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RutherfordBHayes


Joan Bennett Centennial

My tribute to Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett, the youngest of the three acting daughters of legendary stage and screen star Richard Bennett, was born on February 27, 1910 in Palisades, New Jersey. She reluctantly followed in her older sisters' (Constance and Barbara) footsteps. Ironically, of the three, she had the most sustainable and prolific career of them all.

She acted in numerous films during the 1930s, most notably, Disraeli (1929)and Little Women , the latter released in 1933, in which she played Amy March, while Katharine Hepburn played her sister, Jo.

Seeing limited prospects in the films being offered to her, Joan made a dramatic change in her appearance. Looking back, Ms. Bennett said: "I turned my blonde hair dark and received much better parts..." One important role that alluded her, however, was the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Severely disappointed, Joan was said to have said at the time, "If only Vivian Leigh had stayed in England, the part would have been mine."

With a new hair color and style, Bennett was the very essence of a sultry femme fatale. Her two most highly regarded films of the period were, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street , both directed by Fritz Lang, in which she played opposite Edward G. Robinson. On screen, Bennett was able to capture a variety of emotions: A sense of vulnerability on the outside, but also a cold iciness on the inside. She was also not afraid to accept a variety of films, be they costumed epics, tearjerkers or melodramas.

In her essay, The Glamorous Bennett Sisters: Constance and Joan,' author Dina-Marie Kulzer relates a most unusual story:

"The entire Bennett family was known for their arguments with the press. Once during a well-publicized dispute, Joan had a de-scented skunk delivered to powerful Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper. Hopper later gave the skunk to James and Pamela Mason as a companion for their cats, but not before christening it "Joan.". Her contemporaries were shocked that Joan had the nerve to do such a thing to Hopper, who it was thought had the power to make and break careers; however, Joan had no qualms about it."

In 1950, Bennett turned 40, an age, which to many actresses meant the end of their film careers. But, Joan persevered, and broke the barrier. She started the decade by playing the wife of Spencer Tracy and mother to Elizabeth Taylor in the highly successful 'Father of the Bride.'

Bennett's career soared in the 1940s not only because of her change of hair color but also because of her marriage to film producer Walter Wanger. Wanger managed her career and also produced many of the films in which she appeared. Their relationship created international headlines in 1951 when Wanger shot Bennett's agent Jennings Lang, purportedly out of jealousy; Wanger went briefly to prison. The scandal proved devastating to Bennett's career. Remembering this dark period in her life, Bennett said: I might as well have pulled the trigger myself."

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960's, Bennett was, virtually, blacklisted, and was considered box office poison as a result of the scandal.

But, in April of 1966, Joan Bennett re-emerged in the most unlikely of venues, playing one of the leading roles in the Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Within a year of its debut, Dark Shadows was, undoubtedly, one of the most most talked about shows on daytime television. Astounded by her success, Bennett said, at the time: "I feel positively like a Beatle," in response to the attention she was getting with playing Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the mistress of Collingswood Mansion. Bennett stayed with the series for its entire daytime run from 1966 - 71. She went on to reprise her role in the theatrically produced film, House of Dark Shadows.

Joan Bennett passed away in her Scarsdale home at the age of 80 on December 7, 1990. In her autobiography, The Bennett Playbill, which she co-wrote in 1970 with her good friend and fellow actress Lois Kibbee, Joan looked back on her career, by saying:

"I'm aware of the priceless privilege of having been born into the theater. Although it was a career I rejected at first, the profession has given me an incredibly varied life and more than my fair share of success, failure, love, laughter and despair. I've not a single regret for any of it."

Edited by RutherfordBHayes, Feb 8 2010, 11:30 AM.
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