Nationality: American. Born: Joan Geraldine Bennett in Palisades, New Jersey, 27 February 1910; daughter of the actor Richard Bennett; sister of the actress Constance Bennett. Education: Attended St. Margaret's, Waterbury, Connecticut; Le Lierre, Paris, finishing school,
1925. Family: Married 1) John Marion Fox, 1926 (divorced 1928), daughter: Adrienne; 2) the screenwriter Gene Markey, 1932 (divorced 1937), daughter: Melinda; 3) the director Walter Wanger, 1940 (divorced 1965), daughters: Stephanie and Shelley; 4) the critic David Wilde, 1978. Career: 1914—stage debut in Chicago in Damaged Goods, directed by and starring father Richard Bennett; 1915—film debut, with sister Constance Bennett, in father's The Valley of Decision; 1928—Broadway debut in father's production Jarnegan; 1929—five-year contract with United Artists; released from contract after two films; 1930—two-year contract at Fox; 1933—success in Little Women: personal contract with Walter Wanger; 1941—contract with Columbia and 20th Century-Fox; made first of four pictures with Fritz Lang; 1945—with Fritz Lang formed Diana Productions; 1951—agent Jennings Lang shot and wounded by jealous husband Walter Wanger; Wanger served four-month sentence; scandal temporarily ended Bennett's film acting career; 1959—in TV series Too Young to Go Steady; 1966–70—in daytime TV series Dark Shadows. Died: In Scarsdale, New York, 7 December 1990.
Films as Actress:
The Valley of Decision (Berger) (as an "unborn soul")
The Eternal City (Fitzmaurice) (bit role)
Power (Higgin) (as waitress)
The Divine Lady (Lloyd) (as an extra); Bulldog Drummond (F.Richard Jones) (as Phyllis Benton); Three Live Ghosts(Freeland) (as Rose Gordon); Disraeli (Alfred E. Green)(as Lady Clarissa Pevensey); The Mississippi Gambler(Barker) (as Lucy Blackburn)
Puttin' on the Ritz (Sloman) (as Dolores Fenton); Crazy That Way (MacFadden) (as Ann Jordan); Moby Dick (Lloyd Bacon) (as Faith); Maybe It's Love (Wellman) (as Nan Sheffield); Scotland Yard (Detective Clive, Bart) (William K. Howard) (as Xandra)
Many a Slip (Vin Moore) (as Pat Coster); Doctors' Wives(Borzage) (as Nina Wyndram); Hush Money (Lanfield) (as Janet Gordon)
She Wanted a Millionaire (Blystone) (as Jane Miller); Careless Lady (MacKenna) (as Sally Brown/Mrs. Illington);The Trial of Vivienne Ware (William K. Howard) (title role); Weekends Only (Crosland) (as Venetia Carr); Wild Girl (Salomy Jane) (Walsh) (as Salomy Jane Clay); Me and My Gal (Pier 13) (Walsh) (as Helen Riley)
Arizona to Broadway (Tinling) (as Lynn Martin); Little Women(Cukor) (as Amy)
The Pursuit of Happiness (Hall) (as Prudence Kirkland)
The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (Ludwig) (as Adele Verin); Mississippi (A. Edward Sutherland) (as Lucy Rumford); Private Worlds (La Cava) (as Sally MacGregor);Two for Tonight (Tuttle) (as Bobbie Lockwood); She Couldn't Take It (Woman Tamer) (Garnett) (as Carol Van Dyke); The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo(Roberts) (as Helen Berkeley)
Thirteen Hours by Air (Leisen) (as Felice Rollins); Big Brown Eyes (Walsh) (as Eve Fallon); Two in a Crowd (Alfred E. Green) (as Julia Wayne); Wedding Present (Wallace) (as Monica "Rusty" Fleming)
Vogues of 1938 (Walter Wanger's Vogues of 1938; All This and Glamour Too) (Cummings) (as Wendy Van Klettering)
I Met My Love Again (Ripley, Logan, and Cukor) (as Julie);The Texans (Hogan) (as Ivy Preston); Trade Winds (Garnett)(as Kay Kerrigan); Artists and Models Abroad (Stranded in Paris) (Leisen) (as Patricia Harper)
The Man in the Iron Mask (Whale) (as Maria Theresa); The Housekeeper's Daughter (Roach) (as Hilda)
Green Hell (Whale) (as Stephanie Richardson); The House across the Bay (Mayo) (as Brenda "Lucky" Bentley); The Man I Married (Pichel) (as Carol); The Son of Monte Cristo(Rowland V. Lee) (as Grand Duchess Zona)
Confirm or Deny (Mayo) (as Jennifer Carson); Man Hunt(Fritz Lang) (as Jerry); She Knew All the Answers (Wallace)(as Gloria Winters); Wild Geese Calling (Brahm) (as Sally)
Girl Trouble (Schuster) (as June Delaney); Twin Beds (Whelan)(as Julie Abbott); The Wife Takes a Flyer (A Yank in Dutch)(Wallace) (as Anita Woverman); Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 6 (doc, short) (as herself)
Margin for Error (Preminger) (as Sophie Baumer)
The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang) (as Alice Reed);Colonel Effingham's Raid (Man of the Hour) (Pichel)(as Ella Sue Dozier); Nob Hill (Hathaway) (as Harriet Carruthers); Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang) (as Kitty March)
The Macomber Affair (Z. Korda) (as Margaret Macomber);The Woman on the Beach (Renoir) (as Peggy Butler)
Secret beyond the Door (Fritz Lang) (as Celia Lamphere);Hollow Triumph (The Scar) (Sekely) (as Evelyn Nash)
The Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls) (as Lucia Harper)
Father of the Bride (Minnelli) (as Ellie Banks); For Heaven's Sake (Seaton) (as Lydia)
Father's Little Dividend (Minnelli) (as Ellie Banks); The Guy Who Came Back (Joseph M. Newman) (as Kathy Joplin)
Highway Dragnet (Juran) (as Mrs. Cunningham); We're NoAngels (Curtiz) (as Amelie Ducotel)
Navy Wife (Mother—Sir!) (Bernds) (as Peg Blain); There's Always Tomorrow (Sirk) (as Marion Groves)
Desire in the Dust (Claxton) (as Mrs. Marquand)
House of Dark Shadows (Curtis) (as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard)
Gidget Gets Married (Swackhamer—for TV); The Eyes of Charles Sand (Badiyi—for TV)
Inn of the Damned (Burke—unreleased)
Suspiria (Argento) (as Madame Blank, the school head)
Suddenly, Love (Margolin—for TV)
This House Possessed (Wiard—for TV)
Divorce Wars: A Love Story (Wrye—for TV)
By BENNETT: books—
How to Be Attractive, New York, 1943.
The Bennett Playbill, with Lois Kibbee, New York, 1970.
On BENNETT: articles—
Bowers, Ron, "Joan Bennett," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1977.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, rev. ed., London, 1979.
Obituary in New York Times, 9 December 1990.
Obituary in Times (London), 10 December 1990.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 17 December 1990.
Thomson, David, "Lazy Legs," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1991.
Viviani, C., "Joan Bennett, la 'chose enrobee de cellophane,"' in Positif (Paris), July/August 1991.
Neff, W. "Joan Bennett," Architectural Digest (New York), no. 53, April 1996.
* * *
Joan Bennett, the youngest of the three acting daughters of prominent stage and screen star Richard Bennett, was the last of the sisters to enter films seriously, but she had the longest and, in retrospect, the most meaningful career of any of her family. Joan, like Constance and Barbara, was a gorgeous woman, slender and blond, with dramatic eyes. She acted in numerous films during the 1930s, many of which were important, such as Disraeli and Little Women, but none of them was particularly noteworthy for her participation. It was not until the late 1930s when she dyed her hair dark brown that Bennett became more than just another beautiful Hollywood blond and began to have significant impact on films. She frequently played a sultry femme fatale in her new image, outstandingly beautiful but destructive. In her two most highly regarded films, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, both directed by Fritz Lang, she displayed a cool, pernicious character, the antithesis of the mild-mannered, unsophisticated common man played by Edward G. Robinson in each film.
In these two films, as well as others such as Jean Renoir's The Woman on the Beach, Bennett was able to appear beautifully innocent and vulnerable on the surface, while hiding a stony evilness on the inside. Lang, and others, have expressed great admiration for Bennett's contributions to her films of this period, and some critics have called her the epitome of the film noir heroine.
Yet, despite her success in dramatic roles, Bennett also acted successfully in more sympathetic comedy roles. At age 40, and still a very beautiful, young-looking woman, she was very charming in the box-office success Father of the Bride, portraying Spencer Tracy's wife and Elizabeth Taylor's mother. Unlike many other beautiful actresses, Bennett decided to begin playing "mothers" and older parts before she actually needed to. She also took chances in her career and varied her roles, dividing her time among costume epics, melodramas, and tearjerkers such as Max Ophüls's The Reckless Moment and Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow. In the latter film, Bennett played a boring housewife married to Fred MacMurray who feels stifled by her presence and that of their children and contemplates leaving them for a former sweetheart.
Bennett's career flourished in the 1940s not only because of her change of hair color but also because of her marriage to the prominent producer Walter Wanger. Wanger guided her career and can take much of the credit for the powerful roles which she accepted. He produced many of the films in which she appeared during their marriage, and provided her with some of the outstanding European directors who were working in Hollywood during that period. They divorced relatively quietly in 1965, but their relationship created international headlines in 1951 when Wanger shot Bennett's agent Jennings Lang, purportedly out of jealousy; Wanger went briefly to prison. By 1956 Bennett had virtually retired from films and thereafter confined herself to occasional theater and television work. From the mid-1950s on, her most prominent role was as one of the main characters of the very popular supernatural television soap opera, Dark Shadows, the only long-running daytime serial in history to spawn both a film, House of Dark Shadows (which Bennett also starred in), and successful rerun engagement (as well as a short-lived 1991 prime-time reprisal, also called Dark Shadows, which debuted on January 13, a little over one month after Bennett died).
—Patricia King Hanson