George Brent was born George Brendan Nolan in Raharabeg, County Roscommon on the opposite bank of the River Shannon from the town of Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland, the son of a British Army officer. During the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922), Brent was part of an IRA Active Service Unit as early as 1920, carrying out IRA directives. He fled with a bounty set on his head by theBritish, although he claimed only to have been a courier for guerrilla leader and tactician Michael Collins.
Brent came to the United States in 1925, touring with a production of Abie's Irish Rose. During the next five years, he acted in stock companies in Colorado, Rhode Island, Florida, and Massachusetts. In 1927, he appeared on Broadway in Love, Honor, and Betray, alongside Clark Gable.
He eventually moved to Hollywood and made his first film, Under Suspicion, in 1930. 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 would remain at Warner Brothers for the next twenty years, carving out a successful career as a top-flight leading man during the late 1930s and 1940s.
Highly regarded by Bette Davis, he became her most frequent male co-star, appearing with her in thirteen films, including Front Page Woman (1935), Special Agent (1935), The Golden Arrow (1936), Jezebel (1938), The Old Maid (1939), Dark Victory (1939) and The Great Lie (1941). Brent also played opposite Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street (1933), Greta Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934), Ginger Rogers in In Person (1935), Madeleine Carroll in The Case Against Mrs. Ames (1936), Jean Arthur in More Than a Secretary (1936),Myrna Loy in Stamboul Quest (1934) and The Rains Came (1939), Merle Oberon in 'Til We Meet Again (1940), Ann Sheridan inHoneymoon for Three (1941), Joan Fontaine in The Affairs of Susan (1945), Barbara Stanwyck in So Big! (1932), The Purchase Price(1932), Baby Face (1933),The Gay Sisters (1942) and My Reputation (1946), Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946), Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase (1946), Lucille Ball in Lover Come Back (1946) and Yvonne De Carlo in Slave Girl (1947).
Brent drifted into "B" pictures from the late 1940s and retired from film in 1953. He continued to appear on television until 1960, having appeared on the religion anthology series, Crossroads. He was cast in the lead in the 1956 television series, Wire Service. In 1978, he made one last film, the made-for-television production Born Again.
George Brent earned two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first, at 1709 Vine St., for his film contributions, the second star, at 1614 Vine St., for his work in television.
Brent, known as a womanizer in Hollywood, reputedly carried on a lengthy relationship with his frequent co-star Bette Davis. He was married five times: Helen Louise Campbell (1925–1927), Ruth Chatterton (1932–1934), Constance Worth (1937) and Ann Sheridan (1942–1943) with Chatterton, Worth, and Sheridan being actresses. Chatterton and Sheridan were both fellow Warner Brothers players. His final marriage to Janet Michaels, a former model and dress designer, lasted 27 years until her death in 1974. They had two children together, a son and a daughter.
In her final years, Bette Davis described her last meeting with Brent after many years of estrangement. Brent was suffering from fatal emphysema, and Davis later expressed great remorse at his ill health and sadness that such a virile and attractive man could have deteriorated so dramatically. Brent died shortly afterward in 1979 in Solana Beach in San Diego County, California. He was eighty.
Davis also said that Brent was totally gray by the time he started working for Warner Brothers, and he had to dye his hair black.