A Death in the Afternoon – Sad Fade Out on Afton Place

Looking east down Afton Place showing the identical twin apartments, The Amesbury (L) and The Aftonian (R) (Via Google Earth)

Located down the tree-lined Hollywood side street of Afton Place in Central Hollywood is a quiet little Spanish-styled building at 6230 called The Aftonian. A pleasant but innocuous building of modest scope, the Aftonian exemplifies the countless similarly planned structures that were built throughout Hollywood in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The typical resident of such an apartment was not a film star but rather a studio secretary or technical worker who wanted to live close to their place of employment. Built as an investment property by a future judge on the California State Supreme Court, the 36-unit Aftonian and its twin across the street, the Amesbury, at 6231 Afton Place, were designed by local architect Paul Kingsbury. The Austrian-born Kingsbury was a competent designer of both commercial and residential structures throughout the Southland with his most notable commissions being the Little Country Church of Hollywood (1934) at 1750 Argyle Avenue (no longer extant) and the Arcadia City Hall.

In 1937, the quiet little building became the unlikely setting for the final act in the life of a once-famous star. Canadian-born Marie Prevost had risen from the ranks of the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties to become a star in her own right, reaching her peak in the mid 1920’s with three successful films directed by Ernst Lubitsch: The Marriage Circle, Three Women (both 1924), and Kiss Me Again in 1925. From the mid to late 1920’s, Marie starred in a series of light romantic comedies such as His Jazz Bride, Up In Mabel’s Room (Both 1925), Getting Gertie’s Garter (1926) and The Rush Hour (1927), among many others. Off-screen, Marie was a popular figure around town and had a seemingly storybook marriage with actor Kenneth Harlan whom she had married in 1924. The pair lived together in a large mansion in Beverly Hills at 810 North Camden Drive. But for all her outward success, Marie was bedeviled by problems, most notably a dual struggle with weight and alcohol. As she grew older these problems became more acute and harder to handle and Marie regularly subjected herself to drastic and unhealthy crash diets in an attempt to burn off pounds.

The Home of Happier Times. Marie and Kenneth Harlan's house at 810 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills. Miraculously, this home still exists although in somewhat altered form.

Marie constantly had to struggle with her weight.

By the end of the silents, Marie Prevost’s days of stardom were over as was her marriage to Harlan. A combination of the Stock Market Crash and diminishing film offers all but wiped out Marie’s finances and she struggled to make a living. By the 1930’s, the only work the once-glamorous star could get was the occasional character part. Prevost had long since lost her homes in Beverly Hills (at the peak of her success she had owned three) and was forced to move in and out of a steadily declining series of apartment houses until by 1936, she had taken up residence here. The Aftonian was by no means a dump, but it was a dramatic step down from her former residences. On top of all of this, Prevost continued to wage a long and protracted battle with her weight, which would fluctuate wildly by as much as forty pounds at a time.

Marie Prevost’s fortunes continued to spiral downward until Wednesday, January 21,
1937. Early that morning, Prevost ordered a bottle of gin and soda water delivered to her apartment from the local liquor store. That afternoon, her houseboy arrived to do his weekly cleaning and found the actress lying face down on her bed, the empty gin bottle on the nightstand. Assuming she was simply passed out from the gin, the houseboy finished his work and departed. It was three more days before anyone returned to the apartment. This time it was the apartment manager who entered using a passkey after Prevost’s neighbors reported the frantic barking of her pet dachshund, Maxie. It was found that Marie had died sometime after the houseboy had left on Wednesday.

Through the years, the story of Marie Prevost’s tragic demise has taken on a lurid patina undeserving of this talented figure. What has been the final indignity is the persistent (and wholly inaccurate) legend that her dog survived the three days in the apartment by taking bites out of his former mistress. This falsehood, which is commonly accepted as fact by people who should know better, may have originated in the photos showing scratch marks over Marie’s legs, which were, in actuality, the result of the dog’s frantic attempts to wake her. Marie Prevost was fine comedic actress who brought joy to millions in her day. She deserves to be remembered for that and not her sad ending.

For a detailed site on Marie with many details of her life as well as many photos check out the link to She Blogged By Night here. Isn’t that a great title for a blog?

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One Response to A Death in the Afternoon – Sad Fade Out on Afton Place

  1. Pingback: Historic Paul Kingsbury Design in Los Feliz for $1.775 Million (PHOTOS) | Real Estate Community

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