Bennett, Joan (1910–1990)

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Bennett, Joan (1910–1990)

American actress, and popular leading lady of the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Palisades, New Jersey, on February 27, 1910; died of cardiac arrest at her home in Scarsdale, New York, on December 7, 1990; daughter of actor Richard Bennett and actress (Mabel) Adrienne Morrison; sister of screen actresses Constance Bennett (1904–1965) andBarbara Bennett (1906–1958); married John Fox, on September 15, 1926 (divorced, August 1928); married Gene Markey, in 1932 (divorced 1937); married Walter Wanger, in 1940 (divorced 1965); married David Wilde, in 1978; children: (first marriage) Adrienne Ralston ("Ditty," b. 1928); (second marriage) Melinda ("Mims," b. 1934); (third marriage) Stephanie (b. 1943) and Shelley (b. 1948).


The Valley of Decision (bit, 1916); The Eternal City (bit, 1923); Power (1928); Bulldog Drummond (1929); Three Live Ghosts (1929); Disraeli (1929); The Mississippi Gambler (1929); Puttin' on the Ritz (1930); Crazy That Way (1930); Moby Dick (1930); Maybe It's Love (1930); Scotland Yard (1930); Doctor's Wives (1931); Many a Slip (1931); Hush Money (1931); She Wanted a Millionaire (1932); Careless Lady (1932); The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932); Week-Ends Only (1932); Wild Girl (1932); Me and My Gal (1932); Arizona to Broadway (1933); (as Amy) Little Women (1933); The Pursuit of Happiness (1934); The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1935); Private Worlds (1935); Mississippi (1935); Two for Tonight (1935); She Couldn't Take It (1935); The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (1935); 13 Hours by Air (1936); Big Brown Eyes (1936); Two in a Crowd (1936); Wedding Present (1936); Vogues of 1938 (1937); I Met My Love Again (1938); The Texans (1938); Artists and Models Abroad (1938); Trade Winds (1938); (as Queen Maria Theresa) The Man in the Iron Mask (1939); The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939); Green Hell (1940); The House Across the Bay (1940); The Man I Married (1940); The Son of Monte Cristo (1940); Man Hunt (1941); She Knew All the Answers (1941); Wild Geese Calling (1941); Confirm or Deny (1941); Twin Beds (1942); The Wife Takes a Flyer (1942); Girl Trouble (1942); Margin for Error (1943); The Woman in the Window (1944); Nob Hill (1945); Scarlet Street (1946); Colonel Effingham's Raid (1946); The Macomber Affair (1947); The Woman on the Beach (1947); Secret Beyond the Door (1948); Hollow Triumph (The Scar, 1948); The Reckless Moment (1949); Father of the Bride (1950); For Heaven's Sake (1950); Father's Little Dividend (1951); The Guy Who Came Back (1951); Highway Dragnet (1954); We're No Angels (1955); There's Always Tomorrow (1956); Navy Wife (1956); Desire in the Dust (1960); House of Dark Shadows (1970); Gidget Gets Married (TV-movie, 1972), The Eyes of Charles Sand (TV-movie, 1972); Inn of the Damned (unreleased, 1974); Suspiria (It., 1977).

One of the most popular leading ladies of the 1930s and 1940s, Joan Bennett was the youngest daughter of stage idol Richard Bennett and actress Adrienne Morrison . Growing up in the famous theatrical family was not always easy. Bennett was alternately awed and terrified by her father (like living with a "tidal wave"), who parted with her mother in a very public divorce when Bennett was 13. Also intimidated by her beautiful and successful older sisters, she decided on a career in interior decorating but side-stepped into a teenage marriage, a baby, and a divorce.

In 1928, finding herself on her own and needing to make a living, Bennett was offered the ingenue role opposite her father in the play Jarnegan. A successful debut was followed with a few minor film roles and a screen contract with United Artists, before her first major screen role in Bulldog Drummond, opposite Ronald Colman. The filming proved a daunting experience, with frequent lectures from director Richard Jones on her inadequacies, and unfavorable comparisons to her sister Constance Bennett from Sam Goldwyn. Bennett emerged with her ego barely intact, and only made one other film for United Artists before being released from her contract. She then began to freelance, appearing in Disraeli for Warner Bros.

Many consider Bennett's early films, including her acclaimed portrayal of Amy in Little Women (her own favorite), merely a prelude to the films she made after her 1940 marriage to Walter Wanger, and his subsequent supervision of her career. Two of her most acclaimed performances would come in films directed by Fritz Lang: The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). She would also work for Jean Renoir in The Woman on the Beach (1947).

Bennett attributes a simple change of hair color—for the 1939 film Trade Winds—as the real turning point in her career. After a decade of playing "insipid blonde ingenues," she was now in a dark wig, with eyes at half-mast and voice lowered an octave, "I positively smoldered all over the South Sea," said Bennett. The results were so positive that she kept the new color, which many believed made her resemble Hedy Lamarr . Whatever the cause for her appeal, she was convinced the new image was the only reason she was considered for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. The part went to English actress Vivien Leigh .

As good as Bennett was in her "vamp" roles, she was also remembered for her performances in light comedy, notably as the mother in Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend, co-starring with Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy. Probably at her best portraying sensual, greedy, ambitious women, she nonetheless received critical acclaim for her role as the desperate mother under the threat of a blackmailer in The Reckless Moment.

Bennett, Barbara (1906–1958)

American actress. Name variations: Mrs. Morton Downey. Born on August 13, 1906; died in Montreal, Canada, on August 9, 1958; daughter of actor Richard Bennett and actressAdrienne Morrison ; sister of screen actressesConstance Bennett (1904–1965) andJoan Bennett (1910–1990); married Morton Downey (a singer), on January 28, 1929 (divorced 1941); married Addison Randall, in 1941 (died 1945); married Laurent Surprenant, in 1954; children: (first marriage) Michael (adopted), Sean, Lorelle Ann, Anthony, Kevin. Filmography: Syncopation (1929); Mother's Boy (1929); Love among the Millionaires (1930).

Described by her sister Joan as the quiet, least ambitious of the three Bennett sisters, Barbara Bennett began her brief theatrical career as a dancer, touring with renowned exhibition dancer Maurice Mouve. Leaving him just before their New York debut, she went on to dance in a few Broadway musicals and an occasional movie. She met tenor Morton Downey making the film Syncopation, and the couple married three weeks later. They settled on a 49-acre farm in Connecticut and raised five children. As Downey's career separated him more and more from family life, Bennett felt increasingly alone and started drinking. In a bitter divorce in 1941, Downey won custody of the children, which devastated her.

Weeks after her divorce was final, she married Addison Randall, who was killed on a movie set in 1945. For the remainder of her life, Bennett would battle depression and alcoholism. She married Canadian journalist Laurent Surprenant in 1954 "only," she said, "out of loneliness," and spent the last four years of her life in Montreal. She died there in 1958, age 52.

Morrison, Adrienne (1889–1940)

American actress, literary agent, and mother of the Bennett sisters. Born Mabel Adrienne Morrison in New York on March 1, 1889; died on November 20, 1940; married Richard Bennett (an actor), on November 8, 1903; married Eric Pinker; children: (first marriage) actressesConstance (1904–1965),Barbara (1906–1958), andJoan Bennett (1910–1990).

Following her marriage to famed actor Richard Bennett, Adrienne Morrison married Eric Pinker and became his business partner; he was subsequently jailed for embezzlement.

Bennett's personal life was filled with men, many of whom she wed. Her first marriage to would-be film producer John Fox came when she was 16 and saw the birth of a daughter, Adrienne. Her second union, with Gene Markey in 1932, brought a second daughter, Melinda, and what Bennett called "probably the warmest and most amicable parting in Hollywood history." But her marriage to Walter Wanger was more complex. As much as he may have been responsible for putting her career into high gear, Bennett suggests he was also responsible for ending it. In a highly publicized incident in 1951, after the marriage had begun to unravel, Wanger was arrested and jailed for several months after shooting and wounding Bennett's agent Jennings Lang in a jealous rage. Bennett believed the scandal and resulting publicity destroyed her career, evidenced by her 65 films made before the incident and five in the decade that followed. In Bennett's opinion, the responsibility for the crime fell to her, as is so often the case when a man's crime is justified, and thus legitimatized, by the woman who "drove him to it." "Suddenly I was the villain of the piece," writes Bennett, "the apex of a triangle that had driven my husband to a shocking act of violence. I might just as well have pulled the trigger myself. The movie business was still bound by an inviolable code of behavior." In fact, Hollywood producers rallied around Wanger and, though critical of his behavior, "stuck by him and protected him within their exalted circle." Partially because of their two daughters, Stephanie and Shelley, Bennett did not divorce Wanger until 1965. Her fourth and final marriage to movie and drama critic David Wilde came in 1978.

Bennett appeared in several stage productions during the '50s and '60s, including Janus, The Pleasure of His Company, and Never Too Late. From 1966 to 1971, she appeared in the Gothic television soap opera "Dark Shadows," which provided the most taxing working conditions of her career. After 13 weeks of 10-hour days, she feared she'd have to take a "rest cure," but five years later she had made her peace with what she termed her "electronic stock company." Her later years also included an autobiography, The Bennett Playbill, published in 1970. (A beauty book, titled How To Be Attractive, had been written in 1943.) Joan Bennett died in 1990.

suggested reading:

Bennett, Joan, and Lois Kibbee. The Bennett Playbill. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Bennett, Joan (1910–1990)