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Music History #14: "Marie Provost"

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Getty Images

“Marie Provost”
Written by Nick Lowe (1978)
Performed by Nick Lowe

The Music

“She was a winner that became a doggie’s dinner ...” went the opening line of the chorus of Nick Lowe’s song “Marie Provost.” Lowe was inspired to write the song after reading Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. The book, first published in the U.S. in 1965, detailed many sordid scandals of famous actors and actresses. One such story concerned the silent film star Marie Prevost (Lowe changed the spelling of her last name for his song) and how, when she was found dead, her hungry Dachshund had left her “a half-eaten corpse.” Like much in Anger’s book, it wasn’t true. But it made for a good story, and a good song too. Here’s Nick.

The History

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For every Joan Crawford or Clark Gable, there are at least fifty lesser stars whose big screen shine has faded over the years until they’ve been all but forgotten. Marie Prevost is one of the unlucky ones.

The Canadian actress, born Mary Bickford Dunn in 1898, moved to Los Angeles when she was a teenager. While working as a secretary, she was discovered by famed silent comedy director Mack Sennett, who added her to his stable of ingénues, dubbed “Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.” Impressed by Dunn’s bedroom-eyed, beestung-lipped appeal, Sennett rechristened her Marie Prevost, “the exotic French girl.”

After a few small roles in Sennett pictures, Prevost signed a deal with Universal Studios in 1922. There, she was regularly cast as the flapper—the sassy, jazz age babe. Prevost even appeared on the cover of the first issue of a long-gone publication called Flapper magazine, where she was described as “a fascinating little minx.” As the decade went on, Prevost began to work with big directors like Frank Capra and Ernst Lubitsch, proving herself as a versatile actress with sharp comic timing and understated charm.

Then just as she was poised to make the leap to leading lady, the bottom dropped out.

In the space of a few months in 1926, her mother was killed in a car accident, and her marriage fell apart. Prevost started to hit the bottle. She continued to work, but the drinking soon took its toll. She gained weight. She forgot her lines. And she started to lose her siren looks. In 1928, she had a brief affair with millionaire director Howard Hughes, but Hughes broke it off, sending Prevost into deeper depression. Her career hit the skids.

By the mid-1930s, she was valiantly trying to recapture her momentum. In a New York Times article from 1936, titled “Sometimes They Do Come Back,” she was described as a “former star who had been successful with a reducing course.” But the comeback wasn’t to be.

On January 23, 1937, police were called to a Los Angeles apartment building after neighbors complained about the incessant barking of a dog in Prevost’s apartment. They found the actress lying face down on her bed. She had been dead for three days. The cause of death was acute alcoholism and malnutrition. Prevost’s legs were indeed bloody from where her dog had been nipping at her, presumably trying to wake her up.

Prevost’s funeral was paid for by her friend and fellow actress Joan Crawford. The fact that Prevost had only $300 to her name was one of the examples that eventually led to the community of actors establishing the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in the 1940s.

Today, Prevost has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Scientists Just Found the Oldest Known Piece of Bread
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen

An old, charred piece of long-forgotten flatbread has captured the interest of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians around the world. Found in a stone fireplace in Jordan’s Black Desert, this proto-pita dates back 14,400 years, making it the oldest known example of bread, Reuters reports.

To put the significance of this discovery in context: the flatbread predates the advent of agriculture by 4000 years, leading researchers to theorize that the laborious process of making the bread from wild cereals may have inspired early hunter-gatherers to cultivate grain and save themselves a whole lot of trouble.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

A report on these findings—written by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge—was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was once thought that bread was an invention of early farming civilizations. A 9100-year-old piece of bread from Turkey was previously regarded as the oldest of its kind. However, the Jordanian flatbread was made by a group of hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived during a transitional period from nomadic to sedentary ways of life, at which time diets also started to change.

Similar to a pita, this unleavened bread was made from wild cereals akin to barley, einkorn, and oats. These were “ground, sieved, and kneaded prior to cooking,” according to a statement from the University of Copenhagen. The ancient recipe also called for tubers from an aquatic plant, which Arranz-Otaegui described as tasting “gritty and salty."

[h/t Reuters]


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