Constance Bennett

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Constance Bennett
Constance Bennett publicity copy.jpg
Bennett in Rockabye (1932)
Born (1904-10-22)October 22, 1904
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died July 24, 1965(1965-07-24) (aged 60)
Fort Dix, New Jersey, U.S.
Cause of death Cerebral hemorrhage
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Occupation Actress
Years active 1916–1965
Spouse(s) Chester Hirst Moorhead (m. 1921; annulled 1923)
Philip Morgan Plant (m. 1925; div. 1929)
Henri de la Falaise (m. 1931; div. 1940)
Gilbert Roland (m. 1941; div. 1946)
John Theron Coulter (m. 1946; her death 1965)
Children 3
Parent(s) Richard Bennett
Adrienne Morrison
Relatives Barbara Bennett (sister)
Joan Bennett (sister)
Morton Downey Jr. (nephew)

Constance Campbell Bennett (October 22, 1904 – July 24, 1965) was an American stage, film, radio and television actress. She was a major Hollywood star during the 1920s and 1930s and for a time during the early 1930s, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, as well as one of the most popular. Bennett frequently played society women, focusing on melodramas in the early 1930s and then taking more comedic roles in the late 1930s and 1940s. She is best known today for her leading roles in What Price Hollywood? (1932), Topper (1937), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), and had a prominent supporting role in Greta Garbo's last film, Two-Faced Woman (1941).[1]

She was the daughter of stage and silent film star Richard Bennett, and the older sister of actress Joan Bennett.[1]

Early life[edit]

Bennett was born in New York City, the eldest of three daughters of actor Richard Bennett and actress Adrienne Morrison, whose father was the stage actor Lewis Morrison (Morris W. Morris), a performer of English, Spanish, Jewish, and African ancestry.[2] Constance's younger sisters were actresses Joan Bennett and Barbara Bennett. All three girls attended the Chapin School in New York. [3]

Career[edit]

After some time spent in a convent, Bennett went into the family business. Independent, cultured, ironic and outspoken, Constance, the first Bennett sister to enter motion pictures, appeared in New York-produced silent movies before a meeting with Samuel Goldwyn led to her Hollywood debut in Cytherea (1924). She abandoned a burgeoning career in silents for marriage to Philip Plant in 1925, but resumed her film career after their divorce, with the advent of talking pictures (1929), and with her delicate blonde features and glamorous fashion style, she quickly became a popular film star.

In the early 1930s, Bennett was frequently among the top actresses named in audience popularity and box-office polls. For a short time, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. So successful was Bennett during this time, that RKO, Bennett's home studio at the time, controlled the careers of actresses Ann Harding and Helen Twelvetrees in a similar manner, hoping to duplicate Bennett's success.[4]

In 1931, a short-lived contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer earned her $300,000 for two movies which included The Easiest Way and made her one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. Warner Brothers paid her the all-time high salary of $30,000 a week for Bought! in 1931.[5] Richard Bennett, her father, was also cast in this film.

The next year she moved to RKO, where she acted in What Price Hollywood? (1932), directed by George Cukor, an ironic and at the same time tragic behind-the-scenes looks at the old Hollywood studio system, in which she portrayed waitress Mary Evans, who becomes a movie star. Lowell Sherman co-starred as the film director who discovers her, and Neil Hamilton as the wealthy playboy she marries. It was a critical and box office hit at the time of its release. The film Morning Glory had been written with Bennett in mind for the lead role, but producer Pandro S. Berman gave the role to Katharine Hepburn, who won an Academy Award for her performance.

Bennett next showed her versatility in the likes of Our Betters (1933), Bed of Roses (1933) with Pert Kelton, After Tonight (1933) (co-starring with future husband Gilbert Roland), The Affairs of Cellini (1934), After Office Hours (1935) with Clark Gable, the original Topper (1937, in a career standout as Marian Kerby opposite Cary Grant, a role she repeated in the 1939 sequel, Topper Takes a Trip), the ultimate madcap family comedy Merrily We Live (1938) and Two-Faced Woman (1941, supporting Greta Garbo).

By the 1940s, Bennett was working less frequently in film but was in demand in both radio and theatre. She had her own program, Constance Bennett Calls on You, on ABC radio in 1945-1946.[6] Shrewd investments had made her a wealthy woman, and she founded a cosmetics and clothing company.

Personal life[edit]

Bennett and her daughters, with a portrait of herself and her son (1944)

Bennett was married five times and had three children.

Chester Hirst Moorehead[edit]

On June 15, 1921, Bennett eloped with Chester Hirst Moorehead of Chicago, a student at the University of Virginia[7] who was the son of an oral surgeon.[8] They were married by a justice of the peace in Greenwich, Connecticut. Bennett was 17 at the time.[7][note 1][9][note 2][10] A New York Times article that reported the elopement noted, "The parents of Miss Bennett were opposed to their marriage at this time solely on account of their youth."[7] The marriage was annulled in 1923.[note 3][10]

Philip Morgan Plant[edit]

Bennett's next serious relationship was with millionaire socialite Philip Morgan Plant. Her parents planned a cruise to Europe, taking Constance with them, to separate the couple. As the ship was preparing to leave port, however, the Bennetts saw Plant and his parents boarding, too. A contemporary newspaper article reported, "Now the little beauty and the heir to all the Plant Millions were assured a week of the cosy intimacy which an ocean liner affords."[9] In November 1925, the two eloped and were married in Greenwich, Connecticut, by the same justice of the peace who officiated at Bennett's wedding to Moorehead.[11] They divorced in a French court[12] in 1929.[13]

In 1932, Bennett returned from Europe with a three-year-old child, whom she claimed to have adopted and named Peter Bennett Plant. In 1942, however, during a battle over a large trust fund established to benefit any descendants of her former husband, Bennett announced that her adopted son actually was her natural child by Plant, born after the divorce and kept hidden to ensure that the child's biological father did 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."[14][15]

Henry de la Falaise[edit]

In 1931, Bennett made headlines when she married one of Gloria Swanson's former husbands, Henri le Bailly, the Marquis de La Coudraye de La Falaise,[16] a French nobleman and film director. She and de la Falaise founded Bennett Pictures Corp. and co-produced two films which were the last filmed in Hollywood in the two-strip Technicolor process, Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935) filmed in Bali, and Kilou the Killer Tiger (1936), filmed in Indochina. They were divorced in Reno, Nevada in 1940.[17]

Gilbert Roland and John Theron Coulter[edit]

Bennett's fourth marriage was to actor Gilbert Roland. They were married in 1941 and had two daughters, Lorinda and Christina;[note 4][16] they divorced in 1946. Later that year, Bennett married for the fifth and final time to US Air Force Colonel (later Brigadier General) John Theron Coulter.[16] After her marriage, she concentrated her efforts on providing relief entertainment to US troops still stationed in Europe, winning military honors for her services. Bennett and Coulter remained married until her death in 1965.

Later career and death[edit]

She had a major supporting role in Warner Bros' The Unsuspected (1947) opposite Claude Rains, in which she played the program director who helps prove that Rains is guilty of murder. She made no films from the early 1950s until 1965 when she made a comeback in the film Madame X (released posthumously in 1966) playing Lana Turner's mother-in-law.

Shortly after filming was completed, on July 25, 1965, Bennett collapsed and died from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 60. In recognition of her military contributions, and as the wife of Theron John Coulter, who had achieved the rank of brigadier general, she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Coulter died in 1995 and was buried with her.

Bennett has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to motion pictures, at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard, a short distance from the star of her sister, Joan.

Filmography[edit]

Silent films
Year Title Role Notes
1916 The Valley of Decision Unborn soul Lost
1922 Reckless Youth Chorus Girl
1922 Evidence Edith Lost
1922 What's Wrong with the Women? Elise Bascom Lost
1924 Cytherea Annette Sherman Lost
1924 Into the Net Madge Clayton, his sister Lost
1925 The Goose Hangs High Lois Ingals Lost
1925 Code of the West Georgie May Lost
1925 My Son Betty Smith Lost
1925 My Wife and I Aileen Alton Lost
1925 The Goose Woman Hazel Woods
1925 Wandering Fires Guerda Anthony
1925 Sally, Irene and Mary Sally
1925 The Pinch Hitter Abby Nettleton Lost
1926 Married ? Marcia Livingston
Sound films
Year Title Role Notes
1929 Rich People Connie Hayden
1929 This Thing Called Love Ann Marvin Lost
1930 Son of the Gods Allana
1930 Three Faces East Frances Hawtree / Z-1
1930 Common Clay Ellen Neal
1930 Sin Takes a Holiday Sylvia Brenner
1931 The Easiest Way Laura Murdock
1931 Born to Love Doris Kendall
1931 The Common Law Valerie West
1931 Bought! Stephanie Dale
1932 Screen Snapshots Herself Short Subject
1932 Lady with a Past Venice Muir
1932 What Price Hollywood? Mary Evans
1932 Two Against the World Miss Adele 'Dell' Hamilton
1932 Rockabye Judy Carroll
1933 Our Betters Lady Pearl Grayston
1933 Bed of Roses Lorry Evans
1933 After Tonight Carla Vanirska, aka K-14 and Karen Schöntag
1934 Moulin Rouge Helen Hall / Raquel
1934 The Affairs of Cellini Duchess of Florence
1934 Outcast Lady Iris
1935 After Office Hours Sharon Norwood
1935 Legong Producer only
1935 Starlit Days at the Lido Herself Short subject
1936 Everything Is Thunder Anna von Stucknadel
1936 Ladies in Love Yoli Haydn
1937 Daily Beauty Rituals Herself Short subject
1937 Topper Marion Kerby
1938 Merrily We Live Jerry Kilbourne
1938 Service de Luxe Helen Murphy
1938 Topper Takes a Trip Marion Kerby
1939 Tail Spin Gerry Lester
1940 Escape to Glory Christine Blaine
1941 Law of the Tropics Joan Madison
1941 Picture People No. 2: Hollywood Sports Herself Short subject
1941 Two-Faced Woman Griselda Vaughn
1942 Wild Bill Hickok Rides Belle Andrews
1942 Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 5 Herself Short subject
1942 Sin Town Kye Allen
1942 Madame Spy Joan Bannister
1945 Paris Underground Kitty de Mornay
1946 Centennial Summer Zenia Lascalles
1947 The Unsuspected Jane Moynihan
1948 Smart Woman Paula Rogers
1948 Angel on the Amazon Dr. Karen Lawrence
1951 As Young as You Feel Lucille McKinley
1954 It Should Happen To You Guest Panelist
1966 Madame X Estelle Released posthumously

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ An article in The Ogden Standard-Examiner in 1923 said, "They succeeded in convincing the authorities there [Greenwich, Connecticut] that she was twenty-one, instead of the bare sixteen she looked and was ..."
  2. ^ An article in the Springfield Missouri Republican in 1925 also reported the misrepresentation of Bennett's age.
  3. ^ An article in the Springfield Missouri Republican in 1925 said, "Three days later the marriage was annulled ..."
  4. ^ Bennett's obituary in the Independent gives the daughters' names as "Lynda and Gyl".

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Kellow, Brian (2004). The Bennetts: An Acting Family. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813123295. 
  2. ^ Downey, Phil, A Black, Jewish Officer in the Civil War, Jewish-American History Documentation Foundation; retrieved May 8, 2013.
  3. ^ Thomson, David (2014). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 85. ISBN 9780375711848. Retrieved 9 August 2017. 
  4. ^ Leading Ladies. 
  5. ^ The Warner Bros Story - Clive Hirschhorn p. 106; ISBN 0-517-53834-2
  6. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. 
  7. ^ a b c "Motor Away To Wed.". The New York Times. New York, New York City. June 18, 1921. p. 6. Retrieved August 8, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ "Proved a Nightmare". The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News. Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre. January 17, 1923. p. 21. Retrieved August 8, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  9. ^ a b "Brought Together the Lovers They Wanted To Part". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. Utah, Ogden. July 8, 1923. p. 26. Retrieved August 9, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  10. ^ a b "Latest Child-Wife Problems in the Mansions and Slums". Springfield Missouri Republican. Missouri, Springfield. April 12, 1925. p. 34. Retrieved August 9, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ "Constance Bennett Weds Philip Plant". The News-Herald. Pennsylvania, Franklin. United Press. November 4, 1925. p. 1. Retrieved August 9, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  12. ^ "Constance Bennett No Longer Wife of Plant". The Iola Register. Kansas, Iola. Associated Press. March 19, 1929. p. 4. Retrieved August 9, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  13. ^ "Decree Won From Millionaire, Divorcee Maps Plans for Future". Oakland Tribune. California, Oakland. April 24, 1929. p. 1. Retrieved August 9, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ "Domain Inquiry". Jcgi.pathfinder.com. Retrieved 2017-07-23. 
  15. ^ "People: People, Nov. 29, 1943". TIME. 1943-11-29. Retrieved 2017-07-23. 
  16. ^ a b c "Actress Constance Bennett Dies at 59". Independent. California, Long Beach. July 26, 1965. p. 2. Retrieved August 9, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  17. ^ "Famous people divorced in Reno (new)". renodivorcehistory.org. Retrieved 2015-10-15. 

External links[edit]