Ivor Casey recalls the career of the Irish-American stage, film, and television actor, best remembered for the eleven films he made with Bette Davis. Brent made his first film in 1930 and over the next two years he appeared in a number of minor films produced by Universal Studios and Fox, before being signed to contract by Warner Brothers in 1932. He remained at Warner Brothers for the next 20 years, carving out a successful career as a top-flight leading man during the late 1930s and 1940s.


“A charming and virile actor with reliable character performances and an artist who brought out the best in his co-stars.”

This description helps to give us a brief insight into Irish-born Hollywood star George Brent, who went from Broadway to the big screen with an extensive body of work, ranking up over one hundred credits to his name.
From his appearances in Abbie’s Irish Rose on stage to movies such as Jezebel (1938) and The Fighting 69th (1940), about Irish-American soldiers, and often appearing with Hollywood legend Bette Davis and a variety of other leading and celebrated actors and actresses, the dependable Brent proved to be one of Hollywood’s ideal leading men.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of his death and what would have been the 120th birthday of the star.

Born George Patrick Brendan Nolan in Ballinasloe in Co. Galway on 15 March 1904, to Mary McGuinness and John J. Nolan, George was left with relatives including a maternal uncle, when his mother separated from John and ventured to New York when George was only a one year old.

George subsequently moved to New York at the age of eleven with his older sister Kathleen when his mother sent for them and they were reunited with other siblings who had originally left Ireland with their mother.
While still a teenager George reportedly developed passionately radical thoughts to stand up for his home country, having witnessed the plight of Ireland under British rule. This narrative leads to the story that George returned to Ireland to do something for his country at the age of sixteen in February 1921.

He apparently continued his education and took an interest in acting and although some sources report he acted in small parts at the Abbey Theatre, there is neither mention of his birth name nor stage name in the Abbey archives.
Many different retrospective stories of George’s early life have been either manufactured or conflated, perhaps by Hollywood publicists, especially as George himself did not open up broadly about the events of his teenage years.

At the time of his return to Ireland, the War of Independence was taking place with Michael Collins leading the charge. George, as many young men did at the time, acted as a courier for Collins. However, word got out that the British were in search of a man named George Nolan for his involvement in IRA activities.

The story of the George Nolan of Ballinasloe has sometimes been confused with two other men of the same name including one from Shannonbridge in Co. Offaly and another from Kimmage in Co. Dublin, with reported involvement of a George Nolan fighting in the 1916 Rising when Brent would have only been twelve years old and still in New York.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own