Claire Trevor was born as Claire Wemlinger in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York in 1910, the only child of Noel Wemlinger, a Fifth Avenue merchant tailor, and his wife, Benjamina ("Betty"), and grew up in Larchmont, New York. For many years her year of birth was misreported as 1909, rare instance of an actress actually being younger than her given age, which is why her age at death was initially given as 91, not 90. Her family was ofGerman, Irish and French descent.
According to her biography on the website of Claire Trevor School of the Arts, "Trevor's acting career spanned more than seven decades and included successes in stage, radio, television and film. She often played the hard-boiled blonde, and every conceivable type of 'bad girl' role."
After completing high school, Trevor began her career with six months of art classes at Columbia Universityand six months at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, performing in stock in the late 1920s . By 1932 she was starring on Broadway; that same year she began appearing in Brooklyn-filmed Vitaphoneshorts. Her first credited film role was in the 1933 film Life in the Raw, with her feature film debut coming that same year in Jimmy and Sally (1933) as "Sally Johnson".
From 1933–38, Trevor starred in 29 films, often having either the lead role or the role of heroine. In 1937, she starred in Dead End, opposite Humphrey Bogart, which led to her nomination for Best Supporting Actress. From 1937–40, she appeared with Edward G. Robinson in the popular radio series Big Town, while continuing to make movies. By 1939, she was well established as a solid "leading lady". Some of her most memorable performances during this period were opposite John Wayne, including the classic 1939 western Stagecoach, which was Wayne's breakthrough role. She starred opposite Wayne again in Allegheny Uprising that same year, and yet again in 1940 in Dark Command. Over a decade later, she would again costar with Wayne, gaining her final Oscar nomination for The High and the Mighty.
Two of Trevor's most memorable roles were opposite Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet and with Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill, in the latter playing a divorcee who gets more than she bargained for by falling in love with a bad boy who impulsively commits a murder. Key Largo, the following year, gave Trevor the role of Gaye Dawn, the washed-up nightclub singer and gangster's moll, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1957 she won an Emmy for her role in the Producers' Showcase episode entitled Dodsworth. Trevor moved into supporting roles in the 1950s, with her appearances becoming increasingly rare after the mid-1960s. She returned for one final theatrical film, as Charlotte in Kiss Me Goodbye (1982). Her last film was the 1987 television movie Norman Rockwell's Breaking Home Ties. Trevor made a guest appearance at the 70th annual Academy Awards in 1998.
Trevor married Clark Andrews, director of her radio show, in 1938, but they divorced four years later. Her second marriage, in 1943, to Navy lieutenant Cylos William Dunsmoore produced a son, Charles. The marriage ended in divorce in 1947. The next year, Trevor married Milton Bren, a film producer with two sons from a previous marriage, and moved to Newport Beach, California.
In 1978, her son Charles Dunsmoore Bren died in the crash of PSA Flight 182 in San Diego, followed by the death of her husband Milton Bren from a brain tumor in 1979. Devastated by these losses, she returned to Manhattan for some years, living in a Fifth Avenue apartment and taking a few acting roles amid a busy social life. Eventually she returned to California, where she remained for the rest of her life, becoming a generous supporter of the arts.
Claire Trevor died of respiratory failure in Newport Beach, April 8, 2000 at age 90. She was survived by her two stepsons and extended family. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Claire Trevor has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6933 Hollywood Blvd.
The Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine was named in Trevor's honor. Her Oscar and Emmy statuettes are on display in the Arts Plaza there, next to the Claire Trevor Theatre.