Above is yet another picture from our Donald Gordon Collection of Stars from the 1940s. As billed, it hasn’t been seen anywhere before.
Where Donald took this picture we don’t know, but we are nonetheless in awe of its busy period automobile backround and the demure pose (note the pursed lips) of today’s subject — Joan Bennett.
She was the younger sister of a famous star and the daughter of a famous acting family. She was a dark haired beauty who’s famous husband shot her supposed lover and went to prison. It temporarily ended her career.
Again, we are talking Joan Bennett (posing in a canned studio shot below) here, and there’s a personal story attached. First two words: Jennings Lang. Who he, you ask? Stay with us and follow the bouncing ball.
Back in the Seventies, Frank used to cover Universal Pictures in New York for Variety, and encountered Lang on several occasions mostly having to do with a string of disaster movies he was producing at the studio at the time. What was discussed has long been forgotten, but what Frank failed to realize at the time was that he was talking to that Jennings Lang.
Flashback to 1951. Walter Wanger, a veteran studio producer and executive who had gone independent, had been shepherding the acting career of his wife, Joan Bennett, over some 15 years to new heights.
She had under his tutelage changed her hair color from blond to brunette, and starred in a string of comedies including She Couldn’t Take It and The Man Who broke the Bank in Monte Carlo. There were the five pictures directed by Fritz Lang including 1944’s The Woman in the Window and Scarlett Street, both with Edward G. Robinson.
Then there were pictures directed by the likes of Jean Renoir and Max Ophuls. To cap it all off, Bennett appeared in two big commercial hits for MGM, Vincente Minnelli’s Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend sharing the limelight with Spencer Trace and Elizabeth Taylor.
But Wanger had the nagging feeling that Bennett was cheating on him with Jennings Lang, then her agent. A a parking lot encounter ended with Wanger shooting Lang in the groin (other accounts are more specific) while he sat in his car.
Wanger spent some time in prison before reuniting with Bennett in 1953, but her career never quite recovered from the incident. (The couple divorced in 1965, three years before his death, and after twenty-five years of marriage.)
Joan, the younger sister of actress Constance, came from a family steeped in the theatrical; her father was actor Richard Bennett. Educated in Connecticut and Europe, she eloped with a millionaire at age 16. The union quickly ended, and Hollywood summoned both sisters. Joan’s career as such outlasted Wanger’s death and dominated that of her older sibling.
She appeared regularly on the Sixties tv series Dark Shadows. In 1976 she landed a role in Italian director Dario Agento’s by-now infamous horror title, Suspiria.
One mostly neglected Bennett picture we like a lot is Hollow Triumph a a dark film noir superbly photographed by John Alton about a criminal mastermind (Paul Henreid) who evades police capture by taking on the identity of a psychiatrist (also Henreid) whom he resembles. A key plot point is the facial mark distinguishing the two (the movie was later retitled, The Scar).
There’s a bungled gambling joint robbery, there’s violent retribution, murder, shootouts and late night car chases and — Joan Bennett. In one of her best roles, she portrays the beautiful, efficient but doomed secretary to the psychiatrist who become Henreid’s romantic plaything. Her character’s motto: It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t let anyone hurt you. Need we tell you the movie ends unhappily for both?
Joan’s final outing in 1982 was a tv movie ironically titled Divorce Wars: A Love Story. She died at 80 in 1990.