Spencer Gordon Bennet, A Lot of Movies Unaccounted For! A Brief Biography

Fire Detective Spencer Gordon Bennet director

Spencer Gordon Bennet

 

Spencer Gordon Bennet, (sometimes spelled: Bennett) anyone familiar with serials (silent or talkies) knows the work of Mr. Bennet, he has for a long while be considered the king of the chapter-play, and he may have more serial titles to his name than we thought! In September of 1928, a report on upcoming work by Bennet, the writer says that Bennet had already worked on twenty-two serials for Pathé. Well, by the end of 1928 Spencer Gordon Bennet is only credited with thirteen chapter-dramas.[1] In the Federal Census for 1920, Bennet lists his work as Director, Motion Pictures. The light-bulb truly comes on when we read a paragraph in the Behind the Scenes in Hollywood column by Dorothy Herzog, she illuminated that Bennet had been directing for Pathé for fourteen-years; the piece was written in 1929![2] Our further evidence is that we know that Bennet was in the film industry, for his first acting job was in The Perils of Pauline, in 1914. And yet more clearly becomes the “valley of unseen Bennet” in a column (Screen Life in Hollywood) by Robbin Coons, in early 1929, where Coons confirms that Bennet had been directing at Pathé for fourteen years, excepting his nineteen-month service in WWI. Attributing fifteen serials that Bennet directed alone, while his work history through 1929 shows twelve, and twenty-two co-directing assignments through 1929, yet, Bennet had only shared directing duties three times; by my count that is a total of twenty-two (three as director, nineteen as co-director) missing directorial credits. I am going to assume that since Bennet’s first co-directing work was with George B. Seitz that is with whom the uncredited, unlisted co-directing jobs are hidden, hidden by time and a lack of proper cast and crew recording for projects; this was a common problem in that era.[3]

According to the interview by Robbin Coons, Bennet related his film beginnings, that he got his start with the old Edison Company in New York, as a stunt-man. Bennet said that his first work as a director came by accident, literally. While performing one stunt,[4] a co-worker set Bennet on fire; he received some serious burns and was not able to return to work right away. When he did get back, they tried to atone for the incident by giving him the task of assistant-director; then when the director resigned from the project, Bennet took the director’s chair.[5] Spencer Bennet in 1918, in the fan magazine, Photoplay, is referred to as “Sergeant Spencer Bennett, formerly assistant director of serials, now a dispatch-rider in France.”[6] Then to add fuel to the fire, in a two-paragraph blurb, in The Film Daily, in 1923, we read Spencer Bennett was chosen to direct four Charles Hutchison serials for Pathé[7]. What is remarkable about this, for us to take notice, is that the piece says that Bennett is Hutchison’s former director.[8] Sunken Silver, which premiered May 10, 1925, is considered to be Bennet’s first work directing on a serial, but this statement clearly confirms all of the aforementioned citations.

If we could get just one title to add to the résumé of Bennet, that would go a long way to rewriting his professional history, and in some small way, revising the history of Hollywood. And here it is: Galloping Hoofs, 1924. Sole credit is given to George B. Seitz, but in a Hollywood trade paper from 1924; we see a picture, with text below written as follows: “This happy group are the players and directors of the Pathé serial, “Galloping Hoofs.” I will stop the quote there and take notice that the write up uses the plural ‘directors,’ and Spencer Bennett is the last name given, which follows Seitz; all preceding names were the producer and a few of the actors.[9]  At the least Bennet should have received assistant-director mention, and most likely, co-director; very exciting news for us serial lovers and buffs.

Fire Detective Spencer Gordon Bennet Exhibitor's Trade Review November 1 1924.htm_20140625145706

Regardless of the need for specific titles for the works in which Bennet was involved, we have conclusive, documentary proof that Spencer Gordon Bennet, either directed, co-directed or acted as assistant-director twenty times or more, before his “official” directorial debut, in 1921.

Bennet amassed more than one-hundred-thirty directing credits (if we include those films missing from his history), he played producer eight times, acted in a handful of projects, he also was the second unit or assistant director on three occasions, and did one turn as a stunt double.

A sampling of the filmography of Spencer Gordon Bennet:

Sunken Silver, 1925

The Man Without a Face, 1928

Queen of the Northwoods, 1929

The Black Ghost, 1932

The Mysterious Pilot, 1937

Zorro’s Black Whip, 1944

Superman, 1948

Batman and Robin, 1949

 

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) September 8, 1928

[2] Morning News (Florence, South Carolina) March 23, 1929

[3] The Evening Record (Ellensburg, Washington) February 4, 1929

[4]  It is unclear which company was intended, Edison or Pathé, when the mishap took place, and whether it was

Coons or Bennet that was vague.

[5] The Evening Record (Ellensburg, Washington) February 4, 1929

[6] Photoplay, October, 1918

[7] By a quick glance, I see that Hutchison did not return to Pathé, but went to the UK for Ideal Pictures; who knows

know why?

[8] The Film Daily, September 4, 1923

[9] Exhibitor’s Trade Review, November 1, 1924

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s