Joan Geraldine Bennett (February 27, 1910 – December 7, 1990) was an American actress who enjoyed a career that began in the silent era and ended in the '80s on television.
The daughter of actor Richard Bennett, Joan followed in the family trade, following the path of her elder sister Constance. One reason for her long career was her great skill for reinvention. In the late '20s and early '30s in the sound era, Bennett found fame as a comedy actress playing sassy blondes and ingenues. Her most notable film in this phase is Raoul Walsh's 1934 comedy Me and My Gal; for the role, Bennett dyed her hair brunette, and this became her look for the rest of her life.
Bennett had a rather turbulent personal life, and was married four times, most notably to producer Walter Wanger. She appeared in many films produced by her husband, several of which were directed by such major auteurs as Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, and Max Ophuls. She made four films with Lang, including the famous Film Noir Scarlet Street, in which Bennett portrayed one of the cinema's most iconic Femmes Fatales. Toward the end of the 1940s, she once again reinvented herself and began appearing in roles as a housewife, correctly believing that juicier parts would dry up for a 40-year-old actress, though she did play a lead in The Reckless Moment as a committed housewife overworked by her ungrateful family in a melodrama/Film Noir hybrid. She also appeared opposite Spencer Tracy in the hit comedy Father of the Bride.
Bennett's career took a turn for the worse thanks to one of the most terrible Hollywood scandals. On December 13, 1951, she met her agent Jennings Lang in a car lot for a routine business meeting. The two of them were talking in her car when a strange man appeared and shot at Lang in the front seat. This man was her own husband, Walter Wanger. Lang was horribly injured but survived. However, the lurid and sensational nature of the crime, and Wanger's subsequent trial, wound up tarnishing Bennett by association. She was accused of having had an affair with Jennings Lang, leading Wanger to take revenge for being cuckolded. Wanger claimed temporary insanity at his trial, saying he underwent a nervous breakdown and suffered as a result of financial troubles over a series of commercial failures. The couple remained married until 1965, but for Bennett the damage was done. She appeared in only five films following the scandal and employment opportunities stalled for her. She began to appear in television, including Dark Shadows. Most notably she would make a comeback in The '70s and star in Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), which became her final film.
Filmography on TV Tropes:
- Bulldog Drummond (1929)
- Disraeli (1929)
- Me and My Gal (1932)
- Little Women (1933)
- Maybe Its Love (1936)note
- The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)
- Man Hunt (1941)
- Margin for Error (1943)
- The Woman in the Window (1944)
- Scarlet Street (1945)
- Hollow Triumph (1948)
- Secret Beyond the Door... (1948)
- The Reckless Moment (1949)
- Father of the Bride (1950)
- We're No Angels (1955)
- Suspiria (1977)