The Bright Young Things, or Bright Young People,was a nickname given by the tabloid press to a group of bohemian young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s London.
Brenda Dean Paul’s background was upper-class. Her mother was a Belgian-born pianist and composer known as Poldowski, the daughter of the Polish violin virtuoso Henryk Wieniawski.
She played minor roles in touring theatre companies and ventured to Berlin to build her film career, but she was quickly drawn into Berlin’s hectic nightlife and failed her screen test in 1927.
On her return to England she became a fixture of London’s bohemian youth culture, the Bright Young Things, and socialised with such celebrities as Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton at the group’s fancy dress parties.
Following a miscarriage (which some claim was an abortion) she became chemically dependent on morphine, which led to her lifelong battle with drug addiction and made her one of the most talked-about young women in London.
In February 1931 Brenda Dean Paul made her first court appearance, having been charged with bouncing a cheque. The following decades saw her in and out of various courts, receiving sentences of up to six months in prison for possession of dangerous drugs, obtaining goods on false pretences, and theft of services (refusing to pay taxi drivers). With each court appearance her name appeared in the papers, which added to her notoriety.
In 1935 she quit drugs and her ghost-written memoir, My First Life, was published. Her acting ambitions never came to anything and she again fell victim to drug addiction. In 1939 she was evicted from her flat because she “walked about naked” and “answered the door in the nude”, and in 1940 she was tried for buying goods on other people’s accounts.
In the mid-1950s the young artist Michael Wishart, sitting in a restaurant, watched her take a syringe of heroin from her handbag and fill it “from a vase of flowers on the table”. In 1951 she assured a reporter that she was cured and was preparing to open her own addiction clinic, but this was untrue. In 1952 a former flatmate wrote to the police to tell them that she “augmented her income by allowing sadists to whip her”. Worn down by addiction but still beautiful, she finally realized her ambition to act when she got the leading role in Ronald Firbank’s play The Princess Zoubaroff.
In 1957 she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Rome with a parcel of cocaine in her possession. She died in London of “natural causes” on 26 July 1959. She was 52.