Joan Bennett, an actress who matured from a winsome blond ingenue in movies of the 1930s to a sensuous brunette femme fatale in film noir classics of the 1940s, died of cardiac arrest Friday at her home in Scarsdale, N.Y. She was 80.
Miss Bennett got her training opposite such stars as Ronald Colman in "Bulldog Drummond" (her first important role, at the age of 19 in1929), George Arliss in "Disraeli" (1929) and John Barrymore in "Moby Dick" (1930).
She portrayed a personable waitress trading wisecracks with Spencer Tracy in "Me and My Gal" (1932), a pert sister competing with Katharine Hepburn in "Little Women" (1933) and a psychiatrist's young wife slipping into insanity in "Private Worlds" (1935).
Miss Bennett won praise in two 1940 melodramas -- "The House Across the Bay" and "The Man I Married." She came into her own in three film noir thrillers directed by Fritz Lang: as a Cockney prostitute in "Man Hunt" (1941), a mysterious model in "The Woman in the Window" (1944) and a vulgar blackmailer in "Scarlet Street" (1946).
She played an elegant, witty and nurturing mother in two classic film comedies directed by Vincente Minnelli: "Father of the Bride" (1950) and "Father's Little Dividend" (1951), co-starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor.
In 1951, Miss Bennett was a principal in a major Hollywood scandal when her husband, producer Walter Wanger, shot and wounded her longtime agent, Jennings Lang, in a Los Angeles parking lot, accusing him of being a home-wrecker.
The Wangers divorced in 1965, after 25 years of marriage.
Miss Bennett also lent her presence and prestige to television's top gothic soap opera, "Dark Shadows."