteen). The Windmill was a popular quasi-burlesque establishment with an infamous reputation, where she appeared billed as Jean Carr.

Although she made some film appearances in the 1930s, it took her success in the stage revue Apple Sauce to get her noticed.

Her first real film break came in the comedy It's That Man Again (Walter Forde, 1943).

Another turning point came when she signed to Gainsborough Pictures and played a dramatic part in Fanny by Gaslight (Anthony Asquith, 1944) starring Phyllis Calvert and James Mason.

She became one of the four popular young actresses who starred in all the famous Gainsborough melodramas. The were called The Gainsborough Girls. The others were Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert and Patricia Roc.

Jean Kent
Dutch postcard by HEMO. Photo: Eagle Lion.

Jean Kent
British postcard by A Real Photograph, no. F.S. 52.

Jean Kent
Dutch postcard, no. AX 162. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Org.

Sexy Femme Fatale

Jean Kent matured from a pretty bit of decoration into a sexy vamp.

David Absalom at British Pictures: "She now seems to be in more of the Gainsborough melodramas than any other actor, but at the time she was less appreciated.

Although she got fifth billing in Fanny, she moved down to eighth for both Madonna of the Seven Moons (Arthur Crabtree, 1945) and The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss, 1945). Gradually the studio got the message that audiences liked her and improved her billing."

Her first co-starring role came opposite Stewart Granger in the romantic adventure Caravan (Arthur Crabtree, 1946), and further prominent roles followed in the crime drama The Man Within (Bernard Knowles, 1947) opposite Michael Redgrave, another crime drama Good Time Girl (David MacDonald, 1948) with Dennis Price, and the musical Trottie True (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1949), an opportunity to return to her music-hall roots.

Roger P. Mellor at IMDb: "Apart from the lavishness and brightness of the film, the female performances are a delight, especially that of Jean Kent as 'Trottie True'. Miss Kent gives a truthful performance of a rising star who falls in love with a Balloonist, becomes a successful stage performer, and marries a Lord. The story all sounds rather far-fetched, but Jean Kent's performance makes it work."

Jean Kent
Dutch postcard by Hemo. Photo: Eagle Lion.

Jean Kent
German postcard by Filmpostkartenverlag Hbg, Bergedorf. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Jean Kent
Italian postcard by Bromophoto, no. 263.

Premature End

Jean Kent began the 1950s with prominent appearances in two Anthony Asquith-films; the mystery The Woman in Question (1950) with a young Dirk Bogarde and the drama The Browning Version (1951), in which she played the wife of a master at an English public school (Michael Redgrave).

Though the last film was a success, and she was excellent in it, she later blamed her decision to play a woman ten years older than herself for the premature end to her film career.

But she turned to theatre and television and kept busy. Notable performances were as Queen Elizabeth in the Francis Drake series (1961-1962), and an appearance in Steptoe and Son (1970) as love interest for both Albert and Harold Steptoe.

Other television shows included Up Pompeii! (1970), Crossroads (1981) and Lovejoy (1990).

In the cinema, Kent starred alongside Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier in The Prince & The Showgirl (Laurence Olivier, 1957).

Her last film role was in the World War I action-adventure Shout at the Devil (Peter R. Hunt, 1976) starring Lee Marvin and Roger Moore.

Jean Kent was married to the Austrian actor Josef Ramart from 1946 until his death in 1989. They had met on the set of Caravan and they married four months later in 1946, with Stewart Granger as best man.

Later she lived in Westhorpe, Suffolk. In 2011, the then 90-year-old actress told BBC News that she was still available for work: "Oh yes, I'd work like a shot, as long as I didn't have to walk. A nice sitting-down part would be fine."

Jean Kent died in Bury St Edmunds. She was 92.

Scenes of Stewart Granger and Jean Kent in Caravan (1946), beautifully set to the music of the Assassins Tango by John Powell and Tango in D by Isaac Albeniz. Video edited by Gilda Tabarez. Source: Parysia 77 (YouTube).

Jean Kent sings When I Take My Morning Promenade in Trottie True (1949). Source: Jim Beattie (YouTube).

Source: Tom Vallance (The Independent), David Absalom (British Pictures), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), BBC, BritMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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