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Constance Bennett (1905-1965)


Constance Bennett
Constance Bennett


Constance Bennett was a highly skilled American actress who had success on stage, screen, radio and television. Her movie successes occurred during the 1920s and 1930s and she was for a time during the early 1930s the highest paid actress in Hollywood.

Her older sister, who later became better known, was the actress, Joan Bennett.

Constance is largely forgotten today but in her pomp was a household name, famous for her stormy love life, and for her performances in such movies as .'What Price Hollywood?' in 1932, 'Bed of Roses' the following year, 'Topper' in 1937 and 'Topper Takes a Trip' in 1938.

She was also a shrewd businesswoman, forming her own cosmetics line and creating original designs for a Cincinnati dressmaker. Her interest in clothes led to her being frequently included in best-dressed lists and women all over America copied her page-boy haircut.

Biography

She was born Constance Campbell Bennett on October 22, 1904 in New York City, the eldest daughter of actor Richard Bennett and actress and literary agent Adrienne Morrison.

The family were well off and after private education at the Chapin school in New York, Constance ended her education at a Parisian Finishing School.

Movie Career

Constance and her two younger sisters, Joan and Barbara appeared for the first time on camera in 'The Valley of Decision' in 1916. Constance was only 12 years old. The film also featured their parents, Richard Bennett and Adrienne Morrison.

After a European trip, Constance returned to America, a confident and extremely beautiful young lady and she had no difficulty in finding work, initially on the production side of silent movies, based in New York.

After a chance meeting at an Equity Ball with Louis B. Mayer of MGM, she successfully took a screen test and soon relocated to California to begin a movie acting career. From the start, helped by her looks and family name, she bypassed the walk on parts usually assigned to beginners and won important roles and then starring ones.

She made her Hollywood debut in 1924 in 'Cytherea', following with her first major role in George Fitzmaurice's 'The Goose Hangs High', in 1925 and, in the same year, 'Sally, Irene and Mary', (alongside Joan Crawford) but she then married her second husband, Philip Plant in 1925, and abandoned her career.

After her divorce from Plant in 1929 she returned, with perfect timing, to coincide with the beginning of the Sound era in Hollywood.

Talkies

She quickly became an extremely popular star, appearing in all in more than fifty films and opposite most of Hollywood's current crop of leading men including Clark Gable, Frederick March, Joel McCrea, Herbert Marshall, and Cary Grant.

She entered into a short contract with MGM in 1931 from which she earned $300,000 whilst also making movies for RKO. She became one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood when Warner Brothers paid her the all-time high salary of $30,000 a week for Bought! in 1931. Richard Bennett, her father, was also cast in this film, the only Hollywood movie in which they appeared together.

In 1932, after signing a contract with RKO, she appeared in the highly successful 'What Price Hollywood?', directed by George Cukor and the following year she displayed her adaptability in three movies: 'Our Betters', 'Bed of Roses' and 'After Tonight', in which she co-starred with her future husband, Gilbert Roland.

Her successes continued with 'The Affairs of Cellini' in 1934, 'After Office Hours' the following year with Clark Gable, and 'Topper (1937, with Cary Grant, a role she repeated in the 1939 sequel, 'Topper Takes a Trip'. After the comedy 'Merrily We Live' in 1938 and 'Two-Faced Woman' in 1941, in which she supported Greta Garbo, Constance's movie career began to tail off. She had a major supporting role in 'The Unsuspected' in 1947 opposite Claude Rains, but she made no films after the early 1950s, but established successful alternative careers in both radio and theatre.

In 1938 she had guest-starred on NBC's "Good News of 1938" and "Your Hit Parade" and she had her own program, 'Constance Bennett Calls on You', on ABC radio in 1945-1946.

Stage Career

Constance appeared in a number of stage productions, beginning with Noel Coward’s “Easy Virtue” in 1939. She appeared in various stock productions, including Ruth Gordon's play, "Over Twenty-One," in Massachusetts in 1947, "Skylark" in Barnesville, Pennsylvania in 1951, the comedy "A Date With April" on Broadway in 1953 and a highly successful tour of “Auntie Mame” in 1958.

Television Career

Constance began her new television career in 1951 in the series 'Cameo Theater'. She continued appearing regularly in such programmes as 'Broadway Television Theatre. In 1953, the panel game 'It Should Happen to You' in 1954 and 'Robert Montgomery Presents' between 1952 and 1956.

After an absence of 12 years, and still chic, slender and exceptionally beautiful, in 1965 she returned to the screen in the film 'Madame X' with Lana Turner. The movie was released after her death in 1966.

Personal

Constance had an interesting and varied love life which was followed with great interest by her fans.

She was married five times and had three children. When she was just 17 in 1921, and strongly against the wishes of her parents, she eloped with Chester Hirst Moorehead of Chicago, a student at the University of Virginia . The marriage was annulled in 1923 and two years later she married Philip Morgan Plant, a millionaire socialite. The couple were divorced in 1929, apparently childless but three years later, in 1932, Constance returned from a European trip with a three-year-old child, Peter, whom she claimed to have adopted.

Ten years later, however, after Philip Plant's death, she announced that Peter was actually her natural child by Plant, born after the divorce and kept hidden in order to ensure that Plant could not get custody. During the court hearings, the actress told her former mother-in-law and her husband's widow that "if she got to the witness stand she would give a complete account of her life with Plant." The matter was settled out of court.

She once again married, at 26, to the Marquis Henri de la Falaise. Falaise had previously been married to actress Gloria Swanson. Like the previous two marriages, it ended in divorce.

In 1941 she married for the fourth time, to an actor, Gilbert Roland, with whom she had two children. The marriage ended in divorce after five years.

Constance's longest marriage was her fifth, to Air Force Colonel John Coulter, an advisor for Air Force training films, whom she had met in Hollywood. The marriage lasted from 1946 until her death in 1965.

Constance Bennett died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the Army Hospital at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on July 24, 1965. She was buried in the Arlington military cemetery with her husband. Their shared gravestone makes no mention of her glamorous film career.


Constance Bennett Academy Awards

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Constance Bennet Filmography

1910
1911
1912
1913
1914
1915
1916
The Valley of Decision
1917
1918
1919
1920
1921
1922
Reckless Youth
Evidence
What's Wrong with the Women?
1923
1924
Cytherea
Into the Net
1925
Code of the West
The Goose Hangs High
My Son
My Wife and I
The Goose Woman
Should a Woman Tell
Sally, Irene and Mary
The Pinch Hitter
1926
Married?
1927
1928
1929
Rich People
This Thing Called Love
1930
Son of the Gods
Three Faces East
Common Clay
Sin Takes a Holiday
1931
The Easiest Way
Born to Love
The Common Law
Bought!
1932
Lady with a Past
What Price Hollywood?
Two Against the World
Rockabye
1933
Our Betters
Bed of Roses
Sealed Lips
1934
Moulin Rouge
The Affairs of Cellini
Outcast Lady
1935
After Office Hours
1936
Everything Is Thunder
Ladies in Love
1937
Topper
Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 12 (Documentary short)
1938
Merrily We Live
Service de Luxe
Topper Takes a Trip
1939
Tail Spin