When three glamorous sisters all hit Hollywood around the same time, there’s bound to be drama. Constance Bennett came from a whole family of actors, and the Bennett sisters took Hollywood by storm. Constance Bennett was likely the most outrageous of the three. She had nasty things to say about her co-stars, and she wasn’t above snatching a husband or two from Hollywood royalty. But who was Constance Bennett really?
1. They Were A Whole Acting Dynasty
On October 22, 1904, Constance Campbell Bennett entered this world in New York City. Her mother and father were both actors. In addition to this, her grandparents on her mother’s side were also performers. Bennett’s father was the rare actor that made two transitions: from the stage to the screen, and from silent films to the talkies.
Needless to say, there was an acting bug in the Bennett family, one that all three children caught.
2. They Got The Same
Constance was the oldest of three girls, and all three got caught up in the same profession as the parents. Before they could begin their careers, however, all three girls attended Chapin School right in New York City. The school’s headmistress was a feminist and insisted that her girls got the same education as the boys. This was unusual at the time, and it made Bennett into something the world wasn’t used to.
3. She Got An Early Start
The time Constance Bennett spent at Chapin School made her into something rare. She was a young woman who wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion. She was also cultured and even ironic. With a personality like this, it didn’t take long before she appeared in a movie. Of course, it didn’t hurt that her father was already in the film as well.
The title of her first movie was The Valley of Decision and it hit theaters in 1916—when Bennett was just 12 years old.
4. She Took After Him
Bennett’s mother had hopes for her daughter: she wanted her to be a part of high society. Bennett had the beauty and the glamor, but she was also quite wild and sometimes rebellious. Bennett’s mother could easily blame her husband, who had a reputation for drinking and loudly voicing his opinions. One thing became crystal clear to Bennett’s mother: Constance took after her father.
Bennett’s rebellious spirit, however, was about to make both parents furious.
5. She Stopped Suddenly
Bennett continued making silent pictures in New York—but then she did a complete 180. She gave up acting for love. In 1921, Bennett met Chester Hirst Moorhead, who was the son of a very respected oral surgeon. Bennett was just 16 when she met Moorhead, so she likely knew her parents wouldn’t agree to let them tie the knot. To remedy this, she did something very devious.
6. They Ran Off
Constance Bennett was desperately in love with Moorhead and wanted to make it permanent. The two lovebirds secretly rushed off together to Greenwich, Connecticut. There, they found a justice of the peace that would marry them, and they had a very informal wedding. This was the easy part. The hard part was telling the parents.
7. She Got Canceled
An article in the New York Times about Bennett’s elopement simply stated that the parents were “opposed to the marriage…on account of their youth”. However, the truth was much more dramatic. It appears that the marriage drove a huge wedge between Bennett and her family. It took two years, but in 1923, Bennett’s parents had her marriage annulled.
Not a big deal. We’ll soon see that Bennett would have no problem finding replacement husbands.
8. She Packed Up And Left
In the early 1920s, Bennett met Samuel Goldwyn, who had just started Goldwyn Pictures. Goldwyn was making movies in this crazy new place called Hollywood, and he wanted Bennett to appear in them. Bennett got herself packed and headed to California. Goldwyn had a supporting role all ready for her in the silent film Cytherea.
Bennett had clearly hit the big time, and nothing would stop her—or so you’d think.
9. They Needed To Kept Them Apart
Cytherea was a big hit, and Bennett was poised for a brilliant career in silent films. Bennett, however, once again became distracted by a man. This next love match was Philip Morgan Plant, a socialite reportedly worth millions. Again, Bennett’s parents were against this boyfriend, and they did something drastic to keep the two love birds apart.
10. They Set Sail
If you want to keep your daughter and her boyfriend apart—and you’re rich—a good way to do it is to book a very expensive trip. That was the plan anyway. Mr and Mrs Bennett hauled their daughter to the pier to get on a cruise ship headed for Europe. This would keep Bennett and Plant far enough apart, so their romance could cool off. As the ship was about to set sail, however, the Bennetts saw their plan fall completely apart.
11. They Watched In Horror
Bennett and her parents were watching as the cruise ship was about to set sail, when they saw their plan face imminent disaster. That’s right…Plant and his family boarded the same ship as them. Yes, now the lovebirds had a week on the open ocean—with thousands of hiding spots—to take their relationship to new levels of heady romance.
The parents had lost this battle, but there was still more to come.
12. Oops, She Did It Again
Once Bennett and Plant were back stateside, they realized that their love had just gotten stronger. As with her first husband, Bennett saw the need to become husband and wife in a hurry—and again in secret. Lacking imagination, she took Plant to the same justice of the peace in Greenwich that she used for her first nuptial.
But this time it was different. Bennett was now 21 years old, and no parental influence could make her give up her man.
13. No One Knew Why
Once Bennett had a husband who was a millionaire, she said goodbye to acting and hello to living the high life—but everything wasn’t what it seemed. While Bennett and her husband were living in Europe, they suddenly and inexplicably got a divorce in France. This was just four short years after their elopement. The reason for the divorce was a complete mystery.
What happened next, however, turned this mystery into a shocking scandal.
14. She Brought More Than Souvenirs
Three years after her divorce in France, Bennett returned to the States. She was, however, carrying more than just her suitcase: she had a child. Bennett introduced the three-year-old boy as Peter Bennett Plant. But where on earth had the child come from? Bennett told the press that she had adopted the boy while in Europe.
You can guess there was some shocking mystery behind this child—and as we’ll come to find out, it took a while to untangle it all.
15. She Got Back To It
Now that Bennett had rid herself of her millionaire husband, she was ready to act in films again. During her short hiatus from film, something surprising happened. Silent pictures were now the talkies. Bennett’s short career had been in silent pictures, and so she now faced a crossroad that had ended many a career: would her voice be right for the talkies?
16. She Was A Hit
It turned out that Bennett’s voice pleased audiences quite a bit. She had a string of hit talking films and, when asked in a poll, audiences put her at the top of the heap of leading actresses. Her popularity led her to something that every young actress dreamed of: a contract with a studio. The offer came from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and she earned an astonishing $300,000 for just two films.
But Bennett wasn’t about to stop there.
17. She Was A Top Earner
In 1931, Bennett switched from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to Warner Brothers for a film and earned even more. Bennett set a new record and took home $30,000 a week for starring in Bought! This film was about a young woman who would sell her soul for a high society life—which sounds a lot like real-life stories from Hollywood. Bought! also co-starred Bennett’s father. Bennett must have felt wonderful: she was the lead, and her father was playing second fiddle.
But what about her two younger sisters? Where were they in all this?
18. She Was Better
Constance Bennett wasn’t the only one in her family who was an actor. In addition to her parents, there were also her two sisters: Joan and Barbara. It probably didn’t bother Constance one bit when many observers mentioned that Constance was the most beautiful of the three. And, if anyone’s keeping score, Constance Bennett could play a mean game of poker and sing too.
Yes, she was a gambler, and she wasn’t above playing the odds with her love life.
19. She Met A Marquis
It had been a couple of years since her divorce, and Bennett was getting itchy feet—it was time for a new man. So far, her husbands had had rather boring names: Moorhead and Plant. This time, Bennett was going for the exotic. In 1931, she met Henri de La Falaise, Marquis de La Coudraye—trying singing that in the birthday song. De La Falaise was French, a nobleman, a film director, and very, very dreamy.
There was only one problem: he had history.
20. It Was A Quick Turnover
The fact that de la Falaise had been previously married to film star Gloria Swanson wasn’t really the problem. It wasn’t even that Swanson was Bennett’s competition for parts in films. No, their problem was much more twisted. His history wasn’t actually history. Bennett and de la Falaise became husband and wife just days after his divorce from Swanson.
This “quickie marriage” certainly raised eyebrows, but Bennett and her new groom had more important things to do than worry about that.
21. She Wanted To Produce
This was the first time Bennett had a partner who was also in show business, so the two took their relationship out of the bedroom and into the world of movie-making. Together they formed Bennett Pictures Corporation and made two films. Both movies were oddities: more like travelogues than features. While neither film made much of an impact, they did have one fact that made them stand out: they were the last silent films ever made by a major studio.
Bennett had almost personally ended silent films, so now it was time to commit fully to the talkies.
22. She Went Meta
At this time, the Hollywood film was still a relatively new concept, but it was already ripe for ridicule. In 1932, Bennett starred in What Price Hollywood? Here, Bennett is a waitress who suddenly becomes a movie star. In the film, Bennett kisses a magazine photo of Clark Gable—a few years later, she’d be kissing the real thing.
23. She Missed Out, Again
The very next year, there was another film about a woman who’d do anything to be a star. The writer of Morning Glory was thinking about Bennett in the lead role as he penned the script—but then, someone else got in the way. The producer had a different star in mind: Katharine Hepburn. As you can guess, the producer got his way and the role went to Hepburn.
Poor Bennett had to sit there and watch, as Hepburn took home the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. Sadly, this wasn’t the only time Bennett narrowly missed the Oscar.
24. It Was Her Life
Shortly after she missed an award-winning role in Morning Glory, Bennett was up for the lead in It Happened One Night. She was perfect for the part. The plot, after all, seemed to be a copy of her own life. Remember when Bennett’s parents forced her to take a cruise to keep her away from her boyfriend? Well, It Happened One Night is basically the same story—just replace the cruise ship with a yacht.
Bennett wanted the part, but she also wanted more out of her career.
25. She Missed Again
Bennett insisted on having a producer’s credit in It Happened One Night—and she paid a terrible price for it. Filmmakers balked and Bennett lost the part. They eventually handed it over to Claudette Colbert. Of course, Oscar night that year belonged to Colbert. Three of her films were up for Best Picture, and she took home the trophy for her performance in It Happened One Night—the role that was supposed to be Bennett’s.
Bennett had missed out again. The film she did instead must’ve made her feel even worse.
26. She Failed To Ignite
Instead of appearing in It Happened One Night and winning an Oscar, Bennett appeared in After Tonight. This 1933 WWI flick failed to spark interest and RKO lost $100,000 on the film, which would be about $2 million in today’s money. Even though critics thought Bennett wasn’t the problem with the film, the studio called her into the office—and it wasn’t to give her good news.
27. She Took The Blame
After Tonight was a critical and box office failure. The critics thought Bennett had done her best with some not-so-great material. They tended to blame another actor, Gilbert Roland, for being “hardly satisfactory”. It was, however, Bennett who was receiving the huge salary, and so it was Bennett who got the blame for this stinker of a film. The studio threatened to tear up her contract, but in the end, kept her off the chopping block.
Gilbert Roland had almost cost Bennett her career. When Bennett and Roland met up again, however, sparks would fly.
28. She Refused To Pay
Yes, Bennett took the blame for a bad film, but she wasn’t above blaming others as well. Bennett hired award-winning illustrator Will Pogany to paint a portrait of her. Pogany had painted pictures for the hugely wealthy Hearst family so he commanded a lot of respect. When Pogany delivered the finished portrait, however, Bennett’s reaction was surprising.
29. She Wasn’t Satisfied
Bennett refused to pay Pogany for her portrait—and it made the illustrator furious. He was so mad that he took Bennett to court. When asked why she hadn’t paid Pogany for his efforts she had a very simple—and vain—explanation. She said that the artist had made her waist and thighs look thicker than they actually were. I guess Bennett wanted to look her best. After all, her next picture was with a huge Hollywood heartthrob.
30. She Was After A Good Part
After After Tonight, Bennett appeared in After Office Hours. Yes, that’s a lot of “afters”. Luckily, this one was a box-office success. It also gave Bennett a chance to act with the handsome Clark Gable. Remember, a few years back, one of Bennett’s characters was kissing a photo of Gable—well now Bennett got a chance to lock lips with the real thing. Let’s hope he tasted better than a magazine.
Once Bennett was through with Gable, she moved on to another heartthrob.
31. She Went From One To The Other
Bennett must have been on cloud nine. She went from being the romantic interest of handsome Clark Gable to the wife of the equally handsome Cary Grant. Well, it was actually only his on-screen wife. The film was 1937’s supernatural comedy Topper, and it was yet another hit for Bennett. Strangely enough, Bennett and Grant had very different experiences while getting hired for this film.
32. They See-Sawed
It was a novel by Thorn Smith that was the inspiration for the 1937 film, Topper. Bennett was so taken with the book that she accepted something few actors agree to: a cut in pay. Her co-star Grant, on the other hand, was wary of playing in a film that relied on special effects to tell a supernatural story. To get him on board, producers had to increase his salary.
Sadly, money wasn’t the only thing that Bennett was losing
33. She Canoodled Too Much
Maybe it was the result of all her canoodling with stars like Grant and Gable, but in 1940, Bennett’s marriage to de La Falaise came to an end. Shortly after her divorce, Bennett was on the prowl for a new husband and came across Gilbert Roland. Remember, this was the actor who almost got Bennett’s contract ripped up.
Bennett should have been angry at Roland, but something about him made her stop and appreciate the view.
34. She Looked Long And Hard
Although his stage name doesn’t suggest it, Gilbert Roland often played Latin lovers in films. This was because his name was a complete fabrication. Gilbert was born in Mexico, and his real name—like Bennett’s previous husband’s—was a real mouthful: Luis Antonio Damaso de Alonso.
Bennett took a closer look at the man who almost ended her career and fell in love. In 1941, they became husband and wife.
35. He Wanted To Save Her
It seemed that whenever Bennett had a new husband, her career took a back seat. This was certainly true for her marriage to Roland. Another career that was sliding was none other than Greta Garbo’s. Director George Cukor, who had already hit Oscar gold for The Philadelphia Story, decided to give both careers a boost with the same film. The movie was Two-Faced Woman and the plan was to have Garbo in the lead and Bennett in a supporting role.
Cukor’s intentions were pure, but the result clearly was not.
36. It Got A Ban
The first problem with Two-Faced Woman, and there were many, was the actual story. In the film, Garbo pretends to be her own twin sister to win her husband back from his secret lover—played by Bennett. The reaction was swift and brutal. The National Legion of Decency gave the film a “C” which meant it stood for “condemned”. They didn’t like, among other things, the film’s immoral portrayal of marriage.
Because the Production Code had given the film a pass, it was still run in theaters, but it also got a ban in many cities. The producers reshot scenes to make the film more family-friendly, but it didn’t solve some other problems.
37. She Was Too Good
Another problem with Two-Faced Woman was actually Garbo’s acting. She’d been the queen of Hollywood, but now her career was in decline. Part of the reason was that audiences didn’t respond well to her in comedic roles. Bennett, on the other hand, stood out as a favorite of the film. This left the studio in a difficult position: Bennett could not outshine the great Garbo. That’s when the producers did something heartless.
38. She Got Cut
The producers were already cutting scenes in the film that were morally problematic. So, they thought: could they also cut scenes where Bennett was outshining Garbo? Well, that’s exactly what they did. Some of Bennett’s best scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. At least it helped out with Garbo’s problem…or did it?
39. She Was Hilarious
Even with many of Bennett’s best scenes cut from Two-Faced Woman, critics thrashed Garbo’s performance. The response was so negative that Garbo literally called it quits: she never made another film. However, there was an unexpected side effect. Bennett, even with fewer scenes than before, was the darling of the critics. Many years later, critic Leonard Maltin called her performance hilarious.
Garbo’s career was over, but Bennett’s was revived.
40. They Forgot Her
While appearing in Two-Faced Woman helped her career, there was something out there trying to outdo it: her own sister. Around this time, Joan Bennett was making three or four pictures a year. Also, she’d done something that would make her stand out from under her big sister’s shadow: she dyed her hair brown.
Blondes may have more fun, but Joan Bennett got more roles as a film noir brunette. Joan’s name was everywhere, and fans were beginning to forget who Constance Bennett was. The media, however, was keeping the rivalry between Constance and Joan alive and well.
41. The Fought It Out In Public
In their not-so-valiant attempt to sell papers, the media did its part in keeping the rivalry between the Bennett sisters front and center. By this time, the third sister, Barbara, had already graciously stepped down. Fan magazine articles about the other two sisters did nothing to quell the idea that they were fighting it out. Headlines like: “Joan Grabs the Bennett Spotlight” and “Sister Connie Has Our Cover” kept audiences enrapt in a rivalry may not have existed in reality.
If there was a competition, however, Constance Bennett seemed to be losing it.
42. She Became Motherly
Remember, Bennett was still dealing with a new husband. Well, the couple soon turned to the task of making babies. Two girls were born rather quickly: Lorinda and Christina, who incidentally both ended up in show business. Maybe it was this change in lifestyle that prompted Bennett to make a change in her career.
At this point, she moved away from film and into radio and theater. In 1945, she had her own radio show: Constance Bennett Calls on You. She even started a fashion company that sold clothing and cosmetics. Bennett was quickly becoming a very wealthy woman. Can you guess what she’d spend her money on?
43. She Had Style
Apparently, Bennett was rolling in dough, and reporters and fans noticed the money’s effect: mostly on her wardrobe. In 1941, many considered her to be one of the best-dressed women in Hollywood. In fact, one magazine made an over-the-top prediction. They said that in one year alone, Bennett had spent a quarter of a million dollars on clothes. When Bennett read this juicy tidbit, she went ballistic and flatly denied it.
44. She Went Back
For some reason, Bennett returned to making Hollywood movies. In 1947, she delved into film noir with a supporting role in The Unsuspected. Next, both she and Marilyn Monroe had small roles in As Young As You Feel. So what did the outspoken Bennett have to say about the up-and-coming Monroe? Bennett didn’t hold back. She famously quipped: “There’s a broad with her future behind her”.
45. She Waited A New York Minute
If Monroe wanted a good comeback from that insult, she could have mentioned Bennett’s many marriages—and inevitable divorces. Just before she made The Unsuspected, she and Roland ended their marriage. For those keeping score, it was Bennett’s fourth divorce. Bennett got custody of the girls and, in true Bennett style—quickly tied the knot again.
46. She Entertained
Bennett’s fifth and—spoiler alert—final husband was a US Air Force Colonel. His name was John Theron Coulter and he changed her life in a big way. It was 1946 and WWII was in full swing. Bennett took her focus away from Hollywood and put it on the servicemen. She took it upon herself to provide entertainment for those fighting for their country, and she received awards for her good work.
It seemed like a good time for Bennett to forget about Hollywood films altogether—but she had other plans to get money.
47. She Dipped In
Around this time, Bennett’s sister was still getting all the best roles, so Bennett needed to make money some other way. Bennett had, after all, been used to a high standard of living. Now remember, Bennett had a son who she’d adopted while in Europe. Well, Bennett had set up a trust fund for this child, but she seemed to have no problem dipping into it for…let’s call it incidental spending.
Before Bennett knew what had happened, the trust fund had gone up in smoke.
48. He Sued
Once Bennett’s son—Peter Bennett Plant—found out that Bennett had squandered his trust fund, he was livid. He wasn’t just mad, he was litigious: which can be much worse. That’s right, he took his own mother to court in order to get back the money that he deserved. Bennett was in serious trouble. She’d taken money that was not hers. Now, she had to face a judge about it.
49. She Unloaded A Secret
Once the hearing about her son’s trust fund began, Constance Bennett pulled out her wild card. She told the judge that she hadn’t adopted Peter Plant and that the child was actually a product of her marriage with the elder Plant. The reason for her deception? She didn’t want her then-husband to ever get custody of her son.
The courtroom was aghast—but then Bennett just shocked them more.
50. She Took Them Aside
Constance Bennett took an opportunity to speak privately to her ex-mother-in-law and her ex-husband’s widow. She told them that if the case continued, she’d tell the court all the lurid details of her marriage to Plant. The two women looked at Constance Bennett to see how serious she was. Bennett didn’t even blink. Apparently, the details were scandalous enough to make the problem go away forever.
51. Hollywood Once More
Ten years after her last performance in a film, Constance Bennett was back at it. The film was the tearjerker Madame X. It was 1966, and Bennett was now 62 years old. In Madame X she plays an evil mother-in-law to Lana Turner’s vulnerable Holly Parker. Bennett finished her days on the set of Madame X—but never saw the final cut.
52. She Never Saw It
Sadly, Constance Bennett passed away before Madame X hit theaters. It happened on July 24, 1965, from a cerebral hemorrhage. Because of her marriage to a Colonel and her contributions to the servicemen, they buried Bennett in Arlington National Cemetery. Bennett’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame sits a little down the way from her sister Joan’s.