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Joan Bennett
Joan Bennett in Photoplay December 1932.png
Bennett in Photoplay, December 1932
Joan Geraldine Bennett

(1910-02-27)February 27, 1910
Died December 7, 1990(1990-12-07) (aged 80)
Resting place Pleasant View Cemetery, Lyme, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Actress
Years active 1916–1982
John Marion Fox
(m. 1926; div. 1928)

Gene Markey
(m. 1932; div. 1937)

Walter Wanger
(m. 1940; div. 1965)

David Wilde
(m. 1978)
Children 4
Parent(s) Richard Bennett
Adrienne Morrison
Relatives Lewis Morrison (grandfather)
Constance Bennett (sister)
Barbara Bennett (sister)
Morton Downey Jr. (nephew)

Joan Geraldine Bennett (February 27, 1910 – December 7, 1990) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She came from a show-business family, one of three acting sisters. Beginning her career on the stage, Bennett appeared in more than 70 films from the era of silent films, well into the sound era. She is best remembered for her film noir femme fatale roles in director Fritz Lang's films—including Man Hunt (1941), The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945)—and for her television role as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (and ancestors Naomi Collins, Judith Collins, and Flora Collins PT) in the gothic 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows, for which she received an Emmy nomination in 1968.

Bennett's career had three distinct phases: first as a winsome blonde ingenue, then as a brunette femme fatale (with looks that movie magazines often compared to those of Hedy Lamarr), and finally as a warmhearted wife-and-mother figure.

Bennett married four times.

For her final film role, as Madame Blanc in Dario Argento's cult horror film Suspiria (1977), she received a Saturn Award nomination.

Early life

Richard Bennett with his three daughters (from left), Constance, Joan, and Barbara (1918)

Joan Geraldine Bennett was born in the Palisade section of Fort Lee, New Jersey, on February 27, 1910, the youngest of three daughters of actor Richard Bennett and actress/literary agent Adrienne Morrison. Her elder sisters were actress Constance Bennett and actress/dancer Barbara Bennett, who was the first wife of singer Morton Downey and the mother of Morton Downey Jr. Part of a famous theatrical family, Bennett's maternal grandfather was Jamaica-born Shakespearean actor Lewis Morrison, who embarked on a stage career in the late 1860s. He was of English, Spanish, Jewish, and African ancestry. On the side of her maternal grandmother, actress Rose Wood, the profession dated back to traveling minstrels in 18th-century England.

Bennett first appeared in a silent movie as a child with her parents and sisters in her father's drama The Valley of Decision (1916), which he adapted for the screen. She attended Miss Hopkins School for Girls in Manhattan, then St. Margaret's, a boarding school in Waterbury, Connecticut, and L'Hermitage, a finishing school in Versailles, France.

On September 15, 1926, Bennett married John M. Fox in London. They divorced in Los Angeles on July 30, 1928. They had one child, Adrienne Ralston Fox (born February 20, 1928), for whom Bennett fought successfully in court to rename Diana Bennett Markey, when the child was eight years old. Her name changed to Diana Bennett Wanger in 1944.


Joan Bennett in Disraeli trailer
Bennett in the trailer for Disraeli (1929)

Bennett's stage debut was at the age of 18, acting with her father in Jarnegan (1928), which ran on Broadway for 136 performances and for which she received good reviews. By the time she turned 20 she had become a movie star through such roles as Phyllis Benton in Bulldog Drummond starring Ronald Colman, which was her first important role, and Lady Clarissa Pevensey opposite George Arliss in Disraeli (both 1929).

She moved quickly from movie to movie throughout the 1930s. Bennett appeared as a blonde (her natural hair color) for several years. She starred in the role of Dolores Fenton in the United Artists musical Puttin' On The Ritz (1930) opposite Harry Richman and as Faith Mapple, his beloved, opposite John Barrymore in an early sound version of Moby Dick (1930) at Warner Brothers.

Under contract to Fox Film Corporation, she appeared in several movies. Receiving top billing, she played the role of Jane Miller opposite Spencer Tracy in She Wanted a Millionaire (1932). She was billed second, after Tracy, for her role as Helen Riley, a personable waitress who trades wisecracks, in Me and My Gal (1932).

On March 16, 1932, she married screenwriter/film producer Gene Markey in Los Angeles, but the couple divorced in Los Angeles on June 3, 1937. They had one child, Melinda Markey (born February 27, 1934, on Bennett's 24th birthday).

Joan Bennett in Little Women 1933
Bennett in the trailer for Little Women (1933)

Bennett left Fox to play Amy, a pert sister competing with Katharine Hepburn's Jo in Little Women (1933), which was directed by George Cukor for RKO. This movie brought Bennett to the attention of independent film producer Walter Wanger, who signed her to a contract and began managing her career. She played the role of Sally MacGregor, a psychiatrist's young wife slipping into insanity, in Private Worlds (1935) with Joel McCrea. Bennett starred in the film Vogues of 1938 (1937), including the title sequence, in which she donned a diamond-and-platinum bracelet set with the Star of Burma ruby. Wanger and director Tay Garnett persuaded her to change her hair from blonde to brunette as part of the plot for her role as Kay Kerrigan in the scenic Trade Winds (1938) opposite Fredric March.

With her change in appearance, Bennett began an entirely new screen career as her persona evolved into that of a glamorous femme fatale. She played the role of Princess Maria Theresa in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) opposite Louis Hayward, and the role of the Grand Duchess Zona of Lichtenburg in The Son of Monte Cristo (1940) opposite Hayward.

During the search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, Bennett was given a screen test and impressed producer David O. Selznick to such an extent that she was one of the final four actresses, along with Jean Arthur, Vivien Leigh and Paulette Goddard.

Joan Bennett in The Woman in the Window trailer
Bennett in the trailer for The Woman in the Window (1944)

On January 12, 1940, Bennett and producer Walter Wanger were married in Phoenix, Arizona. They were divorced in September 1965 in Mexico. The couple had two children together, Stephanie Wanger (born June 26, 1943) and Shelley Wanger (born July 4, 1948). The following year, on March 13, 1949, Bennett became a grandmother at the age of 39.

Bennett won praise for her performances as Brenda Bentley in The House Across the Bay (1940), also featuring George Raft, and as Carol Hoffman in the anti-Nazi drama The Man I Married, a film in which Francis Lederer also starred.

She then appeared in a sequence of highly regarded film noir thrillers directed by Fritz Lang, with whom she and Wanger formed their own production company. Bennett appeared in four movies under Lang's direction, including as Cockney Jerry Stokes in Man Hunt (1941) opposite Walter Pidgeon, as mysterious model Alice Reed in The Woman in the Window (1944) with Edward G. Robinson, and as blackmailer Katharine "Kitty" March in Scarlet Street (1945), another film with Robinson.

Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street (2)
Bennett in Scarlet Street (1945)

Bennett was the shrewish wife, Margaret Macomber, in Zoltan Korda's The Macomber Affair (1947) opposite Gregory Peck, as the deceitful wife, Peggy, in Jean Renoir's The Woman on the Beach (also 1947) opposite Robert Ryan and Charles Bickford, and as tormented Lucia Harper in Max Ophüls' The Reckless Moment (1949) as the victim of a blackmailer played by James Mason. Then, easily shifting images again, she changed her screen persona to that of an elegant, witty and nurturing wife and mother in two comedies directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Playing the role of Ellie Banks, the wife of Spencer Tracy and mother of Elizabeth Taylor, Bennett appeared in both Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951).

She made a number of radio appearances from the 1930s to the 1950s, performing on such programs as The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show, Duffy's Tavern, The Jack Benny Program, Ford Theater, Suspense and the anthology series Lux Radio Theater and Screen Guild Theater.

With the increasing popularity of television, Bennett made five guest appearances in 1951, including an episode of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca's Your Show of Shows.

Political views

She was a very active member of both the Hollywood Democratic Committee and The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and donated her time and money to many liberal causes (such as the Civil Rights Movement) and political candidates (including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry A. Wallace, Adlai Stevenson II, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter) during her lifetime.

Later years

Bennett and Wanger remained married until 1965. She continued to work steadily on the stage and in television, including a guest role as Denise Mitchell in an episode of TV's Burke's Law (1965).

Joan Bennett in Dark Shadows
Bennett in the TV series Dark Shadows

Bennett received star billing in the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows for its entire five-year run, 1966 to 1971, receiving an Emmy Award nomination in 1968 for her performance as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, mistress of the haunted Collinwood Mansion. Her other roles in Dark Shadows were Naomi Collins, Judith Collins Trask, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard PT (parallel time, as the show described its alternate reality), Flora Collins, and Flora Collins PT. In 1970, she appeared as Elizabeth in House of Dark Shadows, the feature film adaptation of the series. However, she declined to appear in the sequel Night of Dark Shadows, and her character Elizabeth was mentioned therein as being recently deceased.

Her autobiography The Bennett Playbill, written with Lois Kibbee, was published in 1970.

Her other TV guest appearances include Bennett's roles as Joan Darlene Delaney in an episode of The Governor & J.J. (1970) and as Edith in an episode of Love, American Style (1971). She starred in five made-for-TV movies between 1972 and 1982.

Bennett also appeared in one more feature film, as Madame Blanc in director Dario Argento's horror film Suspiria (1977), for which she received a 1978 Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Bennett and retired publisher/movie critic David Wilde were married on February 14, 1978, 13 days before her 68th birthday, in White Plains, New York. Their marriage lasted until her death in 1990.

Joan Bennett Star HWF
Bennett's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6300 Hollywood Blvd

Celebrated for not taking herself too seriously, Bennett said in a 1986 interview, "I don't think much of most of the films I made, but being a movie star was something I liked very much."

Bennett has a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the film industry. Her star is located at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard, a short distance from the star of her sister Constance.


Bennett died of heart failure on Friday evening, December 7, 1990, aged 80, at her home in Scarsdale, New York. She is interred in Pleasant View Cemetery, Lyme, Connecticut, with her parents.


Bennett appeared in many movies and television productions, listed below in their entirety.


Joan Bennett in Father's Little Dividend trailer 2
Bennett in the trailer for Father's Little Dividend (1951)
Year Title Role Notes
1916 Valley of Decision, TheThe Valley of Decision unborn soul
1923 Eternal City, TheThe Eternal City Page uncredited
1928 Power a dame
1929 Divine Lady, TheThe Divine Lady extra uncredited
1929 Bulldog Drummond Phyllis Benton
1929 Three Live Ghosts Rose Gordon
1929 Disraeli Lady Clarissa Pevensey
1929 The Mississippi Gambler Lucy Blackburn
1930 Puttin' On the Ritz Delores Fenton
1930 Crazy That Way Ann Jordan
1930 Moby Dick Faith Mapple, his beloved
1930 Maybe It's Love (a.k.a. Eleven Men and a Girl) Nan Sheffield
1930 Scotland Yard Xandra, Lady Lasher
1931 Many a Slip Pat Coster
1931 Doctors' Wives Nina Wyndram
1931 Hush Money Joan Gordon
1932 She Wanted a Millionaire Jane Miller
1932 Careless Lady Sally Brown
1932 The Trial of Vivienne Ware Vivienne Ware
1932 Week Ends Only Venetia Carr
1932 Wild Girl Salomy Jane
1932 Me and My Gal Helen Riley
1933 Arizona to Broadway Lynn Martin
1933 Little Women Amy March
1934 The Pursuit of Happiness Prudence Kirkland
1934 The Man Who Reclaimed His Head Adele Verin
1935 Private Worlds Sally MacGregor
1935 Mississippi Lucy Rumford
1935 Two for Tonight Bobbie Lockwood
1935 She Couldn't Take It Carol Van Dyke
1935 The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo Helen Berkeley
1936 Big Brown Eyes Eve Fallon
1936 Thirteen Hours by Air Felice Rollins
1936 Two in a Crowd Julia Wayne
1936 Wedding Present Monica "Rusty" Fleming
1937 Vogues of 1938 Wendy Van Klettering
1938 I Met My Love Again Julie Weir Shaw
1938 Texans, TheThe Texans Ivy Preston
1938 Artists and Models Abroad Patricia Harper
1938 Trade Winds Kay Kerrigan
1939 Man in the Iron Mask, TheThe Man in the Iron Mask Princess Maria Theresa
1939 Housekeeper's Daughter, TheThe Housekeeper's Daughter Hilda
1940 Green Hell Stephanie Richardson
1940 House Across the Bay, TheThe House Across the Bay Brenda Bentley
1940 Man I Married, TheThe Man I Married Carol Hoffman
1940 Son of Monte Cristo, TheThe Son of Monte Cristo Grand Duchess Zona of Lichtenburg
1941 She Knew All the Answers Gloria Winters
1941 Man Hunt Jerry Stokes
1941 Wild Geese Calling Sally Murdock
1941 Confirm or Deny Jennifer Carson
1942 Wife Takes a Flyer, TheThe Wife Takes a Flyer Anita Woverman
1942 Twin Beds Julie Abbott
1942 Girl Trouble June Delaney
1943 Margin for Error Sophia Baumer
1944 Woman in the Window, TheThe Woman in the Window Alice Reed
1945 Nob Hill Harriet Carruthers
1945 Scarlet Street Katharine "Kitty" March
1946 Colonel Effingham's Raid Ella Sue Dozier
1947 Macomber Affair, TheThe Macomber Affair Margaret Macomber
1947 Woman on the Beach, TheThe Woman on the Beach Peggy Butler
1947 Secret Beyond the Door... Celia Lamphere
1948 Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar) Evelyn Hahn
1949 Reckless Moment, TheThe Reckless Moment Lucia Harper
1950 Father of the Bride Ellie Banks
1950 For Heaven's Sake Lydia Bolton
1951 Father's Little Dividend Ellie Banks
1951 Guy Who Came Back, TheThe Guy Who Came Back Kathy Joplin
1954 Highway Dragnet Mrs. Cummings
1955 We're No Angels Amelie Ducotel
1956 There's Always Tomorrow Marion Groves
1956 Navy Wife Peg Blain
1960 Desire in the Dust Mrs. Marquand
1970 House of Dark Shadows Elizabeth Collins Stoddard
1977 Suspiria Madame Blanc


  • The Nash Airflyte Theater (1951) episode: Peggy
  • Your Show of Shows (1951) 1 episode
  • Danger (1951) 1 episode
  • Somerset Maugham TV Theatre (1951) episode: Smith Serves
  • Somerset Maugham TV Theatre (1951) episode: The Dream
  • General Electric Theater (1954) episode: You Are Young Only Once, as Bettina Blane
  • The Best of Broadway (1954) episode: The Man Who Came to Dinner, as Lorraine Sheldon
  • Climax! (1955) episode: The Dark Fleece, as Honora
  • The Ford Television Theatre (1955) episode: Letters Marked Personal, as Marcia Manners
  • The Ford Television Theatre (1956) episode: Dear Diane, as Marion
  • Playhouse 90 (1957) episode: The Thundering Wave, as Vickie Maxwell
  • The DuPont Show of the Month (1957) episode: Junior Miss, as Grace Graves
  • Pursuit (1958) episode: Epitaph for a Golden Girl
  • Too Young to Go Steady (1959) (own series), as Mary Blake
  • Burke's Law (1965) 1 episode, as Denise Mitchell
  • Dark Shadows (1966–1971) (series regular, 386 episodes), as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard / Naomi Collins / Judith Collins / Flora Collins
  • The Governor & J.J. (1970) episode: Check the Check, as Joan Darlene Delaney
  • Love, American Style (1971) episode segment: Love and the Second Time, as Edith
  • Dr. Simon Locke (1972) episode: The Cortessa Rose, as Cortessa

Made-for-TV movies

  • Gidget Gets Married (1972) as Claire Ramsey
  • The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972) as Aunt Alexandra
  • Suddenly, Love (1978) as Mrs. Graham
  • This House Possessed (1981) as Rag Lady
  • Divorce Wars: A Love Story (1982) as Adele Burgess

As herself

  • Screen Actors (1950) (uncredited)
  • The Colgate Comedy Hour (1951) 1 episode
  • What's My Line? (1951) 1 episode
  • The Ken Murray Show (1951) 1 episode
  • Ford Festival (1951)
  • I've Got A Secret (1953)
  • Climax! (1956) episode: The Louella Parsons Story
  • To Tell the Truth (1958) 1 episode
  • The Mike Douglas Show (1964, 1967, 1970, 1970, 1977) 5 episodes
  • The Merv Griffin Show (1967) 1 episode
  • Personality (1968) 1 episode
  • The Hollywood Squares (1970) 1 episode
  • The Virginia Graham Show (1970) 1 episode
  • The Hollywood Greats (1977) 2 episodes: Humphrey Bogart; Spencer Tracy
  • The Guiding Light (1982) 1 episode
  • The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn (1986)

Short subject

  • Screen Snapshots (1932)
  • Hollywood on Parade No. A-12 (1933)
  • The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935)
  • Hollywood Party (1937)
  • Screen Snapshots Series 19, No. 9: Sports in Hollywood (1940)
  • Hedda Hopper's Hollywood, No. 6 (1942)
  • Screen Actors (1950) (uncredited)

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1941 Philip Morris Playhouse Girl in the News
1946 Screen Guild Players Experiment Perilous
1947 Suspense "Overture in Two Keys"

See also

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