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Publication: Calgary Herald, The
Issue: 31 October 2011
Title: Barbara Kent once reigned as Miss Hollywood
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Barbara Kent once reigned as Miss Hollywood
Girl from Gadsby soared high as an actor and pilot
y Jamie Komarnicki, Calgary Herald; With Files From Postmedia October 31, 2011
More than 90 years ago, little Barbara Cloutman begged her parents to allow her the same, trendy bobbed hairstyle as the rest of her Gadsby chums.
Her father, an insurance salesman in the tiny Alberta town, said no.
The family eventually packed up and moved to California.
A decade or so later, the schoolgirl who once hoped to be as fashionable as her friends returned to visit her central Alberta hometown.
This time, she was the one with the va va voom.
Gadsby's Barbara Cloutman had transformed into Hollywood's dazzling film star, Barbara Kent.
The baby-faced beauty with dark chestnut hair, one of the last stars of Hollywood's silent screen, died Oct. 13 at the age of 103.
In Gadsby, the central Alberta village where Kent grew up, the 30 or so residents who still live there haven't forgotten their link to old Hollywood glamour.
"For us in Gadsby, Barbara Kent is kind of a household word. There's not a generation here that doesn't know Barbara Kent," said Paulette Heer, 57, who lives just outside the village.
"It's not very often a small town produces a movie star."
In 1925, after her family moved to California, Kent was crowned Miss Hollywood by her Hollywood High School.
Her acting career took off. She signed a contract with Universal Studios, and made her film debut the next year.
In the silent films that followed, the Gadsby girl performed alongside Greta Garbo, Oliver Hardy and other Hollywood stars.
Her movies had sizzle.
In 1927, her role in the western No Man's Land brought box office gold for its notorious scene where the diminutive young actress appeared to swim in the nude.
Kent was actually wearing a flesh coloured bodysuit, but the scandalous film helped rocket her to fame.
Back home in Gadsby, tongues were wagging, too.
Kent had already developed a bit of a "loose" reputation simply for taking up with Tinseltown types, said Heer.
"Back in the day, with my grandmother and that age group, they really didn't talk about her. Anybody who went off to Hollywood, they were kind of loose. I'm not saying she was, that was just the general thought. She went to Hollywood, and that's what they said."
Years later, when Kent returned home to visit, the village basked in its "reflected glory," according to an excerpt in Norma Tomlinson's history book, From the Bigknife to the Battle.
Tomlinson, who also described Kent's childhood anecdote about wanting the short haircut like friends Winnie and Margaret, described her own bemusement about the actor's affected accent, brought on by diction lessons.
The day Kent returned home was a "gala day for everyone," as the village gathered at the railway station to meet her.
A dance later at the old town hall was a "small town girl's dream of real glamour," come true.
In Hollywood, Kent successfully made the transition to talkies and made several more movies. In 1932, she married Hollywood agent Harry Eddington. She was 28 when the film offers began slowing. Kent quickly retreated to private life and lived out of the spotlight more than 70 years.
When her first husband died, she married engineer Jack Monroe.
According to The Telegraph, she continued to fly light aircraft until her 85th birthday and played golf until her mid-90s.
The Guardian reported she lived in a retirement home, where friends were unaware of her Hollywood past.
"I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life," she once told an interviewer. But, she added, "being an actress was not it."
In Gadsby, which claims to be Alberta's smallest village, residents still honour Kent every other year with a small film festival in her name, said Heer.
In the senior's centre, one of the few remaining public buildings in the village, a "special place" is set up with Kent's picture and a few articles, she said.
The villagers hope to one day do more to commemorate their own Miss Hollywood, Heer said.
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