Richard Bennett (May 21, 1870 – October 22, 1944) was an
American actor who became a stage and silent screen matinee idol over the early
decades of the twentieth century.
He was born in Deacon's Mills, Indiana in 1870 (some sources
state 1872), the son of George Washington Bennett and Eliza Huffman. His
younger sister was Ina Blanche Bennett. For a time, he was a sailor on Great
Lakes steamer, a professional boxer, medicine showman, troubadour and night
clerk in a hotel in Chicago.
His silent movie debut was a reprisal of his stage role in
Damaged Goods (1914), which co-starred his wife, Adrienne Morrison. He helped
adapt the screenplay and direct the drama. In the drama The Valley of Decision
(1916), which he wrote, Bennett appeared on the screen with his wife, Morrison,
and his three daughters.
In 1922, Bennett starred in Broadway's English-language
version of Leonid Andreyev's melodrama He Who Gets Slapped, playing the title
role as He. The success of the play led to its being filmed by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with the production starring Lon Chaney in Bennett's role.
With the advent of the talkies the middleaged actor found a niche as a
character actor. In 1931 he appeared with Constance Bennett in Bought!
On November 8, 1903, Bennett and actress Adrienne Morrison
were married in Jersey City. They had three daughters, Constance Bennett
(1904–1965); Barbara Bennett (1906–1958); and Joan Bennett (1910–1990). He and
Morrison were divorced in April 1925. Their first and third daughters,
Constance and Joan, became successful movie stars. Their second daughter,
Barbara, was also briefly an actress, but with less success. The two appeared
together on stage in the 1923 play The Dancers Barbara married the popular
singer Morton Downey. The controversial television talk-show host Morton
Downey, Jr., was Richard Bennett's grandson.
In 1925, he became acquainted with Aimee Raisch in San
Francisco, during the production of Creoles, in which she played a minor role.
She was a young socialite and aspiring actress who was divorcing her
millionaire clubman and polo player husband, Harry G. Hastings.
Bennett and Raisch were married July 11, 1927, in Chicago.
He and Aimee, who later went by Angela, separated April 3, 1934, and were
divorced in 1937. His daughter Joan made her stage debut acting with him in
Jarnegan (1928). This play, in which he played Jack Jarnegan, provided one of
his favourite roles—that of a belligerent, drunken movie director given to
acidulous and profane comments on Hollywood.
Richard Bennett died at age 74 from a heart attack at Good
Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. Episcopal funeral services were conducted on
October 24, 1944, in Beverly Hills. He is interred in Pleasant View Cemetery,
Lyme, Connecticut, beside his second wife and mother of his daughters.
Bennett was fond of saying that the movie industry was not a
business, but a madhouse.