Claire Trevor was known as “The Queen of Film Noir”. She excelled in playing “tough broad” and edgy female roles, specializing in characters who were hardened, world-weary women, with a hint of vulnerability beneath it all. Her brilliance is often underappreciated because she played in several “B” movies..
She was born in Brooklyn, New York as Claire Wemlinger on March 8, 1910. Her parents were both immigrants, with her mother Betty being from Belfast, Ireland and her father Noel being from Paris, France. Even though Clare came from a humble background, she still nourished an early ambition to become an actress and, after completing high school and starting classes at Columbia University, was able to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She became a stock player in the theater in the 1920’s and, in 1932, achieved the double achievement of getting a starring stage role and signing with Warner Bros. to appear in some Vitaphone shorts. Her first feature role was in a western cheapie. It wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering movie, but it helped to get Claire on her way to bigger and better things.
She played in other westerns throughout the 1930’s, but her most memorable was John Ford’s Stagecoach, the movie western that set the standard for all future movie westerns since. In the 1939 classic, Trevor played scandalous saloon girl Dallas. The cast included John Wayne and some of Hollywood’s best character actors, such as John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell. The plot revolved around the passengers in a stagecoach and the gradual, subtle revelations about each of them. Stagecoach is often included on many “Best Films” lists. Two inferior remakes were later done, neither of them coming anywhere close to the superiority of the original film. She did other types of films, as well, during this period, including Dead End, which earned Claire her first Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
It was during the 1940’s that Trevor truly hit her stride, as the film noir genre became popular. These were dark, stylish black-and-white film dramas that usually dealt with seedy characters and criminal activities. Her best known roles during this time were in movies like Murder, My Sweet, Born to Kill, Raw Deal and Key Largo.
It was her role as Gaye Dawn in the John Huston-directed Key Largo that won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1948. She held her own with actors Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. She received a third Oscar nomination in 1954 for her role as airline passenger May Holst in The High and the Mighty. Claire was actively involved in television and theater work and won an Emmy in 1956 for her performance as vain wife Fran in a t.v. production of Dodsworth. She stopped doing films in 1987.
Claire Trevor was married three times and her only child Charles tragically died in a plane crash in 1978. She was an enthusiastic and generous patron of the arts, giving millions to The School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine. In tribute, they later named their school “The Claire Trevor School of the Arts”.
Claire Trevor died at the age of 91-years-old of respiratory failure in 2000.