Brent was born George Patrick Nolan to John J. and Mary (née McGuinness) Nolan. His mother is a native of Clonfad, Moore, County Roscommon. During the Irish War of Independence, Brent is part of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He flees Ireland with a bounty set on his head by the British government, although he later claims only to have been a courier for guerrilla leader and tactician Michael Collins.
Brent arrives in the United States in 1921. Some time later he tours with a production of Abie’s Irish Rose. During the next five years, he acts in stock companies in Colorado, Rhode Island, Florida, and Massachusetts. In 1930, he appears on Broadway in Love, Honor, and Betray, alongside Clark Gable.
He eventually moves to Hollywood, and makes his first film, Under Suspicion, in 1930. Over the next two years, he appears in a number of minor films produced by Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox, before being signed to contract by Warner Bros. in 1932. He remains at Warner Bros. for the next 20 years, carving out a successful career as a top-flight leading man during the late 1930s and 1940s.
Highly regarded by Bette Davis, Brent becomes her most frequent male co-star, appearing with her in 13 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 plays 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 in Honeymoon 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 drifts into “B” pictures from the late 1940s and retires from film in 1953. He continues to appear on television until 1960, having appeared on the religion anthology series, Crossroads. He is cast in the lead in the 1956 television series, Wire Service. In 1978, he makes one last film, the made-for-television production Born Again.
George Brent receives 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 is married five times: Helen Louise Campbell (1925–1927), Ruth Chatterton (1932–1934), Constance Worth (1937), Ann Sheridan (1942–1943), and Janet Michaels (1947-1974). His final marriage to Janet Michaels, a former model and dress designer, lasts 27 years until her death in 1974. They have a son and a daughter.
Brent also carries on a lengthy relationship with his frequent Warner Bros. co-star, actress Bette Davis, who describes her last meeting with Brent after many years of estrangement. He is suffering from advanced emphysema, and she expresses great sadness at his ill health and deterioration. George Brent dies on May 26, 1979 in Solana Beach, California.