Posts Tagged ‘david belasco’

Belle Bennett profile

Saturday, May 1st, 2010


Belle Bennett, mother of the screen





By Allan R. Ellenberger


Belle Bennett is not a name that is well remembered today. Yet she had a successful stage and film career and is best known for her “mother” roles, in particular the 1925 silent film classic, Stella Dallas.


Belle Bennett achieved stardom beginning with a girlhood career in the circus. She was born on April 22, 1892 in Milaca, Minnesota, the daughter of circus owners, William and Hazel Bennett. Her father, known as Billie, was one of the pioneer showmen of the circus, who arrived in the United States in 1898 and established himself in St. Paul, Minnesota. His wife, and later Belle, played with him in his stock company. Belle technically began her stage career when her mother carried her on the stage as the baby of The Fatal Wedding. Her mother recalled that she proved to be a good trouper and did not interrupt a single scene by crying.


Belle first appeared before the public at the age of 13 as a trapeze performer in her father’s circus. Later she became a member of a stock company, then went to Broadway and played in productions for David Belasco.


In 1916 she came to Culver City and signed a contract to make westerns for the Triangle Company. In her early films, Belle supported such stars as Alma Rubens, Gloria Swanson and Olive Borden. When Triangle closed, Belle returned to the stage with the Alcazar Stock Company of San Francisco.


Actress Marjorie Rambeau encouraged Belle to seek a place on Broadway and deluged A.H. Woods with letters and newspaper clippings until the producer wired her to come east. Belle made her debut on Broadway in Happy Go Lucky, substituting for Muriel Martin Harvey.  Other plays for Woods included Lawful Larceny, replacing Margaret Lawrence; The Demi Virgin, substituting for Hazel Dawn, and The Wandering Jew, in which she won the favor of Broadway audiences in her own right.


Belle was married three times: her first husband was Jack Oaker a sailor at the San Pedro submarine base. Her second husband was William Macy, who was the father of her two sons, William and Theodore. She divorced Macy and married director Fred Windermere in 1924.


Belle’s greatest success was in films. She appeared in numerous inconsequential film roles over a period of years until 1925 when she was among seventy-three actresses up for the leading role in Samuel Goldwyn’s production of Stella Dallas.   


A few days before a decision was to be made, Belle’s sixteen year-old son William was badly hurt in a scuffle with some other boys. The injury was at first not thought to be serious, but when he was taken to the hospital his condition grew gradually worse. During that brief time he expressed hope that his mother would be chosen for the part of Stella. He said he did not see how they could think of anyone else. Sadly William did not recover from his injuries and he ultimately died. The following day Belle was told that she had received the part.


The first few days of filming were difficult but she found solace in her friendship with Lois Moran, who played her daughter in the film. Until then Belle had told people that William was her brother. The reason, she said afterward, was that she wanted to hide her age from the studios, for she had always appeared as a woman of around 24, ten years younger than her real age.





Stella Dallas was a resounding success and Belle received stunning reviews for her role. The New York Times said that Belle “gave such a remarkable performance as Stella that she seems to live through the part…”


The “mother” role in Stella Dallas (later played in the remake by Barbara Stanwyck) typed her for the remainder of her career. Subsequently she appeared in Mother Machree (1928), Battle of the Sexes (1928), The Iron Mask (1929) and Courage (1930).  


In early 1930, Belle suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with general carcinomatosis, a form of cancer. She recovered but only appeared in three films over the next two years. In the summer of 1932, taking a break from films, Belle went on an extended vaudeville tour. While appearing in Philadelphia she collapsed on stage, but was revived and insisted on “carrying on” in the best theatrical tradition. The effort aggravated her condition and she was sent to Harrisburg hospital for blood transfusions which enabled her to regain her strength.


However in September her condition worsened and she was rushed from New York by plane to Hollywood, where she was admitted to Cedars of Lebanon hospital.  Apprised of the severity of her condition, her husband returned from New York.


On several occasions during the next two months, she was reported near death, but always rallied and continued to fight; close friends commented that she had the will to live. Yet, on November 4, 1932, her fight ended when she died at 9:15 p.m. The only person with her at the end was her son Theodore; her husband had only just left the room shortly before she passed. Belle Bennett was only 40 years old.


On November 6 her funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Mortuary, her body lay in a pure white coffin, banked with a vari-colored spread of flowers, while relatives and intimate friends filled the pews of the chapel. The service was conducted under the auspices of Christian Science, including a reading of selections from the Psalms and the Scripture and the committal of the soul to the care of the Lord.


For two minutes the mourners bowed their heads in silent prayer. John Vale, who once acted on stage with Belle a decade earlier, was the soloist, rendering “Shepherd Show Me How to Go,” and “Oh, Gentle Presence,” both authored by Mary Baker Eddy.


Then the congregation joined the reader in oral rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. There was no eulogy and the services over, the mourners filed past the bier. Among those who attended were Mary Pickford, for years a close friend of Belle’s, Sidney Olcott, one time her director, and Jean Hersholt, Thelma Todd (whose own funeral would be held in the same chapel in less than three years), Norma Shearer, Zasu Pitts, Russell Simpson and Joe E. Brown. Later that day, Belle Bennett was interred at Valhalla Cemetery in Burbank.


The grave of Belle Bennett at Valhalla Cemetery – Block H, Section 8351, Grave 6 (Allan R. Ellenberger photo)



Belle left no will and it was later revealed that her estate was valued at less than $5,000, which was a surprise considering that she had at one time been a wealthy woman. Her husband and son shared the estate.



Click below for a brief scene from the 1929 silent adventure film, “The Iron Mask”, featuring Belle Bennett as the Queen Mother, discovering Gordon Thorpe as her long-lost son (the evil twin).






Miriam Hopkins on TCM…

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008


Lady With Red Hair (1940)


 Miriam Hopkins as Mrs. Leslie Carter


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

1:30 a.m. Pacific
4:30 a.m. Eastern


In the wee hours of tomorrow morning, Turner Classic Movies is showing the Miriam Hopkins bio-pic, The Lady with Red Hair (1940) with co-star Claude Rains. There are top-notch performances from the cast, along with quality production values and an outstanding directorial effort by Kurt Bernhardt, which are the distinctive features of this screen recreation of the career of stage actress, Mrs. Leslie Carter.


The film embraces the life of Mrs. Carter from the time of her famous divorce trial in Chicago, in which she lost the custody of her son, through her determination to become an actress to earn the money needed to reopen the fight for her child, her storming of the Belasco citadel, his creation of her success and the violent break between them, to their ultimate reconciliation, at the crucial moment of her career.







Mrs. Leslie Carter



Mrs. Leslie Carter (née Caroline Louise Dudley) was born in 1862 in Louisville, Kentucky, and died in 1937 in Santa Monica, California. Termed the “Bernhardt of America” at the turn of the century, Mrs. Carter was an international stage star of the “emotional” school of acting. She achieved her greatest fame in a quartet of plays produced between 1895 and 1905 under the direction of Director/Playwright David Belasco.


As the tempestuous Mrs. Carter, Miriam Hopkins gives a vivid and fascinating portrayal in an exacting and difficult role. But it is Claude Rains, who, for his magnificent and powerful delineation of the tempermental David Belasco, that top performance honors are accorded. Superlative too is Helen Westley’s portrait of the hard-boiled proprietress of a theatrical boarding house who knows all the answers.



While researching my biography of the life of Miriam Hopkins, I delved through the Warner Bros. Archives and came across the daily production log sheets that were kept during the making of “Lady with Red Hair.” Reproduced below is a one-day report during that production:












To Mr. T. C. Wright

From Mr. Eric Stacey

Date: October 3, 1940

Subject: #326 “LADY WITH RED HAIR”


Report for 10-2-40:



Bernhardt company with a 9:00 o’clock call in the PRIVATE DINING ROOM, obtained their first shot at 9:15AM and finished shooting at 6:20PM, covering one scene, 6 added scenes, 3’47” in time, 16 set-ups and 5-1/2 pages of dialogue.


As already reported, Miss HOPKINS failed to show for work this morning and company has been moved to Vitagraph where they will endeavor to pick up a few shots involving RAINS and JOHN LITEL in the last sequence, which is still being rewritten. We have the writer, Charles Kenyon, over at Vitagraph to keep Bernhardt straight.


I have just talked with Miss HOPKINS who will not be in for the balance of the day, and will not even come in for fittings. In the event she does not report for work tomorrow, FRIDAY, will remain at Vitagraph and shoot audience reactions, using 125 people. This will be a full day’s work and then also shoot one page of BACKSTAGE – Murray Production sequence – not involving Miss HOPKINS. The scene just came out this morning, OCTOBER 3RD.


This delay will put us one more day behind, and cannot hope to complete the picture before WEDNESDAY, 10/9, which will be 14 days behind schedule, with two additional days, THURSDAY and FRIDAY, for Montages and audience reactions, to be made by Siegel.


Production 10-1/2 days behind.