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The Life of George Brent
By Carlisle Jones
is the screen’s latest sensation.
Epiror’s Nore:—George Brent, who recently married Ruth Chatterton, after appearing with her as her leading man in “The Rich Are Always With Us,” and again in “The Crash,” which is coming to the ........
background, we are starting today, the first of four instalments on “THE LIFE OF GEORGE BRENT.”
StL WEOUTE, NOUb we Because of his very colorful
TOODONOSDADODSERUSR ORD ROOD ORAORORO DARED
George Brent has no pictures to illustrate a story of his childhood in Ireland, except a very pleasant mental one, filled with memories of hot peat fires in big chimney places, grotesque shadows on smoky kitchen walls and a pipe-smoking grandfather
who told him stories.
If you stick a pin in the very middle of the map of Ireland you will be within shouting distance of the place where George Brent was born — on March 15, 1904. <A family of four welcomed
the new son; his father and mother, John and Mary Brent, an older sister and a grandfather.
The Brent place was near Shannonbridge, an ancient town at the junetion of the Shannon and the Suck rivers, but not near enough for the young Brents to attend the town school. They went, instead, to a two room country school house, known as a “National School,” less than a mile from their home, where forty noisy children kept two teachers busy trying to preserve a semblance of order.
Busy Childhood Days
The Brent homestead was a substantial place with many acres of grazing land, woodland and fields and a great old stone house with fabulously thick walls and perilously steep slate roofs. George liked to
_....._ pretend that the old house was a
fort and that he had been left there” alone to defend it to his last breath against a host of invading Britishers. Perhaps his family, the grandfather in particular, did not do all they might have done to dissuade the boy from his make-believe ambushing of an ancient enemy. The right to take pot shots at Englishmen, real and imaginary, is part of the heritage of every Irish boy born south of the River Shannon.
But not all of the boy’s tender years were spent in such warlike operations. There was work to be done, and George was soon expected to do his share. As a little boy he was put to herding sheep, with the help of the dozen sheep dogs kept for that purpose. He was taught to ride almost as soon as he learned to walk and peat digging and racking and potato planting occupied other busy months.
Barefoot Boyhood Sports
For eight months of the year the boy discarded shoes and stockings. He roamed the banks of the lazy Shannon hunting for the best spots to catch Pike and Perch and in the spring of the year, Salmon, during their annual “run” to the spawning grounds. Sundays and evenings, those almost endless summer evenings in Ireland, were reserved for football and field hockey and foot races and cross country endurance tests.
In winter there were rabbit hunts and neighborhood social gatherings and long evenings in front of the fire listening to the stories his grandfather told of the glory which had been Ireland’s in the long ago. He told him of legendary Irish heroes and of lost Irish causes and of living Irish hopes. .And slowly, surely, he instilled into the boy’s mind a passionate love of country and a stubborn will to independence which had never left him.
When George Brent was seven his father died, leaving the mother, grandfather and a little girl and a small boy to carry on. Now more than ever, it was necessary that the boy work. There were hogs to feed, cows to milk, horses to care for, sheep to dip and shear. In the summer many weeks were spent in the bogs digging, “footing” and “stucking” peat for the next winter’s use.
The Brent house was large and it took great quantities of the dried peat to last through even the mild Irish winter. Bare-footed, bare-: headed and stripped to the waist, the boy eut, spread, “rickled” the strange fuel until it was dry and ready to haul by donkey cart to the walled enclosure that circled the house and stables. There it was piled in a great stack, as big as a house—enough to last a full year.
Potato digging and burying was another task which occupied young George. Once the tubers were out of the fields a long shallow trench was dug and filled with the bulky crop. Strips of sod, four inches thick, were spread over this mound of potatoes to protect them from the frost and one of the boy’s daily duties was uncovering a temporary
supplv of notatoes for the familv’s — _
use. The sprouting remains of the crop were uncovered in the spring, cut into seedlings and planted by hand.
Orphaned at Eleven
A second family tragedy interrupted this simple Irish country life and started Brent on the high road to adventure which he has followed ever since. When he was eleven his mother died. That was in 1915. England was at war. Ireland was filled with unrest and _ internal troubles. It was decided to send George and his older sister to America to live with an aunt in New York. They sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Philadelphia, on the day that two other steamers were torpedoed off the English coast.
It is curious to note that though Brent returned to Ireland later, he never went back to the scenes of his early boyhood. Left an orphan at eleven, George Brent said his final farewells then to the peat bogs and potato fields, the quiet pools of the Shannon where the fish were and to the thick-walled house which had defied so many imaginary Englishmen,
The Philadelphia had a stormy, dangerous passage. There was rough weather and there were high seas and there was the constant fear of submarine attack in certain zones. Brent remembers the trip chiefly for the fact that one night he was not allowed to undress and that every night an electrically lighted sign, reading “American Line” was hung over the sides of the speeding vessels.
In New York young Brent was put into school and made to stay there.
' At fourteen he was five feet, ten
inches tall and was frequently mistaken for twenty. He attended the Dwight preparatory school and the High School of Commerce and later the Rand School of Socialism. Basketball became his _ favorite sport. Qne day he was carried from the floor unconscious after a particularly spectacular clash. The doctors said it was concussion of the brain and decided to operate. They removed the mastoid bone to relieve the pressure and after several days of uncertainty, announced that the boy would live.
(To be continued tomorrow)
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Mr. Exhibitor: — The great interest that George Brent holds for the public, because of his sensational screen work and his recent marriage to Ruth Chatterton, which ran on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, makes this a splendid time to offer to your local newspapers this comprehensive and colorful story of the “Life of George Brent.” You can suggest that the paper use it as a special Sunday full-page current feature, or as a four day advance feature.
The Life of George Brent
By Carlisle Jones Chapter II
George Brent came out of his long convalescence as strong as ever and two inches taller. The following June he left New York with another boy, on foot and with fifty cents in his pocket. They tramped through New York state and into Connecticut where Brent found work in a lumber camp, passing logs on the line to the saw mill. It was heavy work for a boy just past fourteen but no one knew he was that young and no one could have guessed it from his fine physique. He was paid five dollars a day.
The following summer he found work at fifty cents an hour
helping to wreck Camp Upton, where thousands of American troops had been quartered the year before. The third summer, when Brent was sixteen, he worked on a fruit farm in upper New York. It was a farm owned by Italians and the experience is memorable to Brent for two reasons. He earned enough money to pay his way back to Ireland and he learned to like spaghetti.
Meanwhile the boy’s New York schooling had taken sors unusual turns. He joined the Pearson club where Frank Harris was lecturing on any and all subjects, so long as they were radical, and young Brent absorbed these doctrines like a sponge. An Irish grandfather had prepared the soil for the seeds of radicalism which Harris planted.
At the same time a young Irish priest, fired with enthusiasm for prospective Irish freedom, became Brent’s closest friend. So, when the priest sailed on the Carmania for England, late in 1920, George Brent sailed too, his passage paid with the money he had earned picking and packing apples the summer hef
to live with a coussu,
a brother of John Brent, had beeu a major in the British army, serving in India. The priest went on to Ireland where he accepted an offer to teach in the National University at Dublin and from there he bombarded Brent with letters urging the youth to come to Dublin for school and political purposes.
Joins Irish Theatre Move
After four months in London Brent went to Dublin and entered the university there. A few months later the same priest, who was to figure spectacularly for a time in Brent’s life took the boy to the Abbey theatre and introduced him to those responsible for that unique experiment in Irish drama.
Brent became interested. He occasionally played a part, a small part, and they became less and less important as Brent became apparently less dependable. Often he was missing from performances entirely and though these absences were never commented on, it was obvious he could not be trusted with an important role.
As a matter of fact his fellow players knew well enough why Brent was absent on these occasions. The same young priest who had _ persuaded Brent to come to Ireland and who had introduced him to the Abbey theatre management and had so given him his first smell of grease paint, had introduced the eighteen year old boy to Michael Collins, revolutionary leader and Brent had undertaken one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, that of dispatch carrier between Collins and De Valera.
Daredevil, Reckless Life It was a reckless, fascinating life. Treland was enjoying a vindictive civil war. England was pouring
‘troops into the troubled country,
trying, vainly, to bring a semblance of peace to the bloody island. Those Britishers which the boy Brent had ambushed so often in play from behind the thick walls of his birthplace, were now marching through Dublin. Brent wasn’t ambushing them, but he was doing his share to make their stay both dangerous and useless.
Even today the actor is wary of telling too much of those experi
ences. The average life of a dispatch carrier at the time was six weeks. The pay was good and risks were great. When asked where and when and what messages he carried, Brent’s face becomes a steely mask.
“Tll never tell you,” he says flatly. “Perhaps I don’t even remember. Naturally I carried dispatches without always knowing their contents.”
For reasons entirely aside from his dispatch carrying, Brent was dismissed from the university. A free-for-all fist fight in which a faculty member and his own good friend, the young priest, received a couple of black eyes, was the immediate cause of the termination of Brent’s collegiate career.
He stayed on in Dublin, however, spending all the time he could at the Abbey theatre, absorbing the atmosphere there and gradually becoming absorbed by it. He still earried dispatches from Dublin to Belfast and sometimes to Glasgow but
each succeeding trip became more psec: .
Then on August 22, 1922 Michael Collins was ambushed and killed. The eighteen year old dispatch carrier knew that the time had come when he must move and move quickly if he wanted to save his liberty and perhaps his life. It has been great fun while it lasted, but neither an English courtmartial nor an Irish jail appealed to him. He fled to Belfast and then to Glasgow with the English intelligence service close to his heels.
For a time he hid in Glasgow. A too-curious landlady aroused his. fears again and he left his quarters in the middle of the night and made for England, hoping to confound his pursuers by entering their home territory. At Land’s End he found a tramp freighter ready to sail for Montreal and he hired a leaky motor boat to take him out to it. There was a breath-taking moment when he leaped from the motor boat to the rope ladder hanging over the freighter’s side and another when he faced the captain after he had climbed aboard.
Back to America Again
But the captain proved to be an acquaintance and a sympathetic fellow with a liking for any Irishman in distress, so Brent found himself on the way to America a second time.
He was broke and faced with the necessity of earning a living. As the pokey old freighter plowed westward Brent tried to map out his own future. He could, with the help of relatives, find work of one kind
_ or another, he was sure. He might
go into a bank, or study law, or try newspaper work as his older sister was already doing.
But none of these things really appealed to him. The smell of grease paint was in his nostrils, the memories of happy days and nights in the Abbey theatre were already crowding out the more thrilling recollections of his experiences as a dispatch carrier.
When he landed in Montreal his mind was made up. He took the first train for New York. He knew what he wanted.
George Brent had decided to become an actor.
(To be continued tomorrow)