Speaking of Joans, as we seem to have been doing lately, I've long been an admirer of movie and television star Joan Bennett (1910-1990), whose allure and style I first encountered when I watched 1970s syndicated reruns of Dark Shadows.
The Bennetts: An Acting Family, Joan had recently lost her real-life love, actor John Emery, and was frustrated in her attempts to find a suitable Broadway role. Of her dormant film career, she told interviewer Don Royal in 1968, "You reach a certain age in Hollywood and, if you're a woman, there's a shortage of glamor parts. A man can play leading roles until he is 60 -- Cary Grant seems to be going on forever -- but not a woman."
Largely because she needed a steady income, Joan reluctantly agreed to the TV role in 1966. For a decidedly unglamorous $333 per episode, Joan played regal Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the Gothic serial, which after a low-rated start became a popular phenomenon upon introducing tormented vampire Barnabas Collins. Playing in a soap opera was no easy task even for a well-trained actor; Joan learned pages and pages of dialogue each week, too near-sighted to rely on the teleprompter that bailed out most of her co-stars when they forgot a line. Although shot on videotape, the show was performed as if live, flubs and all, since editing tape was then so cumbersome and costly that it required the OK of a high-level network executive to make changes. Against the odds, Joan stayed with the show until its end in 1971, and achieved a new popularity with younger viewers, many of whom didn't even know her reign as a movie star.
Some Dark Shadows purists think those early, pre-Barnabas episodes a little tame and dull, compared to what came later in the show's run. But when I first watched reruns thirty-odd years ago, it was those early episodes that captivated me. Joan Bennett was a big part of the reason why.