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Contents Preface Prologue 1 Chapter One: 1870 1900 Chapter Two: 1900 1904 Chapter Three: 1904 1914 Chapter Four: 1914 1920 Chapter Five: 1920 1924 Chapter Six: 1925 1927 Chapter Seven: 1927 1929 Chapter Eight: 1929 1930 Chapter Nine: 1930 1931 Chapter Ten: 1931 1932 Chapter Eleven: 1933 1935 Chapter Twelve: 1934 1937 Chapter Thirteen: 1937 1940 Chapter Fourteen: 1941 1943 Chapter Fifteen: 1944 Chapter Sixteen: 1945 1947 Chapter Seventeen: 1948 Chapter Eighteen: 1949 1950 Chapter Nineteen: 1951 1952 Chapter Twenty: 1953 1958 Chapter Twenty-One: 1959 1965 Chapter Twenty-Two: 1966 1971 Chapter Twenty-Three: 1972 1990 Feature Films Selected Television Appearances Notes Selected Bibliography Index Preface When I was a student at Oregon State University, the English Department sponsored an every-Friday-night International Film Series. There I first encountered many marvelous foreign- language films of the period, including Bread and Chocolate, Spirit of the Beehive, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, and Seven Beauties. But occasionally the department's interpretation of "international" was opened up slightly, to include films of European-born directors working in Hollywood, such as Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch. And one chilly Friday night in October 1978, the film shown was Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window. I became entranced with the movie on the spot, and ultimately it led me to many of the other glorious examples of 1940s film noir, including Lang's startling Scarlet Street and Max Ophuls's remarkable The Reckless Moment, both of which boasted the same leading lady, Joan Bennett. Ten years later, by this time launched on a career in journalism, I met Joan Bennett at her home in Scarsdale, New York. My encounter with her was memorable as well as slightly disappointing. She was courteous and charming, but fuzzy on details of her glamorous past, and she seemed apologetically conscious of this. Nevertheless, I was always aware that I was in the presence of a star: although she gave me very little information, her few deep-toned observations, mysterious silences, and long, slow drags on her Carltons somehow made a potent impression on me. I sensed that there was a great deal in what she wasn't saying, and I decided to find out on my own. In the back of my mind was the vague notion that if what I discovered seemed interesting enough, I might try to undertake a book about the entire family. As it turned out, it was, and I did. By the time I began my research in earnest in 1998, I had already read two books that were to be of the utmost importance to me. The first was The Bennett Playbill, Joan's own history of her family, written with actress-author-director Lois Kibbee and published in 1970. It has proven a very useful guide to the Bennett family history. Matthew Bernstein's admirable biography of Joan's third husband, Walter Wanger: Hollywood Independent, surely one of the most painstakingly researched studies of exactly how films get made, was also a welcome anchor as I began work on my book. At numerous archives, my queries were placed in capable and trustworthy hands. For information on Richard Bennett's early life, I am indebted to Martha Wright of the Indiana State Historical Society and Patricia Al-Wahaili of the Indiana State Library. I spent a fascinating week at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, where Walter Wanger's papers are housed; there I received an enthusiastic reception from Maxine Ducey and her staff. I also owe deepest thanks to the staffs of the Film and Television Archives at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, the Library of Congress, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Sterling Library at Yale University, and the motion picture department of The George Eastman House. Thanks also to Barbara Hall of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Annette Fern of the Harvard Theater Collection, Martin Jacobs of the Museum of the City of New York, Steve Wilson and the staff of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Collection at the University of Texas at Austin (in particular, my research proxy, Bill Fagelson), Sean D. Noel of the Special Collections Staff of Boston University, Stephen Reynolds of the Duke of York's Theatre, and Raymond Wemmlinger of the Hampden/Booth Theater Library of The Players. Special thanks to Ned Comstock of the University of Southern California Cinema and Television Archive. Ned did many special favors for me, including dredging up materials from USC's Warner Bros. archive and tracking down financial reports from Constance Bennett's RKO years. I was unprepared for the generosity extended to me by many well-respected writers on film. Donald Spoto was among the first to encourage me to write about the Bennett family. I am also indebted to Jeanine Basinger, James Harvey, Roy Moseley, Robert Osborne, Barry Paris, Sam Staggs, James Watters, and most of all to Ronald L. Bowers, who spent many hours recalling his close friendship with Joan Bennett. Ron also telephoned me with numerous leads and ideas, and lent me many out-of-print volumes from his vast collection of cinema books. His enthusiasm for Hollywood's golden age is boundless. Thanks also to Howard and Ron Mandelbaum of Photofest, Jerry Ohlinger, and Bill Sprague, for providing me with a copy of Barbara Bennett's hard-to-find film Syncopation, and to Tom Toth, for sharing his print of Constance's silent hit Sally, Irene and Mary. For help in negotiating the legal maze regarding Philip Plant's estate, I owe deep thanks to Jackie Zeppieri of the New London, Connecticut, Probate Court, and Helen Falvey and Alice Schroeder of the Groton, Connecticut, Probate Court; Ms. Schroeder was particularly helpful in laying hands on depositions related to Constance Bennett's 1943 battle with Mae Hayward. Given the fact that so many individuals that Constance and Joan Bennett worked with are deceased, it was crucial that I secure the cooperation of surviving family members. Here I was extremely lucky. The book would not have materialized without the participation of Joan's eldest daughter, Diana Anderson, who was enthused about the project from the beginning and lent unfailing support. On two different occasions, she opened up her home to me while I was in Los Angeles on fact-finding missions. Together we spent hours talking about all the Bennetts; Diana's shrewd perceptions and strong family feeling helped immeasurably in creating the backbone of the book. I am also delighted to have had the contributions of all five of her children: Amanda Anderson, Timothy Anderson, Cynthia Anderson Barker, Lisa Anderson, and Felix Werner. I met Constance's son, Peter Plant, at a birthday party for Diana in New York in 1997. Over the years, Peter had spoken about his mother with only a handful of writers, and then only on very limited topics. Once I described my concept of the book to him, however, he gave me his fullest cooperation. I came to admire his honesty, humor, fairness, and precision; his answers to my questions were always carefully weighed and scrupulously considered, and together we made our way through some of the more baffling episodes in his mother's life. That I was able to earn his trust means a great deal to me. I am also pleased to have secured the participation of Constance's two daughters, Lorinda Roland and Gyl Roland, both of whom gave generously of their time Lorinda at her artist hideaway on Orcas Island, Washington, and Gyl at her Los Angeles apartment. Their perspectives contrasted sharply with one another, but in the end, both were tremendously helpful in putting together a portrait of their complex mother. Thanks, also, to Joan's second daughter, Melinda Markey, who spoke with me by telephone from her home in South Carolina. I am also grateful to Joan's two youngest daughters, Stephanie Wanger Guest and Shelley Wanger, who met with me several times in New York. Michael Downey is the oldest and only surviving child of Barbara Bennett and Morton Downey. From the outset, Michael made it clear that he guarded his privacy zealously and that his participation would be quite limited. I was not allowed to have his telephone number; instead, I was to send my questions via letter and wait for a call from him. Once we connected, however, he was willing to share his memories, and I am happy that he was. I met with David Wilde, Joan's fourth husband, several times at his home in Scarsdale, New York. Sadly, David did not live to see the book reach publication; overcome by depression and declining health, he committed suicide late in 2001. Deepest thanks to the many other people who took the time to speak with me: Iris Adrian, Hartney Arthur, Nancy Barrett, Mary Cooper, Arlene Dahl, Tony de Santis, Carmen DiRigo, Edward Downey, Keir Dullea, Alice Faye, John Frankenheimer, James Fraser, Penny Fuller, Henry Garson, Janet Fox Goldsmith, Louise Gore, James Graves, Jane Greer, Peter Haskell, Helen Hayes, Charles Hollerith, Marsha Hunt, Alexandra Iles, Salome Jens, Marta Eggerth Kiepura, Jack Klugman, Susan Kohner, Florence Kriendler, Paula Laurence, June Lockhart, Patricia Coulter McElroy, Ellie and Victor Morrison, Julian Myers, Patricia O'Connell, Neva Patterson, Jim Pierson, Donald Pippin, Vera Hruba Ralston, Charles Nelson Reilly, Hilda Rolfe, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Daniel Selznick, Harvey Silbert, Erica Silverman, Penny Singleton, Anne Slater, Peggy Sobel, Maureen Stapleton, Jan Sterling, Risë Stevens, Gloria Stuart, William Studer, Bazey Tankersley, Audrey Totter, Marie Wallace, Robert Wallsten, Arthur Whitelaw, Victoria Wilson, William Windom, Teresa Wright, and Jane Wyatt. Of all those I interviewed, I am especially indebted to Joan's good friend Richard Stack. As the book progressed, I leaned heavily on Richard, and always welcomed his insights and points of view. He has in turn become a great friend of mine. Four colleagues at Opera News were of enormous help. F. Paul Driscoll, the magazine's editor-in-chief, was a valued resource throughout the writing. He possesses an astonishing command of film and theater history, and as the book progressed, he was never too busy to discuss a point that was perplexing me at any given moment. Elizabeth Diggans, Opera News's associate art director and an inveterate film-lover, lent welcome humor and encouragement along the way. Assistant editor Betsy Mingo helped me with much of the research always thoroughly, always promptly. Many of the Bennett family's films I viewed with my good friends Tracy Turner and Arlo McKinnon, who offered insightful comments and, as always, good company. Other friends who helped in a variety of ways include Patricia Adams, Craig Haladay, Jessica and Omus Hirshbein, James M. Keller, Brenda Lewis, Eric Myers, Karen Kriendler Nelson, David Niedenthal, Rebecca Paller, Monica Parks, Brooks Peters, Cynthia Peterson, Fred Plotkin, Robert Sandla, Helen Sheehy, and James Whitson. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Joel Honig, who died in September 2003 and whose absence is sorely felt. For years, dozens of authors enjoyed the benefit of Joel's adroit editing, impeccable research skills, and depths of arcane knowledge. He was a busy freelance copy editor (including a nineteen-year association with Charles Scribner's Sons), and always he labored to make the books he was entrusted with as good as they possibly could be. He was a superb writer himself; for many years, I had the pleasure of working as his editor at Opera News. With The Bennetts, the tables were turned, and Joel played his role with relentless brilliance, always pressing me to go further, to make the story of the Bennetts more incisive, illuminating, and alive. I am lucky to have the sustaining presence in my life of my family. My parents, Jack and Marjorie Kellow, and my brother and sister-in-law, Barry and Kami Kellow, have always encouraged my writing pursuits and my interest in the performing arts, and I am grateful. Most of all, I was blessed to have Bill Braun by my side throughout my work on the book. He endured watching many old movies that he easily could have done without, always asking, in vain, if tonight's selection might be in color. He didn't complain while I neglected house and yard to concentrate on research, brought me back to earth when I panicked over deadlines, and endured my need for solitude as I bore down on the final chapters. Prologue "There are only three great actors still alive in America today," Richard Bennett told a reporter in the early 1930s. "Maude Adams, Feodor Chaliapin, and Lionel Barrymore. Four if you count me!" Bennett could afford to be immodest at the time he made that comment, he had racked up a record of achievement that few other actors could match. Along with John Barrymore, he was probably the most important American-born stage actor of his generation. Bennett's stardom had slightly preceded Barrymore's and would outlast it by several years. Yet by the mid-1920s, when Bennett had reached the zenith of his acting career, he believed that the most glorious era in the American theater had come and gone. To him, the stage was haunted by ghosts: Joseph Jefferson, who had trouped around the country for decades treating audiences to his classic portrayal of Rip Van Winkle, died in 1905. The noble, dark-eyed tragedian Edwin Booth, the most celebrated Hamlet of his day, had been dead since 1893. Charles F. Coghlan, Lester Wallack, Nat Goodwin, and Edward Harrigan and Tony Hart, and dozens of other actors whose work had been an inspiration to Bennett, had long since faded from the scene. Richard Bennett's own stage debut had come in 1891, and although he might have had every good reason to feel nostalgic for the great stars of the period, the plays themselves were often best forgotten. While Shakespeare, in the hands of actors such as E.H. Sothern, Julia Marlowe, Viola Allen, and Otis Skinner, was a staple on the New York stage to a degree that seems unimaginable to us now, it was creaking melodrama, often running to five acts or more, that provided much of the meat of the American theater scene. Because so few of the great stars of the last years of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth centuries have left any permanent record of their work, we are forced to rely chiefly on written accounts from the period to gain any sense at all of what they were like onstage. These tell us, among other things, that it was an age of great personalities, in which player dominated playwright. Many stars became so identified with a single role that their demanding and unimaginative public refused to accept them in anything else. James O'Neill, father of Eugene, once a promising young actor, made such a success in an 1883 production of The Count of Monte Cristo that he became essentially a one- trick pony, doomed to play the same role over and over for the remainder of his career. Phoebe Davies played the role of Anna Moore in Lottie Blair Parker and Joseph R. Grismer's rip-roaring 1898 melodrama Way Down East some four thousand times during the course of her career. And Bennett's own father-in-law, Lewis Morrison, played Mephistopheles in Faust, virtually without a break, from 1885 until his death in 1906. Many of the leading stars of this period performed in a florid, heart-on-sleeve style perhaps most accurately described as "heroic," relying on richly individual personalities, charm, and highly cultivated voices. Joseph Jefferson, one critic commented, "could have recited the alphabet in a way to make his hearers shed sympathetic tears." They were out to please the public first, last, and always. (Critics, at this time, were of fairly little importance in determining the fate of a play; only later would they ascend to positions of power. One reason Richard Bennett scorned critics during his peak years was because he remembered the early days when they had not mattered so much.) Whatever the caliber of these performers, one condition did make theirs a golden period: they had unprecedented opportunities to perform. By the mid-1890s, New York boasted thirty- nine legitimate theaters. By 1900, the number of theaters spread out over the entire nation totaled approximately five thousand. No matter how modest their condition, these theaters added immeasurably to the cultural life of both small and large towns. In those days, the road was an integral part of the theater. Both major stars and third-rate stock players traveled the length and breadth of the country. It was a bountiful era, and in his old age Richard Bennett was consumed by nostalgia for it. Writing about those long-gone days in his unpublished memoirs, from the perspective of an elderly man whose career had nearly reached its end, he insisted that he could "count on five fingers even the near-greats of today. They are not artists . . . nor nearer art than photography is to oil paintings." This is a curious statement, and perhaps it can be attributed to nothing more than an actor's bitterness over his failing powers and fading fame. Certainly the 1920s was one of the most remarkable decades the American theater has ever known, and the one in which Richard Bennett reached his peak. True, the rapid growth of the film industry had reduced the sheer quantity of stage productions available. By the time D.W. Griffith's immensely successful The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, over six thousand nickelodeons were operating around the country, while the number of professional playhouses had shrunk to something under fifteen hundred. Nevertheless, Broadway in the 1920s was a thriving industry. Exciting and innovative plays would take the theater in thrilling new directions, and the decade's leading stars did not make occasional appearances they were constant, returning one season after another, providing the real backbone of Broadway. If Richard Bennett regarded this embarrassment of riches as a time of artistic bankruptcy, he was slighting some of his own brilliant contributions to the theater something he surely never would have intended to do. Although he had appeared in many important plays during the first two decades of the century, the 1920s was a vintage period for him. Beginning with O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon in 1920, Bennett set forth on a series of successes that gave him ample opportunity to display his acting prowess as never before. In 1921, he starred as Andrew Lane in Gilbert Emery's The Hero, a searing drama set in the aftermath of World War I. There was Leonid Andreyev's He Who Gets Slapped in 1922, a highly imaginative and lyrical work produced by the Theatre Guild, one of the most enterprising new organizations of the day. While visiting New York, Konstantin Stanislavsky attended a performance of He and proclaimed Richard Bennett the finest American actor he had ever seen. The following year brought Gerald DuMaurier's The Dancers, in which Bennett scored another success as Tony, the Canadian saloonkeeper who inherits an English title. In 1924, Bennett starred as Tony Patucci, the Italian- American vineyard owner in the Theatre Guild's production of Sidney Howard's They Knew What They Wanted, a work that challenged audiences' ideas of acceptable morality. Of lesser literary quality, but a success with audiences, was Charles Beahan and Garrett Fort's Jarnegan (1928), a sensational exposé of Hollywood, in which Richard's youngest daughter, Joan, was introduced to Broadway. It was an impressive string of achievements, and by the end of the 1920s, few in the profession would have doubted that Richard Bennett would one day take his place among the theater's immortals. Yet by 1930, his glory days were behind him, and only a handful of stage appearances lay in his future. In 1931, he settled in Hollywood, where two of his three daughters, Constance and Joan, were carving out successful movie careers. (At the time, Constance was billed as Hollywood's highest-paid actress, commanding $30,000 a week.) Richard went to work in a series of mostly forgettable films. Although he grandly referred to his time in Hollywood as his "noble experiment in the sun-drenched hills," few of his movies gave him any reason to be proud. He was dismayed to see how quickly Broadway would forget about him, how capably the theater could continue in his absence. Good riddance, he claimed. "My God," he had said only in the mid-1920s, when his middle daughter Barbara was attracting attention as an exhibition ballroom dancer, "the day may come when I'll be known as the father of the Bennett girls. It would damn well serve me right!" Speaking of Bought!, a mediocre 1931 movie he made with Constance, he said, defensively, "I wouldn't give up my part in this picture for anything on Broadway." In fact, he missed the stage desperately. Like an impulsive lover, he had turned his back on the world that had meant so much to him, and eventually seemed unable to return to it. No show business fame can fade quite so quickly as theatrical stardom, and year by year, Richard saw his own stunning achievements recede into a dimly remembered past. In the end, Richard Bennett failed to take his place among the immortals of the stage. Theater histories that devote ample space to the accomplishments of the Barrymores, Paul Robeson, and Laurette Taylor often sum up Richard Bennett's career in a footnote, or omit mention of him altogether. By 1940, he was largely forgotten, financially dependent on family and friends, living a sadly reduced existence in southern California. His prediction had come true: to the extent that he was remembered at all, it was as the father of movie stars Constance and Joan Bennett. No doubt he did not feel that such a fate "served him right" at all. It must have seemed an unjust end for someone who had given so much to the theater, and gotten so much in return.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
Bennett, Richard, 1873-1944.
Bennett, Constance, 1904-1965.
Bennett, Joan, 1910-.
Bennett, Barbara, 1906-1958.
Actors -- United States -- Biography.