Thursday, December 9, 2010

Constance Bennett (1904-1965)

The American born beautiful blonde was the first of the Bennett sisters to break into films, appearing in silents in New York in the early 1920's. Of course her father, the theatrical star Richard Bennett tried to discourage her from acting but being willful and independent she couldn't be dissuaded.  She married on a whim at 16 but that union was annulled by the time she turned 17.   While struggling for her craft in New York a chance meeting with studio mogul Samuel Goldwin brought her to California for her first screen test at MGM.  She got a small but credited role in the silent film "Cytherea" 1924 which starred Irene Rich and Lewis Stone.

Constance appeared in a couple more silent films before marrying millionaire socialite Phillip Morgan Plant in 1925.  Newly married and somewhat flippant of the movie industry she took a break from acting until the advent of the talkies in 1929 when she divorced.   Her first talkie was "Rich People" 1929 where she received top billing with Regis Toomey.  Her second talkie was the comedy "This Thing Called Love" that same year opposite Edmund Lowe and Zasu Pitts.  Of course anyone who has followed Constance's career is aware of her gift for comedy so I'm sure this one film opened MGM's eyes to the amazing talent before them.  She appeared in four films during  1930 most notably the comedy "Sin Takes A Holiday" with Basil Rathbone.

with Kenneth Mackenna in "Sin Takes a Holiday" 1930

In 1931 just two films for MGM earned her $300,000 which made her one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood at the age of 27.  The romantic drama "The Easiest Way" 1931 co-starring Adolphe Menjou and newcomer Robert Montgomery was a huge hit and movie fans fell in love with her delicate features and glamorous fashion style.  Constance's second money maker that year was "Born To Love" co-starring the talented Joel McCrea.   Of course success wasn't the only thing on Constance's mind as she loved the ideal of marriage and found her third husband in Henri de la Falaise.  Henri who's full name was James Henri Le Bailly  de La Falaise, Marquise de La Coudray was a French nobleman, war hero, film producer/director and some time actor but he was most well known for marrying high profile women.  (Hmmm I wonder if he knew Mae Murray's husband "Prince" Mdvani.  You can read about that fiasco and sham in my Mae Murray post).  Henri had divorced the actress Gloria Swanson just weeks before marrying Constance.

wedding photo of Constance and Henri de la Falaise

click on autograph and photos for a closer view

Constance with Helen Broderick in "Service de Luxe" 1938

Constance continued to work steadily throughout the 1930's and even did a film with her actor father Richard Bennett in "Bought!" 1931.  She continued to work with Joel McCrea as her leading man as well as Neil Hamilton, Gilbert Roland, Franchot Tone,  Fredric March, and Clark Gable.  She stood out in her role as a high society girl in the middle of a murder investigation with Clark Gable in the crime drama "After Office Hours" 1935.  And then came her most famous role in the hugely popular film series "Topper" in 1937.

with Clark Gable

Topper is one of those screwball comedies that you can watch over and over and still find it hilarious.  The part of Marion Kerby was perfect for Constance and her on screen chemistry with the talented and hysterically funny Cary Grant was a huge hit.  I can't think of more lovable ghosts and Roland Young as the target of their shenanigans is great with the help of the lovely Billie Burke.  They reprized their roles in the sequel "Topper Takes a Trip" in 1938.  

with Cary Grant in "Topper" 1937

in "Bed of Roses" 1933

By 1940 Constance was still queen of the comedies at MGM and being given her pick of roles at the same time her marriage to Henri was at it's end with them divorcing in 1940.  Constance's next notable role was in George Cukors "Two Faced Woman" opposite Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in 1941.  It's actually a fun little romantic comedy and Greta Garbo is quite funny as the other woman in the middle of a love triangle with Constance's character.  As the 1940's progressed and with the atmosphere changing during WWII Constance showed her acting range in Western's and war films like "Madame Spy" 1942 and "Paris Underground" 1945 then Otto Preminger's period piece "Sentimental Summer" 1946 with Jeann Crain, Linda Darnell, and Cornel Wilde.  Constance married the handsome actor Gilbert Roland in 1941 and their marriage lasted until 1946.  They had two daughters together Lorinda and Christina who they called Gyl.

with Charles Farrell in "Tail Spin" 1939

By the end of the 1940's Constance was working less frequently with new and upcoming starlets making their way to Hollywood.  Often voicing that acting was just a lark for her it's hard to say if Constance minded when her movie career slowed down.  With the demand for her in radio and guest spots on television she appeared in both through the 1950's.  Financially she was set due to her shrewd business investments while working steadily throughout the 1930's. She had married for the fifth time in 1946 to US Air Force Colonel John Coulter. She found a passion in assisting with the war efforts often donating her time to the USO organization with troops still stationed in Europe, winning military honors for her efforts.

After a 15 year hiatus from movies she made a comeback in 1965 to star opposite Claude Rains in "Madame X"  Unfortunately she wasn't around to see the great reviews as it was released in 1966 posthumously. She died suddenly shortly after finishing her 57th film.  Due to her work with the Armed Services and military honors she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Virginia.  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.  

Constance Bennett Facts:

She's the sister to actresses Barbara and Joan Bennett (You can read about her equally famous sister Joan in a previous post).

Her high salary during early 1931 inspired tax legislation aimed at the film industry.

She sang with her own voice in films and later did a stage show where she parodied early rock n roll.

She was considered one of the best poker players in Hollywood often attending late night games with her male co-stars.  She was also considered an excellent snow skier.

She accepted the role of Ellie Andrews in "It Happened One Night" but later turned it down when Columbia Pictures would not allow her to produce the film herself.  Of course Claudette Colbert went on to play the part and won an Oscar for Best Actress.

She captured several headlines when she married Gloria Swanson's former husband just weeks after their divorce.

After divorcing her husband Philip Plant in 1929 she spent some time in Europe and upon returning to the states she brought back a three year old boy that she named Peter Plant.  She claimed he was adopted even though she stayed in Europe until 1932 after their divorce.  In later years she admitted that she conceived the child after divorcing her husband.  She claimed that she kept his birth father a secret as to avoid a custody battle with her ex-husband.

She started out her teen years in a convent but changed her mind after a few months then eloped at 16 before going into the family business.

In Joan Bennett's autobiography she claims Constance was actually a year older than she claimed so the year of birth is incorrect on her tombstone.

Constance Bennett Personal Quotes:

"I'm a lot more sartorial than thespian.  They come to see me then go out humming the costumes".

On Marilyn Monroe- Theres a broad with her future behind her.

Thank You for joining me and please let me know your thoughts on Constance and which of her films is your favorite.  Also who your prefer as an actress over her and her sister Joan Bennett.  People have often said that Constance was the beautiful sister but I think they are both equally gorgeous and equally talented.

Joan and Constance Bennett

Please enjoy the clip from "Topper" with Constance and Cary Grant


  1. Constance Bennett is one of Hollywood's great beauties; that face, those eyes still tantalize decades later. And I too love those "Topper" films; she made one sexy ghost!

    Another intriguing note about Connie: When she signed with Pathe in 1929, two blondes on its roster were let go at the same time, amid rumors Bennett didn't want competition. Both ended up at Paramount a year later. One, Diane Ellis, appeared in a fine Nancy Carroll film called "Laughter" but died of a mysterious illness while on honeymoon in India in December 1930. The other, a close friend of Ellis, would become a top-tier star but also left us much too soon. Her name: Carole Lombard. (Ironically, Bennett was Universal's first choice for the female lead in "My Man Godfrey" in 1936, but William Powell deemed her too flighty and suggested his ex-wife, Lombard.)

  2. Thanks for the fun Constance facts! I can't imagine anyone else pairing with Powell for "My Man Godfrey" but Carole. That is such a fantastic and hilarious movie.

  3. The first photo on top is Joan, not Constance. You can tell them apart by their sneers -- Joan's was always more pronounced, like she's just caught a whiff of something rotten.

    Great beauties both, but I prefer Joan as an actress, particularly her noir stuff like "Scarlet Street." I did like Constance in "Topper," though.

    If you ever come across Barry Paris's bio on Louise Brooks (FANTASTIC read,) there's some really neat stuff about the Bennetts while they were living in New York during the 1920s. Their sister Barbara was one of Brooks' best friends. She helped Louise clean up her Kansas accent.

  4. Thanks Claros,
    It's fixed now. I needed you here before.
    That last photo of Constance above the trailer is one of the very first old star photos I purchased.

    I agree that Joan was the better actress and other than "Topper" only a couple of Constance's performances come close to so many stand out performances by Joan.

  5. In 1931 Constance was at the height of her popularity : While filming "BOUGHT !" she was the highest paid actress, earning $30.000 a week. But still some of her films of that period are completely unavailable.
    I'm still waiting for "BOUGHT !" to be released on DVD.

  6. A HEDDA HOPPER'S HOLLYWOOD short has a segment on Constance and her family at the Holmby Hills house around 1941. shows them in their pool and some of the yard and back porch. I wonder if it's still standing.

  7. The photo from "Tail Spin" (1939) features Connie Bennett with Kane Richmond and not Charlie Farrell. Best, Feaito