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Charles Bennett; Writer of Hitchcock Films

June 17, 1995|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Charles Bennett, believed the last of that Gentile group of Brits who brought their ribald sense of tradition and literacy to filmmaking in the 1930s, died Thursday in a Los Angeles hospital.

The industry's oldest working screenwriter, who gave Alfred Hitchcock the words for many of the fabled director's early mystery thrillers, was 95.

Among his screen credits are "Blackmail" (adapted from his own play), "The Man Who Knew Too Much," "The Thirty-Nine Steps," "The Secret Agent" and the original "King Solomon's Mines," all filmed in his native England.

In the United States he wrote or co-wrote "Foreign Correspondent," "Reap the Wild Wind," "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and a remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

Still dapper and erudite into his 90s, he completed his professional life much as he had started it--on a high note. He had recently received the Screen Laurel award for lifetime achievement from the Writers Guild of America.

For nearly six decades he worked in a museum-like setting in his rustic Coldwater Canyon home. Surrounding him were the pictures, posters and memorabilia of the stars and writers who had sat at his bar, talking of films, Great Britain and the changing of the Hollywood guard from immigrants to icons.

With C. Aubrey Smith, Errol Flynn, Laurence Olivier, Hitchcock and other expatriates, Bennett was a favored participant in the high tea and cricket-croquet pageants staged weekly by the exiles. With Bennett's group, however, spirits at 5 were more in favor than tea at 3.

Born in Shoreham by Sea, England, he was a child actor with ruddy good looks that lasted well into old age (he once did a magazine advertisement for Lord Calvert whiskey, heralded as the beverage "for men of distinction).

He appeared in musicals (one with Gertrude Lawrence), served in France during World War I and was awarded a medal for bravery.

He retreated from acting after the first of the world wars, writing plays. "Blackmail" was among his early efforts and it was memorable for two things:

* It was to become Britain's first sound picture in 1929, and

* It marked the beginning of his decade-long affiliation with Hitchcock.

Bennett claimed partial responsibility for Hitchcock's Hollywood career, having introduced him to David O. Selznick. The Bennett-Hitchcock collaboration ended with "Foreign Correspondent" in 1940, although the two remained close until Hitchcock's death.

He is survived by a son, John.

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