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"In the Spotlight"


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In the Spotlight: JOAN BENNETT

 

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The lovely Joan Bennett had three distinct phases to her long and successful career, first as a winsome blonde ingenue, then as a brunette femme fatale and, finally, as a warm-hearted wife/mother figure.

Her career would also be revitalized in the 1960s with a popular TV show.

 

Born Joan Geraldine Bennett on February 27, 1910 in Palisades, New Jersey, she was part of a famous theatrical family with a lineage dating back to traveling minstrels in 18th century England.

Her father was actor Richard Bennett, her mother, actress Adrienne Morrison, and her sisters, actress Constance Bennett and dancer, Barbara Bennett.

 

Eighteen-year-old Joan Bennett had intended to avoid the Bennett tradition of acting but, divorced and with a child to support, had little choice.

She first acted onstage with her father at age 18 and by 19 had become a movie star courtesy of her roles in such movies as "Bulldog Drummond" (1929) and "Disraeli" (1929).

She moved quickly from film to film throughout the 1930s, appearing with John Barrymore in his version of "Moby Dick", as Amy to Katharine Hepburn's Jo in "Little Women", "Private Worlds", "Trade Winds", "The Man in the Iron Mask", etc.

 

Producer Walter Wanger, signed her to a contract and eventually (in 1940) married her.

He managed Bennett's career, and with director Tay Garnett convinced her to change her hair from blonde (her natural color) to brunette. With this change her screen persona evolved into that of a glamorous seductive, femme fatale and she began to attract attention in a series of highly acclaimed film noirs.

 

In the 1940s Bennett appeared in four films directed by Fritz Lang with whom she and Wanger had formed their own film company. Three of these films, "Man Hunt" (1941), "The Woman in the Window" (1945), and "Scarlet Street" (1945) established her as a film noir femme fatale and leading Hollywood actress.

Of the three Bennett sisters, Joan would achieve the greatest fame.

 

Other films of the 1940s included, "Green Hell", "The House Acoss the Bay", "Confim or Deny" with Don Ameche, "Nob Hill" with George Raft, "The Macomber Affair" wih Gregory Peck, "The Woman on the Beach" with Robert Ryan, "Secret Beyond the Door", and "The Reckless Moment" with James Mason.

 

Shockingly in 1951 Wanger shot and injured Bennett's new MCA agent, Jennings Lang , with whom she had allegedly begun an affair. The resulting scandal hurt her career much more than Wanger's, according to the double standards toward women of the time. Wanger's attorney, Jerry Giesler, mounted a "temporary insanity" defense and Wanger served a four-month sentence.

Bennett, meanwhile was forced to flee to Chicago to appear in theater, and later in television because the scandal was too great a stain on her film career and the film studios were already floundering in the 1950s as it was.

She co-starred in a few films of the 1950s, "We're No Angels" with friend Humphrey Bogart, "Father of the Bride" and the sequel "Father's Little Dividend", "Highway Dragnet", "There's Always Tomorrow" with Stanwyck, etc.

 

Wanger (one of 4 husbands) and Bennett remained married until 1965.

 

Bennett continued to work steadily in theatre and television and was a cast member of the popular television series "Dark Shadows" for its entire five year run, from 1966 until 1971, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for her performance.

Bennett also appeared in a few more films, most notably the cult horror thriller from Italian director Dario Argento's "Suspiria".

In the last decades of her life, she was married to David Wilde, a Yale graduate and film critic.

 

In December of 1990 Bennett died from a heart attack in Scarsdale, New York at the age of 80, and was buried in the family plot at Pleasant View Cemetery, Lyme, Connecticut.

 

Joan Bennett was survived by 4 daughters (Diana Fox, Melinda Markey, and Shelley and Stephanie Wanger) and 13 grandchildren.

 

Although never an Oscar nominee, Bennett has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for services to Motion Pictures.

 

Quoted: "I don't think much of most of the films I made, but being a movie star was something I liked very much."

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