Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Bennett made her first film appearance in 1918 in an uncredited part and appeared in a few silent films while a child. She married at the age of sixteen, and when this marriage ended two years later, resumed her acting career. Contracted to 20th Century Fox she appeared as a blonde ingenue in a several films including Puttin' on the Ritz in 1930, before leaving this studio to appear in Little Women (1933). She was not taken seriously as an actress and struggled to establish herself. Her task was further complicated by the rapid rise to fame of her sister Constance, who at this time was one of Hollywood's most successful and popular actresses, and with whom she was unfavourably compared.
She signed a contract with producer Walter Wanger , whom she would marry in 1940. He managed her career, and with director Tay Garnett convinced her to change her hair from blonde to brunette. With this change her screen persona evolved into that of a glamorous seductress and she began to attract attention. During the search to find an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, Bennett was tested and impressed producer David O. Selznick. She was briefly considered to be a front runner for this part but Selznick eventually turned his attention to Paulette Goddard, who was then rejected in favour of Vivien Leigh.
In the early 1940s Bennett appeared in a trio of films directed by Fritz Lang. Man Hunt (1941), The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street established her as a film noir femme fatale. She also played the wife of Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950) and its sequel, Father's Little Dividend (1951).
In 1951 Wanger shot and injured Bennett's agent, who was also her lover, and the resulting scandal damaged her career. She continued to work steadily in theatre and television and was a cast member of the television series Dark Shadows for its entire five year run, from 1966 until 1971, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for her role.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for services to Motion Pictures, at 6310 Hollywood Boulevard.
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