Saturday State Post: Classic Movie Actors from New Jersey

My inspiration for choosing which state to cover next in this series was Joan Bennett, who starred in a few movies I’ve watched recently including, Secret Beyond the Door (1947) earlier this week. She was born in the state of New Jersey so that is the state I’m covering today.

A few of the actors and actresses from the state of New Jersey are:

Actor Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell

Born: July 11, 1892 in Elizabeth, NJ

Died: December 17, 1962 (age 70)

Married twice

Known for the Movies: Lost Horizon, The Hurricane, Make Way for Tomorrow, Stagecoach, Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone With the Wind, The Dark Mirror, It’s a Wonderful Life, High Noon

My Favorite Thomas Mitchell Movie: It’s a Wonderful Life

Interesting Facts About Thomas Mitchell:

  • A very versatile performer, Thomas Mitchell worked on Broadway in various capacities for almost 20 years before starting his very successful film career. He then worked extensively on television in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
  • When he won the Tony Award for his performance in the musical Hazel Flagg in 1953, he became the first actor to win the “triple crown” of acting awards. He had previously won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the movie Stagecoach (1939) and an Emmy for his performance as Father Devlin in The Good of His Soul on “The Ford Television Theatre” in 1953. Thomas Mitchell is the second actor I’ve featured in this series to have won the triple crown. Melvyn Douglas from my post about the state of Georgia also accomplished the feat in 1967.
  • In what is often considered the greatest year of movies, 1939, he starred in three of the films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Gone With the Wind.

Actress Ruth Donnelly

Ruth Donnelly

Born: May 17, 1896 in Trenton, NJ

Died: November 17, 1982 (age 86)

Married once to Basil de Guichard for 26 years until his death in 1958

Known for the Movies: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, A Slight Case of Murder, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Bell’s of St. Mary’s, The Snake Pit

My Favorite Ruth Donnelly Movie: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Interesting Facts About Ruth Donnelly:

  • She was a favorite of George M. Cohan. She appeared in several plays that he wrote and/or produced including Going Up (1917), A Prince There Was (1918) and The Meanest Man in the World (1920).
  • After the death of her husband in 1958, she lived the rest of her life at the Wellington Hotel, which looks like my kind of place to stay, right in the heart of Manhattan!
  • In place of another fact, I wanted to share this great blog post about Ruth Donnelly that I discovered in my research, which was written a few years ago by Moira from the blog The Skeins.

Actress Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett

Born: February 27, 1910 in Palisades, NJ

Died: December 7, 1990 (age 80)

Married four times including once to film producer Walter Wanger

Known for the Movies: She Wanted a Millionaire, Little Women, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Man I Married, Man Hunt, The Woman in the Window, Scarlett Street, Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend

My Favorite Joan Bennett Movie: Father of the Bride or Scarlet Street


Interesting Facts About Joan Bennett:

  • She came from a family of actors and performers including her grandfather Lewis Morrison, whose stage career dates back to the 1860’s, her father Richard Bennett who appeared on both stage and screen, and of course her sister, actress Constance Bennett. Their story is chronicled in the book The Bennetts: An Acting Family.
  • Although many actors disliked working with him, she made five movies with director Fritz Lang, more than any other American actress.
  • In 1951, her husband, film producer Walter Wanger shot Joan’s agent when he discovered (or at least thought) they were having an affair. He was convicted of attempted murder and spent four months in jail. The scandal damaged her career, and she made only a few more movies after it happened.
  • She did however go on to have a successful career on stage and in television, with perhaps her most notable role being that of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on the television show Dark Shadows (1966-1971). She also appeared in the film adaptation of the series, House of Dark Shadows (1970).

Actor Richard Conte

Richard Conte

Born: March 24, 1910 in Jersey City, NJ

Died: April 15, 1975 (age 65)

Married twice

Known for the Movies: A Walk in the Sun, 13 Rue Madeleine, Whirlpool, Call Northside 777, The Sleeping City, The Blue Gardenia, Oceans Eleven, The Godfather

My Favorite Richard Conte Movie: Call Northside 777

Interesting Facts About Richard Conte:

  • He was discovered by Elia Kazan and John Garfield in 1935 when he was working as a singing waiter at a Connecticut resort (or possibly when he was already working on stage). With the help of Kazan he obtained a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, which led to several roles on Broadway.
  • He was considered for the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972) but when Marlon Brando was chosen for the role, he was instead cast as Corleone’s rival Don Barzini.
  • His grandson Chris Conte currently plays in the NFL for the Chicago Bears (boo!). Sorry the Packer fan in me couldn’t help it. :-)

Actor Sterling Hayden

Sterling Hayden

Born: March 26, 1916 in Montclair, NJ

Died: May 23, 1986 (age 70)

Married five times including three times to the same woman, Betty Ann de Noon

Known for the Movies: Johnny Guitar, Suddenly, The Asphalt Jungle, The Killing, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave the Bomb, The Godfather

My Favorite Sterling Hayden Movie: The Killing

Interesting Facts About Sterling Hayden:

  • I found his personal life to be very fascinating, starting with the fact that he dropped out of high school to take a job as a mate on a schooner and eventually become a highly respected ship’s captain.
  • He joined the Marines in 1941 under the pseudonym John Hamilton and later became an undercover agent with the intelligence agency, COI (later the OSS).
  • He was the author of two books, an autobiography “Wanderer and a novel, “Voyage.”
  • I found this interesting article written by a fan who encountered Sterling Hayden at a restaurant back in the 1970s. Like the title of the article mentions, I think there are some great lessons to be learned from Hayden’s philosophy of life.

Actress Eva Marie Saint

Eva Marie Saint

Born: July 4, 1924 in Newark, NJ

Still Living

Married once. She is still married to her husband of over 60 years, Jeffrey Hayden.

Known for the Movies: On the Waterfront, A Hatful of Rain, Raintree County, North by Northwest, Exodus, All Fall Down, Grand Prix

My Favorite Eva Marie Saint Movie: North by Northwest

Interesting Facts About Eva Marie Saint:

  • Director Elia Kazan cast her in On the Waterfront (1954), her first feature film role, after seeing her in the play The Trip to Bountiful. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
  • A former student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the school named a theater in her honor with a special dedication ceremony. Eva and her husband Jeffrey Hayden attended the event.
  • Along with host Ben Mankiewicz, she introduced a free screening of North by Northwest as part of a 10-city Road to Hollywood tour before the 2012 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. You can watch an interesting (and often funny) Q&A session between the two of them here.

You may be wondering why I didn’t highlight one of the biggest names to come out of the state of New Jersey, Frank Sinatra. No, I didn’t forget about him. He is one of my favorite actors and singers, but there has been so much spoken and written about him over the years, that I’m sure it would be hard for me to come up with interesting facts that would measure up to the things most people already know about him. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading about all the other great talent from the state of New Jersey.

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  1. R.A. Kerr says:

    I had NO idea all these folks were from New Joisey. It’s an impressive bunch — and some impressive facts, too!

  2. Ginny says:

    Yes, I definitely had lots of great and interesting names to choose from! Thanks for reading!

  3. Karen says:

    How did I miss this — you know this is my favorite series. And this may just be my favorite one so far — first of all, Richard Conte’s grandson plays for the Bears! How awesome is that?!?! And I’m really looking forward to checking out Moira’s post on Ruth Donnelly — she is one of my favorites; I love her pre-Code stuff. Joan Bennett is another favorite — that’s some juicy stuff about her and the shooting isn’t it? Good stuff as always, Ginny!

  4. Ginny says:

    Thanks Karen! Yes, it’s cool hearing Conte’s name mentioned during Bears games now that I know there is a classic movie connection there. I’ll think you’ll really enjoy Moira’s post then. I love both of the Bennett sisters. Joan certainly led an interesting life!

  5. Karen304 says:

    Yep, CALL NORTHSIDE 777 is my favorite Richard Conte movie, also. But I admit I’d watch him in anything! …Thomas Mitchell had the starring role in a very early TV series, MAYOR OF THE TOWN.