They portrayed mother and daughter in two of the most popular films of the early Fifties, and they shared a birthday.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back with more interesting info about one of the most interesting, yet overlooked stars of the Golden Age — Joan Bennett.
Bennett’s last two hits starred her with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in MGM’s Father of the Bride in 1950, and its sequel a year later, Father’s Little Dividend. Both were directed by Vincente Minnelli and both were big hits for MGM.
Many top stars wouldn’t be caught dead playing mothers of grown children, and worse yet, grandmothers, at age 41. But Bennett, who’d been a femme fatale through the 1940s was secure in her beauty and her stardom. In fact in real life she actually had a daughter older than Taylor.
Joan had been born to a theatrical family, which dated its roots in show business back to the 18th century. Her father Richard Bennett was a leading actor on the stage and in silent movies. Her older sisters Constance and Barbara were successful in the profession. In the Thirties, Connie was the BIG star. Barbara retired when she married bandleader Morton Downey, and began raising children.
Joan’s film career was sporadic at first, as was her personal life. She was married at 16, and was a mother before her 18th birthday. She’d been in silents with her father and sisters at age six, made her stage debut with her father at 18, and by 19 was a star in talkies.
She was married a second time, to producer Gene Markey, and had a second daughter. And she starred opposite Spencer Tracy in a couple of films at Fox.
They were re-teamed 18 years later at MGM. She and Tracy actually looked like Taylor parents in the two hit films. And Joan and Liz had a lot in common. Both had been born on February 27. Joan’s daughter Melinda Markey was born on February 27, and Liz’s second son with Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, would also be born on February 27.
Both Liz and Joan were dark haired beauties. But Joan was probably the only star in Hollywood who’d started out a blonde (her natural color) and had become a brunette.
Director Tay Garnett and producer Walter Wanger were credited for convincing Joan to switch back in 1938 for a part in Trade Winds. The exotic new look pushed her career into high gear. She had divorced Markey in 1937, and she married Wanger in 1940. They had two daughters together and yet she had time to make several hit films, the best of her career.
By age 39 she was a grandmother and a year later decided to play Ellie Banks, Taylor’s mother in Father of the Bride. Elizabeth Taylor, too, became a grandmother at age 39, another thing they had in common.
(Above is Laurence Olivier visiting the set while they were filming.) The classic Father movies have both been remade. SKIP the remakes. See the originals.
And for film noir fans, don’t miss Joan’s superb turn in 1948’s Hollow Triumph, different, 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).
There’s a bungled gambling joint robbery, there’s violent retribution, murder, shootouts and late night car chases and — Joan Bennett. She portrays the beautiful but doomed secretary to the psychiatrist, who becomes 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. This just two years before she appeared with Taylor in Father of the Bride.