GROWING UP WITH DOANIE ( JOAN BENNETT ) BY PARKER J. BENA ( THE GRANDSON OF JOAN

The following article was written by Parker Bena, the grandson of Joan Bennett, and son of Melinda Markey. Parker has kindly asked me to publish his reminisces of his grandma on my blog. This post was submitted as part of The Joan Bennett Blogathon, hosted by me. 

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Joan Bennett (aka “Doanie”) had 13 grandchildren. They are in order: Amanda (or Mandy), Timothy (or Tim), Cynthia (or Cindy), Markey, Lisa, myself, Felix, Victoria, Samantha, Vanessa, Frederick, Andrew and Lily. Before the birth of the first, Mandy, in 1949, Marlene Dietrich had been widely rgearded as “the world’s sexiest grandmother”. After Mandy’s birth on March 13, 1949, Ms. Dietrich sent Doanie a telegram, which read – “Thanks for taking the heat of me.” Sadly, three of the grandchildren – Timothy, Markey and, most recently, Lisa – have passed away.

It has been said that Doanie got her unique nickname because my cousin Victoria, when she was little, couldn’t say “Joanie”. In the language of Baby Talk, it became “Doanie” and it stuck with her until the day she died. However, it may or may not be true because I seem to remember that some of the older grandchildren were calling her that before Victoria was ever able to talk.

Some Hollywood celebrities have a reputation as being very distant parents. Doanie was not a bad grandmother, although when you were around her, it was always HER way or the HIGHway. One thing she was very good at was remembering the grandkids’ birthdays and Christmas. The present ALL came from the same place – Bonwit Teller. So, when you saw the white box with the blue Bonwit Teller lettering, you know right away who it was from. Another dead give away? Her distinctive handwriting. Some of my ealiest memories of Doanie were Christmases spent at her and David’s apartment in New York City.

Doanie was an Episcopalian, so, therefore, her daughters – Diana (aka “Ditty”), Melinda (my mother), Stephanie (aka “Steffi”) and Shelly – were raised Episcopalian. So, it was kind of a shock when my mother decided to convert to Catholicism. When I was growing up in Chappaqua, New York (about 35 miles north of New York City and about 10 minutes north of Scarsdale where Doanie moved in 1972), we had a few family friends who were Catholic priests and Doanie (and even David) became good friends with them. One of them, the pastor of our church Monsignor Robert J. Skelly, had been a Drama major at Fordham University before switching to Religion. He had at one time aspired to be an actor and he was a fan of my grandmother’s. Monsignor was understandably thrilled when he met her for the first time at our house. They became very good friends and every year on his birthday, she would present him with theater tickets.

My mother was thrilled when she found out that Doanie was moving to Scarsdale. Once that happened, she and my mom became a lot closer. As a result, visits to Doanie’s house and dinners at Doanie’s house became a lot more frequent. Whenever my mom and dad entertained, Doanie and, by extension, David were always on the guest list. My mom and dad’s friends were, for lack of a better term, a little more “casual”. Despite all that, Doanie and David mixed very well with my mom and dad’s friends.

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Doanie loved dogs. In fact, when our French Poodle had a little of puppies, we gave one of them to Doanie and it became her faithful companion for sixteen years. I always got a kick out of the fact that our French Poodle was the mother of Doanie’s. Doanie named her Mouche, which is French for Fly. Later, she got a Lhasa Apso that she named Muffin. A lot of the time, whenever Doanie and David came to our house, the Dogs would be right there with them. We had four dogs ourselves. However, much to everybody’s surprise, all the dogs got along well together even my Yellow Lab.  I often wondered if Mouche remembered that our Poodle, Jolie, was her mother.

Whenever my mom and dad would go to Bloomingdale’s in White Plains, my mom would get the standard greeting, “Oh! You’re Joan Bennett’s Daughter!”. That reminds me of a funny story my mom told. One time, Doanie and David went into Bergdorf Goodman’s in White Plains and, this time, the tables were turned. Doanie was greeted with, “Oh! You’re Mims’ mother!” My mom’s nickname was, and still is, Mims.

On one of our frequent visits to Scarsdale, I had been invited to go for a run with a guy I knew from Scarsdale High. We knew each other through competition. We started off at Doanie’s house on Chase Road. When I got back, I was sweating like a pig and BOY was Doanie mad – despite the fact that both my dad and I had told her and David what was going on beforehand. Like I said earlier – HER way or the HIGHway.

One of my last memories of Doanie was in 1990 when I was in the Navy. I was deployed in the Mediterranean and we had a liberty call in Haifa, Israel. I had just found out that my wife was pregnant with twins. When I called my mom in the States, she told me that Doanie’s last grandchild (my Aunt Shelly) had recently given birth to Lily) and her first two great children were going to be less than a year apart. Unfortunately, Doanie didn’t live to see her first two great grandchildren. She died on December 7, 1990 – eaxctly six months before our sons – Jordan and Jeremy – were born.

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