After reading a copy of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, a prevaricating gossip rag first published in the USA in 1965, British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe was inspired to pen a commemoration of the life and early death of Canadian film star of the 1920s and 30s Marie Prevost. Beginning her career during the era of silent film, Prevost progressed from short comedy films to feature length movies for Universal before signing with Warner Brothers in 1922 where she was established as a leading lady in her roles in such films as The Marriage Circle and Kiss Me Again.
After suffering rejection from Warner Brothers, the breakdown of her marriage to actor Kenneth Harlin and subsequently the premature death of her mother in 1926, Prevost’s career soon spiralled into alcoholic depression and binge eating despair. Marie Prevost died of acute alcoholism on 21 January 1937 with her body being discovered two days later after neighbours were alerted by the incessant barking of her pet dachshund. She was only 38 years old.
Appearing on his 1978 solo debut record Jesus of Cool, Lowe’s lyrical narrative is mostly based on the mendacities in Anger’s book; the lyric “She was a winner/That became the doggie’s dinner” for example is derived from Anger’s ultimately false claim that Prevost’s dog feasted on its owner’s cadaver over the ensuing days in order to survive. Other inaccuracies in the lyric, such as the mention of her body being discovered on “July 29”, suggest that Lowe may well have purposely misspelt Prevost’s name in order to allow artistic license and some distance between the song’s inspiration and the actual facts of Prevost’s story.
Given Lowe’s melodic, new wave treatment, ‘Marie Provost’ becomes a darkly comic piece of guitar pop inspired by the tragic tale of a once loved Hollywood siren.