Enid Bennett – Unsung Diva

Day 69 of Colourisation Project – July 15

Today’s subject is not a household name in Australia even though she was a leading actress in her day and one of a handful of Australian actresses who successfully made their way to Hollywood.

Enid Bennett was born this day, July 15, in 1893 in York, Western Australia. She starred in 41 silent films between 1917 and 1928, and was one of Australia’s first silent film actresses.

She started her career in Sydney where she became a well-regarded stage actress before, making her way to New York to take on Broadway. It was her English accent (which was really her Australian accent) that got her a role in the stage production of Henry Arthur Jones’ Cock of the Walk directed by Otis Skinner. Here she was noticed by the successful silent film producer and director, Thomas H. Ince, who signed her to a contract and brought her to Hollywood.

Enid Bennett

Publicity Still  –  Enid Bennett  circa 1917 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Bennett started her film acting career in 1916 at the age of 23 in Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford with two other films that same year. In 1917 she starred in five films, the most notable one being The Little Brother opposite William Garwood. This film launched her career in Hollywood bringing her to the attention of studio bosses and led to an increasing number of acting roles. Between 1918 and 1921 she starred in twenty-three films, achieving celebrity status in Hollywood.

In 1918 she married producer and director, Fred Niblo, with whom she had three children. Niblo was one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He directed The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers starring Douglas Fairbanks, Blood and Sand, starring Rudolph Valentino and he also produced the second film version of Ben Hur.

From 1922 to 1924 Bennett was one of the first tier female leads in Hollywood. In 1922 she landed what was to be her most famous role, Maid Marian in Robin Hood opposite Douglas Fairbanks. In 1924 she starred opposite Roman Navarro in The Red Lily.

Her transition to sound films was semi-successful, although fewer roles came her way.  From 1931 to 1941 she starred in 7 sound films including Waterloo Bridge (1931), Intermezzo (1939) with Ingrid Bergman and Strike Up the Band (194o) with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Her last film was The Big Store (1941) with The Marx Brothers, in which she had an uncredited bit part as a clerk.

Shortly after Bennett retired from movies altogether to devote more time to her family in Malibu, California. After almost 31 years of marriage Fred Niblo died in 1948. In 1963 she married Sydney Franklin, another top Hollywood director.  She died six years later in 1969 of a heart attack in Malibu, California aged 75.

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