Constance Bennett


Actor
Constance Bennett

About

Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
October 22, 1904
Died
July 24, 1965
Cause of Death
Cerebral Hemorrhage

Biography

One of a trio of sisters who first brightened movie screens during the tail end of the silent era, Constance Bennett was considered to be the most beautiful of the Bennett siblings. The eldest of the girls, Constance was followed by Barbara, who had the shortest career, and Joan, who was the most successful, but she was the first to really make her mark in Hollywood. She easily made the ...

Photos & Videos

Our Betters - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
What Price Hollywood? - Movie Poster
Topper - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Chester Hirst Moorehead
Husband
Briefly married in 1921; annulled.
Phillip Plant
Husband
Married in 1925; divorced.
Henry de la Falaise de la Coudray
Husband
Married in 1931; divorced in 1940; formerly married to Gloria Swanson.
Gilbert Roland
Husband
Actor. Married in 1941; divorced in 1945.

Bibliography

"The Bennett Playbill"
Joan Bennett and Lois Kibbee, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1970)

Biography

One of a trio of sisters who first brightened movie screens during the tail end of the silent era, Constance Bennett was considered to be the most beautiful of the Bennett siblings. The eldest of the girls, Constance was followed by Barbara, who had the shortest career, and Joan, who was the most successful, but she was the first to really make her mark in Hollywood. She easily made the transition to talkies and quickly became a popular star in features for MGM, Warner Bros. and RKO, notably "What Price Hollywood?" (1932) and "Bed of Roses" (1933). While not among the most gifted actresses of her generation, Bennett was an able comedienne and more than competent when it came to the sort of dramatic plotlines she was assigned. Additionally, she was simply stunning to look at with her trademark slim figure and eye-catching blonde pageboy. The New York City native was also a tough negotiator who refused to be pushed around by the men in her life. "Topper" (1937) and "Two-Faced Woman" (1941) provided enjoyable showcases for her comic talents, but by the time the latter hit theatres, Bennett's career was starting to decline and it eventually took a backseat to other pursuits in her life. Although sibling Joan ultimately had the longer and brighter career, Constance Bennett made the most of her time in the upper echelon of Hollywood and still impressed viewers decades later with her seemingly effortless beauty and sophistication.

Constance Campbell Bennett was born in New York City on Oct. 22, 1904. Her father, Richard Bennett, was a noted stage performer who eventually graduated to movies, and mother Adrienne Morrison was a literary agent who briefly acted in silent features. Richard Bennett was a notorious firebrand, perhaps as well known for his drinking and unrestrained temper as his accomplishments as an actor. His three daughters all tried their hand at show business with varying degrees of success and Constance most resembled him in her force of personality and refusal to be cowed. She attended Miss Chandor's Prep School in Manhattan and it was during that time that she first expressed a genuine interest in following in her parents' footsteps. Upon continuing her education at Mrs. Merrill's Boarding School for Girls in Westchester County, Bennett made her acting debut via a small role in a production of the play "Everyman" and she joined sisters Joan and Barbara in the film "The Valley of Decision" (1916), which had been written by their father. It was hoped by her mother that Bennett would become an admired member of high society, but the increasingly glamorous and beautiful teenager soon proved much too wild and rebellious. At age16, she eloped and got married, a union that was annulled two years later.

Now approaching her twenties, Bennett had a series of small roles in New York-produced silent features like "Reckless Youth" (1922) and "Into the Net" (1924), but it was her Hollywood bow in the drama "Cytherea" (1924) that really opened doors and led to further roles in such productions as "The Goose Hangs High" (1925), "The Goose Woman" (1925) and "Sally, Irene and Mary" (1925). "Rich People" (1929) was Bennett's first sound film and she had no trouble adjusting to the demands the change in format imposed on the era's performers. She quickly scored a string of hits, including the drama "Common Clay" (1930) and the romantic comedy "Sin Takes a Holiday" (1930). Joan and Barbara had also established careers in the movies by that point, but the latter soon exited the business so that she could concentrate on raising a family and supporting the radio career of her husband, Morton Downey. Bennett had been through two short-lived marriages - the second of which produced a son - by the time she wed director Henri de la Falaise in 1931, who had finalized his divorce from actress Gloria Swanson only days earlier. Bennett and her new spouse formed their own production company, which went on to make a pair of features with de la Falaise at the helm. Acting remained Bennett's primary focus, however, and her career really launched into high gear with the dual successes of "Born to Love" (1931) and "The Common Law" (1931). She also entered into an affair with up-and-comer Joel McCrea, her co-star in both pictures.

With those hits to her credit, Bennett negotiated a highly lucrative deal with Warner Bros., but did more noteworthy work for cross town rival RKO as a waitress-aspiring actress in George Cukor's drama "What Price Hollywood?" (1932), widely regarded as the inspiration for "A Star is Born" (1937), as well as in "Bed of Roses" (1933), where she once again played opposite off-screen lover McCrea. By that point, Bennett's star status and assertiveness had earned her a high degree of respect and she was even allowed to join in the various poker games that rich husbands utilized to avoid their spouses for hours on end. Although she was not at the very top of the Hollywood register, Bennett was certainly one of the best compensated for her work and a significant draw. Bennett's best remembered credit, the fantasy-comedy "Topper" (1937), found her co-starring with Cary Grant as a couple killed in a car accident who become a pair of uncommonly attractive and witty ghosts. Bennett's flare for both verbal and physical comedy was well showcased in that breezy box office hit and she was equally appealing in "Topper Takes a Trip" (1938), which hit theatres a year later. She also provided amusing support in Greta Garbo's final effort, "Two-Faced Woman" (1941), and some critics suggested that Bennett stole much of the film from her more famous co-star.

That year, Bennett wed her fourth husband, dashing Mexican-born movie star Gilbert Roland, and the couple had two daughters together. Despite her fine work in "Two Faced Woman," Bennett was cast in less than inspiring projects like "Wild Bill Hickok Rides" (1942) and "Sin Town" (1942). After finishing "Madame Spy" (1942), she worked intermittently on radio, including hosting the talk show "Constance Bennett Calls on You" (1945-46) for a year, but largely spent her time contributing to the war effort by entertaining American troops. Following World War II, Bennett's career started to slip further and she was eclipsed by youngest sister Joan, who had solidified her reputation in thrillers like "The Woman in the Window" (1943) and "Scarlet Street" (1945). Seeking to have more control over her projects, Bennett co-produced and starred in the modestly-budgeted war drama "Paris Underground" (1945), which was shot in England and revolved around an American woman who inadvertently becomes involved with French partisans. It turned out to be a one shot venture, however, and she was reduced to a supporting assignment in the unremarkable musical "Centennial Summer" (1946).

After her marriage to Roland ended that year, Bennett next tied the knot with air force officer General Theron J. Coulter. Fortunately that relationship ended up being her happiest and longest lasting. She also reaped the benefits of business success via a cosmetics firm she had founded. Bennett continued to act on occasion, but films like "The Unsuspected" (1947), "Angel on the Amazon" (1948) and "As Young as Your Feel" (1951) made little impact and her income declined considerably. In order to maintain her lifestyle, Bennett used money that had been set aside for her son's trust fund as part of a previous legal agreement. When it was all gone, he threatened to sue and Bennett was forced to turn over her house in recompense. Bennett made her sole trip to Broadway starring opposite Herbert Evers in the farce "A Date with April" (1954), but it failed to excite the public and closed after only 13 performances. Following a brief appearance in the Judy Holliday comedy "It Should Happen to You" (1954) and a handful of television guest appearances on shows like "The Philip Morris Playhouse" (CBS, 1953-54) and "Robert Montgomery Presents" (NBC, 1950-57), Bennett largely abandoned show business, though she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Not long after finishing her first movie role in over a decade, Bennett died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 24, 1965. In recognition of the contributions she and Coulter had made to the American military, Bennett was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The film in question, Universal's remake of "Madame X" (1966), finally opened in theatres a year after Bennett's passing.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Madame X (1966)
Estelle
It Should Happen to You (1954)
As Young As You Feel (1951)
Lucille McKinley
Smart Woman (1948)
Paula Rogers
Angel on the Amazon (1948)
Dr. Karen Lawrence
The Unsuspected (1947)
Jane Moynihan
Centennial Summer (1946)
Zenia Lascalles
Paris--Underground (1945)
Kitty de Mornay
Madame Spy (1942)
Joan Bannister
Sin Town (1942)
Kye Allen
Wild Bill Hickok Rides (1942)
Belle Andrews
Law of the Tropics (1941)
Joan Madison
Two-Faced Woman (1941)
Griselda Vaughn
Escape to Glory (1940)
Christine Blaine
Tail Spin (1939)
Gerry Lester
Topper Takes a Trip (1939)
Marion Kerby
Service De Luxe (1938)
Helen Murphy
Topper (1937)
Marion Kerby
Everything Is Thunder (1936)
Anna
Ladies in Love (1936)
Yoli Haydn
After Office Hours (1935)
Sharon Norwood
The Affairs of Cellini (1934)
Duchess of Florence
Moulin Rouge (1934)
Helen, also known as Raquel
Outcast Lady (1934)
Iris [March Fenwick]
After Tonight (1933)
Carla, also known as K-14
Our Betters (1933)
Lady Pearl [Saunders] Grayston
Bed of Roses (1933)
Lorry Evans
Rockabye (1932)
Judy Carroll
Two Against the World (1932)
Adell Hamilton
What Price Hollywood? (1932)
Mary Evans
Lady with a Past (1932)
Venice Muir
The Common Law (1931)
Valerie West
Born to Love (1931)
Doris Kendall [later known as Lady Drake]
Bought (1931)
Stephanie Dale
The Easiest Way (1931)
Laura Murdock
Son of the Gods (1930)
Allana
Sin Takes a Holiday (1930)
Sylvia
Three Faces East (1930)
Frances Hawtree
Common Clay (1930)
Ellen Neal
This Thing Called Love (1929)
Ann Marvin
Rich People (1929)
Connie Hayden
Married? (1926)
Marcia Livingston
My Son (1925)
Betty Smith
My Wife and I (1925)
Aileen Alton
The Pinch Hitter (1925)
Abby Nettleton
Wandering Fires (1925)
Guerda Anthony
Sally, Irene and Mary (1925)
Sally
Code of the West (1925)
Georgie May Stockwell
The Goose Hangs High (1925)
Lois Ingals
The Goose Woman (1925)
Hazel Woods
Cytherea (1924)
Annette Sherwin
Into the Net (1924)
Reckless Youth (1922)
Chorus girl
What's Wrong With the Women? (1922)
Elise Bascom
Evidence (1922)
Edith
Fighting Death (1914)
Clara

Producer (Feature Film)

Paris--Underground (1945)
Producer

Cast (Special)

Always April (1961)

Cast (Short)

Daily Beauty Rituals (1937)
Herself
Starlit Days at the Lido (1935)
Herself

Life Events

1915

Had bit part in medium-length film, "The Valley of Decision," directed by father Richard Bennett

1922

After a bit in "Reckless Youth," began acting career in "Evidence"

1933

Last film under RKO contract, "After Tonight"; begins free-lancing

1937

Co-starred with Cary Grant as the ghostly George and Marian Kerby in her best-remembered film, "Topper"

1940

Stage debut in Noel Coward's "Easy Virtue"

1945

First film as producer (also actress), "Paris Underground"

1948

Formed Bennett Productions to make "Smart Woman" (also actress)

1966

Last film, "Madame X"

Photo Collections

Our Betters - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Our Betters (1933), as George Cukor directs a scene with Constance Bennett.
What Price Hollywood? - Movie Poster
What Price Hollywood? - Movie Poster
Topper - Movie Poster
Here is an original Window Card from Topper (1937), starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. Window Cards were mini posters designed to be placed in store windows around town during a film's engagement. A blank space at the top of the poster featured theater and playdate infromation.
Constance Bennett - State Express Cigarette Card
This is a small cigarette card of actress Constance Bennett. These trading cards were included in Cigarette packs in the 30's and 40's and were collectible items. Customers could even purchase books to organize and collect these cards. State Express was an active Cigarette Card producer, creating a wide range of cards featuring famous people of which film stars were an often popular draw.

Videos

Movie Clip

Sin Takes A Holiday (1930) - Nothing Like A Good Day's Sleep At the Riverdale mansion of lawyer Stanton (Kenneth McKenna), his secretary Sylvia (top-billed Constance Bennett), working the evening, helps Richards (Louis John Bartels) when his wife calls, as the clique (John Roche as Sheridan, Basil Rathbone as Durand) confabs, early in Sin Takes a Holiday, 1930.
Sin Takes A Holiday (1930) - Traveling Alone? Having just married her wealthy lawyer boss, for the sole purpose of ending his own romantic entanglements, secretary Sylvia (Constance Bennett) is headed for Paris as her reward, on an opulent RKO ocean liner, meeting Basil Rathbone as dashing Durand, a bachelor friend of her quasi-husband, in Sin Takes A Holiday, 1930.
Sin Takes A Holiday (1930) - How Could You Have A Wife? Racy exteriors establish New York then, not quite Goodfellas but an impressive shot by director Paul L. Stein and cinematographer John Mescall, as lawyer Stanton (Kenneth MacKenna), in a plush night club, reveals to his scheming girlfriend (Rita LaRoy) that he’s cleverly married his secretary (top-billed Connie Bennett), in RKO’s Sin Takes A Holiday, 1930.
Sin Takes A Holiday (1930) - Am I Supposed To Wait For Her To Die? Four outfits in about three minutes for Constance Bennett as Sylvia, now in Paris, being squired about by bachelor Durant (Basil Rathbone), enjoying the freedom she earned by marrying, for convenience, her rich lawyer boss (Kenneth MacKenna), pleased with the frustration it causes his ambitious girlfriend (Rita LaRoy), in RKO’s Sin Takes A Holiday, 1930.
Topper (1937) - Stop Being A Mummy From the annual board meeting, top share-holder George (Cary Grant) is disruptive, his inhibited banker friend Roland Young (title character) grumbling afterward before he notices wife Marion (Constance Bennett), in the office, the pair then considering his prospects, in Topper, 1937.
Topper (1937) - Old Man Moon From the opening sequence, affluent George and Marion (Cary Grant, Constance Bennett) go night-clubbing before his morning bank-board meeting, finishing at a joint where they’re on first names with Hoagy Carmichael himself, joining him in an original tune, in the Hal Roach comedy Topper 1937.
Topper (1937) - I'm Probably Talking To Myself In a maybe mid-life crisis and mourning the loss of his client-friends the Kerby’s (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett), banker Roland Young (title character) crashes his new car (a customized 1936 Buick Roadmaster) at the same spot where they died, and is surprised, with lots of trick shots, from producer Hal Roach, in Topper, 1937.
After Office Hours (1935) - Where Do You Keep Your Airplane? Angry again with her high society friends, reluctant reporter Sharon (Constance Bennett) has escaped a chic New York riverside restaurant with her old school pal Tommy (Harvey Stephens), who himself is being drawn toward scandal, Robert Z. Leonard directing from Herman J. Mankiewicz’s script, in After Office Hours, 1935, starring Clark Gable.
After Office Hours (1935) - How Can I Get Drunk In Three Days? Pacey opening, Robert Z. Leonard directing from Herman J. Mankiewicz’s screenplay, introducing Connie (Constance) Bennett as columnist Sharon, entering a New York newsroom where we meet Stuart Erwin and Henry Travers, reporting to Clark Gable as editor Branch, the year after his reporter-turn in It Happened One Night, 1934, in After Office Hours, 1935.
After Office Hours (1935) - It's A Scroop! Put out because she was fired from her new job as music critic earlier that day, socialite Sharon (Constance Bennett) returns from the theater to find her mother (Billie Burke) being charmed by her editor Branch (Clark Gable), who also was there, and who now wants to hire her back for her society connections, in After Office Hours, 1935.
Topper (1937) - What Good Deeds Have You Done? Socialites George and Marion (Cary Grant, Constance Bennett) get killed, motoring home to their posh suburb, first discussing their up-tight banker, the title character (Roland Young, not seen), then their own future, Norman Z. McLeod directing producer Hal Roach’s Topper, 1937.
Unsuspected, The (1947) - Attractive Young Secretary The opening, in which Claude Rains, as radio star Grandison, might be the guy upside-down in the reflection, as we briefly meet his secretary (Barbara Woodell), his niece (Audrey Totter) and his over-dressed producer (Constance Bennett), Michael Curtiz directing in high Noir style, in The Unsuspected, 1947.

Trailer

Family

Lewis Morrison
Grandfather
Actor. Born in 1845; died in 1906; famed for role of Mephistopheles in "Faust"; maternal grandfather.
Rose Wood
Grandmother
Actor. Born in 1845; died in 1932; popular 19th-century ingenue descended from English theatrical family; maternal grandmother.
Richard Bennett
Father
Actor, director. Born in 1873; died in 1944; divorced from Adrienne Morrison in 1925.
Adrienne Morrison
Mother
Actor. Born in 1883; died in 1940; divorced from Richard Bennett in 1925.
Barbara Bennett
Sister
Actor. Born in 1906; died in 1958.
Joan Bennett
Sister
Actor. Born in 1910; died in 1990.
Robert Plant
Son
Born c. 1929; survived her.
Lorinda Roland
Daughter
Survived her.
Christina Alonso Roland
Daughter
Born in December 1941; survived her.

Companions

Chester Hirst Moorehead
Husband
Briefly married in 1921; annulled.
Phillip Plant
Husband
Married in 1925; divorced.
Henry de la Falaise de la Coudray
Husband
Married in 1931; divorced in 1940; formerly married to Gloria Swanson.
Gilbert Roland
Husband
Actor. Married in 1941; divorced in 1945.
John Coulter
Husband
Air Force Colonel. Married from 1946 until her death.

Bibliography

"The Bennett Playbill"
Joan Bennett and Lois Kibbee, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1970)