Celebrating Claire Trevor’s 103rd Birthday

The portico of the Claire Trevor Theatre was buzzing with the sound of happy party guests Friday night. Normally, weekend evenings in the plaza in front of Cyber A Cafè are pretty empty and quiet.

But Claire Trevor’s 103rd birthday meant that the red carpet had to be rolled out. Or, rather, the tarnished Oriental rugs like you would see in old-school salons. With white Christmas lights draped over wine barrels and dusty saddles among silver metal tables and chairs, along with rusty orange lanterns that finished off the Western décor, “[Trevor’s birthday is] a great reason to invite the community onto our campus,” Lesly Martin, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications for the School, said.

The night exposed the community to all that Irvine’s Arts School has to offer, in a way that spoke to the spirit of its honored guest. “[Trevor] used to spend a lot of time with drama students — [in] master classes and giving them advice,” Martin said.

Born in New York, Trevor completed drama studies at Columbia University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She then began a film, radio and television career that would solidify her image as the blonde, curly-haired “bad girl” that you gotta love. She moved to Newport Beach after marrying producer Milton Bren and became an integral part of the drama curriculum at UC Irvine.

“She was a really outgoing woman who believed in the arts and arts education,” Martin said.

First established in 1965, the School was renamed the Claire Trevor School of the Arts in 2000 in honor of Trevor’s involvement with students and the advancements in the School’s programs. “[The School of the Arts is] doing a really good job in the last few years of reaching out with more diverse activities,” drama alumni Toni Martinovich said. “I like to support drama as much as I can. This sounded like fun.”

The party at the Theatre also featured a musical performance by the artist Paula Samonte, who was clad in a red snakeskin cowboy hat for the occasion. A piano accompanied her jazzy voice as she sang “Where is Love?” and hits by Duke Ellington and Cole Porter.

“[Trevor] played the roles of women who were subjected to belittling,” Samonte said “She gives me the strength to be a stronger woman at this time.”

Trevor’s Emmy and Academy Awards sparkled in pristine white boxes on either side of the student display case on the front wall of the Trevor Theatre. She received the Academy Award for her part in the 1948 film noir classic “Key Largo” and the Emmy for her role in the “Dodsworth” episode of “The Producers’ Showcase.”

“When she opened her mouth she was [those] character[s] … she delivered the goods,” Samonte said.

The stylish guests were treated to the cool evening air and an elegant spread of appetizers and cocktails. The event ended with a screening of the 1939 western “Stagecoach,” which starred Claire Trevor and John Wayne. “We wanted to get [them] back together again for the night,” Martin said.

Another highlight of the event was the appearance of John Wayne’s youngest son Ethan Wayne, who grew up in Newport Beach with his family before pursuing an acting career of his own. Wayne is the director of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which started in 1985.

“My father would make the situation real. When you watch his films, even though a lot of it’s make-believe, a lot of it’s really that person,” Wayne said.

After the live music, the guests filed into the Will Smith Theater across the way, where a giant projector screen was lowered. Before the first few frames of “Stagecoach” appeared, Wayne let the audience in on his personal memories of Claire Trevor. Trevor was a close friend of John Wayne for 50 years until Wayne’s death.

“She was kind and encouraging to me as a young boy, and that stuck with me,” Wayne said. “For those interested in the arts, I know she touched many people with her encouragement. She was always willing to share her wisdom. I think that’s why we all came out tonight to remember her on her birthday.”

And with that, the lights lowered and the classic sounds and sights of the west filled the dark room. The evening was a fitting celebration of a Hollywood legend whose passion for the performance continues to this day and onto this campus. Everyone shouted “Happy Birthday, Claire!” when the credits started to roll.