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Jean Kent: THE BROWNING VERSION 1951, Marilyn Monroe 'Insignificant Little Blonde'

Jean Kent The Browning Version Michael RedgraveJean Kent: 'The Browning Version' 1951, Gainsborough folds (photo: Jean Kent in 'The Browning Version,' with Michael Redgrave)

(See previous post: "Jean Kent: Gainsborough Pictures Film Star Dead at 92.") Seemingly stuck in Britain, Jean Kent's other important leads of the period came out in 1948: John Paddy Carstairs' Alfred Hitchcock-esque thriller Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948), with spies on board the Orient Express, and Gordon Parry's ensemble piece Bond Street. Following two minor 1950 comedies, Her Favorite Husband / The Taming of Dorothy and The Reluctant Widow / The Inheritance, Kent's movie stardom was virtually over, though she would still have one major film role in store.

In what is probably her best remembered and most prestigious effort, Jean Kent played Millie Crocker-Harris, the unsympathetic, adulterous wife of unfulfilled teacher Michael Redgrave, in Anthony Asquith's 1951 film version of Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version – a Javelin Films production released by General Film Distributors (GFD). That same year, the financially troubled Gainsborough was shut down.

Jean Kent: Marilyn Monroe 'insignificant little blonde' off screen, on losing 'Room at the Top' to Simone Signoret

Jean Kent's film career slowed down in the mid-'50s. Her best-known post-stardom film appearances were those in a couple of British-made movies featuring Hollywood stars: Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), starring Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, and Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse (1958), with Deborah Kerr, David Niven, and Jean Seberg. Referring to Monroe, Kent would later remark: “Off-screen she was a totally insignificant little blonde, but on camera she was magic.”

At about that time, Jean Kent lost the role of Alice Aisgill to Simone Signoret in Jack Clayton's Room at the Top (1959), co-starring Laurence Harvey. "It was this old English thing that only foreigners have sex appeal," Kent would lament. "They'd forgotten me by that time, you see, they'd forgotten that I was supposed to be the sexy girl in the movies." For her efforts, Signoret won both the Best Foreign Actress BAFTA and the Best Actress Academy Award, in the addition to the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jean Kent quit films following two minor 1960 releases: Please Turn Over, with Leslie Phillips, and Bluebeards Ten Honeymoons, with George Sanders and Corinne Calvet (and fellow old-time Gainsborough contract player Patricia Roc). Kent would stage a brief comeback in Peter R. Hunt's little-seen Shout at the Devil (1976), starring Roger Moore and Lee Marvin.

Later years: Stage and TV work

Finding film jobs scarce from the mid-'50s on, in the ensuing decades Jean Kent would work mostly on stage and on television. Theater credits included a 1954 South African tour of Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, in the role Vivien Leigh would bring to life the following year in Anatole Litvak's film adaptation; No Sex Please – We're British in the West End in 1973, replacing Eleanor Hunter; and a successful 1979 production of Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced, featuring Joyce Carey as Miss Marple. Kent's final stage appearance was in Monsieur Amilcar, starring Keith Michell and Penelope Keith, at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1995.

Her television work included a recurring role as Queen Elizabeth I in the series Sir Francis Drake (1961-62), starring Terrence Morgan in the title role, and various guest appearances in, among others, Love Story, Steptoe and Son, Thicker Than Water, and the soap opera Crossroads.

Remembering Gainsborough

Tom Vallance describes the off-screen Jean Kent as "an outgoing, frank and fearless lady, [who] was always good value, and buoyant company into her nineties. I last met her in 2003, when she launched The Encyclopaedia of British Film, and she declared herself ready to return to work 'if only someone would ask.' "

On her 90th birthday, Kent attended a screening of Caravan organized by the British Film Institute at London's National Film Theatre. According to Vallance, she received a standing ovation and signed "hundreds of autographs."

In 1946, she married Austrian actor Jusuf Hurst aka Josef Ramart, whom she met on the Caravan set. According to the IMDb, he was featured in only three movies: Besides Caravan, there were Trottie True and Thorold Dickinson's The Queen of Spades, starring Anton Walbrook and Edith Evans. Ramart died of cancer in 1989.

At the BFI tribute, Jean Kent reminisced a bit about the Gainsborough era, of which she was the last surviving star:

It was a great studio. It was a great spirit at Gainsborough. It was fun to work at. I've never enjoyed any other studio as much as Gainsborough. It was really, I think, the happiest time of my life. I had a marvelous time there. Words fail me. It was great! I enjoyed every minute of it.

Jean Kent quote regarding Room at the Top via Sheila Whitaker's article in The Guardian. Unless otherwise noted, Jean Kent's other quotes via Tom Vallance's The Independent article.

Jean Kent The Browning Version 1951 movie, with Michael Redgrave: General Film Distributors (GFD).

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