Joan Bennett (1910-1990)

Joan Bennett
Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett, one of three acting daughters of silent-screen star Richard Bennett, was for a while less prominent a film star than her sister Constance, though over time she became more famous. She started as an ingenue with natural blond hair and then became the brunette femme fatale, glamorous and sexy. Her quiet charm and warm, vibrant speaking voice gave her considerable appeal.

As well as her numerous stage appearances, she played in more than 70 movies. Her movie career started in the silent era and continued with such classic movies as 'Little Women' in 1933 and 'The Woman in the Window' in 1944. Her movie career was seriously affected by the scandal surrounding her third husband, Walter Wanger, who shot and injured her agent who he suspected was having an affair with Bennett. She finally achieved real fame later in her career in the new medium of television.


Joan Bennett was born in February, 1910 in New Jersey, USA into a theatrical family. Both her parents were actors and her sisters, both older, were future actress Constance Bennett and future actress/dancer Barbara Bennett.

Early Years

She made her first appearance onstage at the age of four, then made her silent film debut two years later in 'The Valley of Decision' in 1916, in which her whole family acted. Her education began at the Miss Hopkins School for Girls in Manhattan, then she attended boarding school at St. Margaret's in Waterbury, Connecticut, and finally L'Hermitage, a finishing school in Versailles, France.

Young Actress

Joan made her professional theatrical debut in 1928 acting with her father in 'Jarnegan' which ran on Broadway for 136 performances and for which she received encouraging reviews from the critics.

After more small parts in her father's films, she became one of Hollywood's leading ladies in can early talkie, opposite Ronald Colman in 'Bulldog Drummond' in 1929. She became extremely popular and made 14 films under a Fox contract, including 'Disraeli' in 1929 with George Arliss, and 'Me and My Gal' in 1932 with Spencer Tracy.

She survived being written into 'Moby Dick' in 1930 as Captain Ahab Ceely's love interest, and worked steadily throughout the 1930s in ingenue roles such as Amy March in 'Little Women' in 1933, and the princess in 'The Man in the Iron Mask' in 1939.

After Walter Wanger got her to change her hair color to brunette for 'Trade Winds' in 1938 her whole screen image changed at once to sizzling temptress.

After an against-type part as an implied streetwalker in Fritz Lang's 'Man Hunt' in 1941, Bennett delivered her best screen performances in subsequent Fritz Lang films noirs, and dangerously bewitching Edward G. Robinson as the outwardly classy but basically cold hearted villainess in 'The Woman in the Window' in 1944 and 'Scarlet Street' in 1945.

Scandal 1951

In 1951, her husband of 11 years, producer Walter Wanger, shot her new agent, Jennings Lang, in a jealous rage over an alleged affair which Bennett vehemently denied. Wanger was sent to prison for two years, but the couple remained married until 1965. The scandal that ensued almost ended Bennett's career. Her only notable screen role in later years was as a chic, malevolent witch in Dario Argento's horror fantasy 'Suspiria' in 1977.

Television Career

However, she worked steadily and successfully in TV, including the entire five-year run of the Gothic soap opera 'Dark Shadows, for which she received an Emmy Award nomination and which led to a movie spin-off, 'House of Dark Shadows' in 1970.

On Valentines Day, 1978, she married retired movie critic David Wilde in White Plains, New York. The marriage lasted until her death.

Her final public performance was in the TV movie 'Divorce Wars: A Love Story' in 1982. Joan Bennett died from an heart attack on December 7, 1990, at her home in Scarsdale, New York, aged 80 years. She is interred with her parents in Pleasant View Cemetery, Lyme, Connecticut.

Joan Bennett Academy Awards

No Nominations:

Joan Bennett Filmography

The Eternal City (uncredited)
The Divine Lady
Bulldog Drummond
Three Live Ghosts
The Mississippi Gambler
Puttin' on the Ritz
Crazy That Way
Moby Dick
Maybe It's Love
Scotland Yard
Many a Slip
Doctors' Wives
Hush Money
She Wanted a Millionaire
Careless Lady
The Trial of Vivienne Ware
Week Ends Only
Wild Girl
Me and My Gal
Arizona to Broadway
Little Women
The Pursuit of Happiness
The Man Who Reclaimed His Head
Private Worlds
Two for Tonight
She Couldn't Take It
The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
Big Brown Eyes
Thirteen Hours by Air
Two in a Crowd
Wedding Present
Vogues of 1938
I Met My Love Again
The Texans
Artists and Models Abroad
Trade Winds
The Man in the Iron Mask
The Housekeeper's Daughter
Green Hell
The House Across the Bay
The Man I Married
The Son of Monte Cristo
She Knew All the Answers
Man Hunt
Wild Geese Calling
Confirm or Deny
The Wife Takes a Flyer
Twin Beds
Girl Trouble
Margin for Error
The Woman in the Window
Nob Hill
Scarlet Street