Joan Bennett

  1. Norma Shearer, Smilin’ Through, 1932.       UA planned it for Bennett. MGM had similar ideas for Shearer. The winner was obvious.  (Joan had made her film debut in The Valley of Decision, 1915, a real family affair co-starring her sisters Barbara and Constance and their parents, Richard Bennett and Adrienne Morrison.)
  2. Doris Nolan, Holiday, 1937.     Battling  her “box-office poison” image, Katharine  Hepburn talked Columbia’s vulgarian czar Harry Cohn  into filming the Broadway play… with Cary Grant as her third-time co-star and George Cukor directing. Let’s hear it for unknown Doris… for beating Bennett (and Rita Hayworth)  to Hepburn’s chic sister.  At the wrap party for the third of four Hepburn-Cary Grant treats, Kate showed her old RKO test (a scene from the Holiday play).  ”Everyone just fell over – Cary, George [Cukor], everyone laughed themselves sick. I was so terrible! It was heartbreaking to see how eager, how hard I was trying to impress – too eager.” And yet Cukor signed her – and for eight more over the years.
  3. Ruby Keeler, Mother Carey’s Chickens, 1938.         Bennett and Katharine Hepburn walked out of being the Carey sisters (indeed, Hepburn bought up her RKO contract). This was a final nailin the career of the then Mrs Al Jolson… until coming back as the screen wife of Kate’s guy, Spencer Tracy (as Elizabeth Taylor’s parents) in Father of the Bride andFather’s Little Dividend, 1949/1950.
  4. Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  5. Alice Faye, Barricade, 1938.       Talk about Meet Cutes…  The  singer and the journalist meeting  on a train attacked by bandits were supposed to be Bennett and Fred Stone (in a rare  lead role) and Bennett.  They gave up their seats to  Warner Baxter and Alice Faye. Apparently shooting  stopped a while when neither cast or  crew believed “in the weak story line.”  Never heard that one before.
  6. Ginger Rogers, Primrose Path, 1939.         Change of Ellie May and, indeed, of Rogers – suddenly a brunette, with no make-up and   Oscar-worthy everyone said. Except, well, Ellie May was the daughter and grand-daughter of hookers on the wrong side of the tracks. The mother was quickly killed off to appease the Hays Office censors.
  7. Alice Faye, That Night In Rio, 1940.        During  a September 1940 meeting about what was then A Latin from Manhattan, head Fox Darryl F Zanuck, suggested Bennett, Madeleine Carroll, Paulette Goddard or Rosalind Russell for Baroness  Cecilia Duarte – before going with the contracted Faye in her sixth and final teaming with Don Ameche.  (She famously referred to her studio as Penitentiary Fox).
  8. Mary Astor, The Maltese Falcon, 1940.         Who didn’t want to be Brigid O’Shaugnessy:  “I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.”  She was the film noir Scarlett O’Hara and three of the potential Scarlett women were in the mix: Bennett, Paulette Goddard, Brenda Marshall. Also delighted at being seen were: Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland, Betty Field, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Janet Gaynor, Rita Hayworth. The rest were livid about not being good enough for bad Brigid… and her just desserts. “If you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years,” Bogie’s Sam Spade tells her.  “I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”
  9. Martha Scott, They Dare Not Love, 1940.       Bennett and Brian Aherne churned into Scott and George Brent in Frankenstein director James Whale’s final film. Brent was borrowed fom Warner and Scott from (future Tarzan producer) Sol Lesser for the Columbia version. 
  10. Loretta Young, Bedtime Story, 1941.   Fredric   March who first warned Gary Cooper about  this  new guy, being  groomed to take over his top spot at Paramount – after easily stealing  Merrily We Go To Hell,  from March in 1932. Now Cary rwas up for a role finally played by March.  Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan were also seen for the playwright trying to stop his actress wife from retiring.  Fine, OK… but which wife? Joan Bennett, Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell or Loretta Young.

  11. Gail Patrick, Up In Mabel’s Room, 1943.       All set for Mabel, Bennett quit when she did not get top billing. Patrick, already selected for Alicia, was promoted… and stole the whackiness.
  12. Vera Ralston, Surrender, 1949.   Replacing her with the dreadful Ralston – what an insult for poor Bennett! Inexplicably, Republic boss Herbert J Yates had no objection to his wife playing a greedy cow stopping at nothing to get rich – bigamy and murder, included. (That sent tongues a-wagging in LA). In a re-run of Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander, Yates tried everything to prove that Ralston was a star – although the ex-Czech ice-skating champion had the acting ability of an icicle. RKO’s top star,  John Wayne, eventually refused to work wth her after awhile.. Johnny Carson once asked Maureen Stapleton what she did to off-set a bad performace. Find a Ralston movie on TV, she said. “Because no matter how bad a performance I may have given, I could never be as bad as she was!”
  13. Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1950
  14. Peter Breck, Shock Corridor, 1963.          The maverick auteur Samuel Fuller wrote Straitjacket for his friend – and idol – director Fritz Lang in 1948. He loved this script but wanted the investigative reporter to be a woman. Because he had a production deal at Universal with Joan and her husband. “A woman in the lead would TRANSFORM THE WHOLE TONE,” growled Sammy in his usual CAPITALS.  Some 15 years later, he made it, himself, As written. With one single change. The title.
  15. Judith Anderson, Inn of the Damned, Australia, 1973.       All set to be Bennett’s “comeback” – after tons of TV – until  falling out with director Terry Bourke. Enter: the expatriate Aussie stage star in very first Australian film, nicknamed “Hitchcock on horseback.” Anderson,  of course, won an Oascar nod for Hitch’s Rebecca, 1939.
  16. Gwen Verdon, Cocoon, 1985.        Dainty director Ron Howard had a sweet notion: to re-partner Don Ameche with one of his old leading ladies.  However,  like most of them, Bennett (at 75) was in poor health. Or so it was said. In truth, her fourth husband, David Wilde felt (a) the script was too close to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1955, and (b) it was beneath the dignity of an artist (?) like Bennett to be directed by… Richie Cunningham.  So she lost one of the biggst hits of the year. Plus a sequel. 

 Birth year: 1910Death year: 1990Other name: Casting Calls:  16