|The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.|
Real name: William Arthur Louvain Crespinel
1914 - 2010
|Special thanks to James Crespinel, Lee Bennett's son, for help on this webpage on his father. This is a work in progress and we'll update this as James uncovers more about his Dad's later, post movie career as a photographer. Last update to this webpage: July 27, 2017.|
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is from the pressbook to Eddie Dean's ROMANCE OF THE WEST (PRC, 1946).
William Arthur Louvain Crespinel (1914 - 2010) was the son of William Thomas Crespinel (1890 - 1987), Vice President and later president of the Cinecolor company. Both father and son were born in England. The son used a screen name of "Lee Bennett" and did mostly uncredited roles in about fifty movies scattered over the years 1937 - 1953.
Lee Bennett biographies on the internet - and other sources - are incorrect. All / many of those bios have him mis-identified as big band crooner Lee Hunt Bennett (1911 - 1954) who sang with the Jan Garber Orchestra, fronted his own band for a while, and in the 1940s - 1950s was a radio announcer, performer, and singer at WGN and NBC in Chicago.
B western fans remember "Lee Bennett" from his appearances in a batch of the mid 1940s Eddie Dean oaters from Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) and Eagle-Lion. The films were:
- SONG OF OLD WYOMING (PRC, 1945); Bennett is unbilled as one of the cowpunchers working for Ma Conway (Sarah Padden).
- THE CARAVAN TRAIL (PRC, 1946); Bennett has a uncredited role as a townsman.
- DRIFTIN' RIVER (PRC, 1946); Bennett portrays a reformed outlaw named "Tucson".
- ROMANCE OF THE WEST (PRC, 1946); Bennett has an unbilled role as a lawyer.
- WILD WEST (PRC, 1946); Bennett plays a telegraph engineer named "Butler".
- STARS OVER TEXAS (PRC, 1946); Bennett's on the side of the law, playing a dual role as "Waco Harper" and "Bert Ford".
- COLORADO SERENADE (PRC, 1946); Bennett plays a preacher named "Parson Trimble".
- THE TIOGA KID (PRC, 1948); Bennett was henchman "Tucson" and worked for gang boss Dennis Moore. TIOGA used lots of footage from DRIFTIN' RIVER (PRC, 1946) along with some new scenes and dialog.
- PRAIRIE OUTLAWS (Eagle-Lion, 1948); this is a B&W version of the Cinecolor WILD WEST (PRC, 1946) with some original scenes deleted and new footage added.
The PRC producer / director of the initial entries in the Dean series was Robert Emmett 'Bob' Tansey. Tansey was fascinated with Cinecolor and became personal friends and / or business friendly with Cinecolor's William T. Crespinel. Crespinel even did color supervision on several of the Dean adventures. Good probability that Lee Bennett's connection to Eddie Dean and PRC was due to the relationship of his father and Tansey.
Bennett picked up another PRC payday in a credited role in the Michael Shayne who-done-it LARCENY IN HER HEART (PRC, 1946), which starred Hugh Beaumont and pretty Cheryl Walker.
Found a few mentions of Lee Bennett in the trades:
- March 9, 1946 Showmen's Trade Review: "Charles Quigley and Lee Bennett have been signed for important roles in the Hugh Beaumont-Cheryl Walker co-starrer, 'Crime in the Night,' at PRC. Sam Newfield is directing the Sig Neufeld production." (This film was re-titled and became LARCENY IN HER HEART.)
- September 7, 1946 Showmen's Trade Review had an article on PRC and Eagle Lion's feature film plans. Excerpt: "PRC's 1946-47 program will also include 6 more in the series of Eddie Dean outdoor musicals, with Roscoe Ates and Lee Bennett heading the supporting cast, and 8 Al La Rue - Al St. John Westerns."
- October 12, 1946 Showmen's Trade Review: "Lee Bennett, whose father is William Crespinel, Cinecolor president, was added to 'Twain Sombreros,' Harry Joe Brown production for Columbia release." (AKA "Twin Sombreros", this Randolph Scott western was released as GUNFIGHTERS (Columbia, 1947).)
- March 20, 1947 Motion Picture Daily: "Lee Bennett, son of Cinecolor president William Crespinel, has been signed for a top role in the current Clarion production, 'Albuquerque,' which co-stars Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, George (Gabby) Hayes and Lon Chaney."
- May 31, 1947 Showmen's Trade Review had an article on color being used in more films, including Gene Autry's first for Columbia Pictures, THE LAST ROUNDUP (Columbia, 1947). Excerpt: "Autry also set Lee Bennett in his film; Lee, whose legal name is William T. Crespinel, Jr., is the son of the president of Cinecolor."
- May 4, 1949 Variety: "William T. Crespinel, founder of Cinecolor, and his son, William A. Crespinel, have formed Tuloca Productions for the production of television pictures. Initial series will deal with colleges throughout the country." ; "Pilot ... is now being rolled at Univ. of Southern California." ; "Pix are ... on 16mm, and will run 15 minutes each."
- May 9, 1949 Broadcasting magazine: "Toluca Productions, Hollywood, formed by William T. Crespinel and son, William A. Crespinel, will produce 52 television films based on college campus. Programs on 15 minute format will be shot on 16mm. William T. Crespinel is former head of Cinecolor."
There were significant changes in Hollywood in the post World War II years. Film production costs had escalated. Drive in theaters and newfangled television were arriving. And the B western was fading away. Had to be a difficult period for Lee Bennett, actor.
Circa early 1950s, he exited the movie business and re-located to New York City. Son James writes: "he spun off as a free lance photographer and that became his life's work ... cheesecake, sports, movie, lots of rich and famous."
With the occupation change and move, the Lee Bennett name was dropped and he became William / Bill Crespinel.
William Arthur Louvain Crespinel died on May 9, 2010 in New York, New York at the age of 95.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
Lee Bennett / William Arthur Louvain Crespinel (1914 - 2010): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0071881
His father, William T. Crespinel (1890 - 1987): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0187487
Lee Bennett's son James Crespinel is a muralist, painter, and photographer: http://www.crespinel.com/Home.html
Getty Images has a large portrait photo of a very young Lee Bennett: https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/actor-lee-bennett-news-photo/526851646
Lee Bennett at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
|(Courtesy of James Crespinel)
L-to-R are Lee Bennett, Chief Yowlachie and Bennett's father, William T. Crespinel, on the set of the Eddie Dean Cinecolor oater WILD WEST (PRC, 1946). The senior Crespinel handled the color supervision on WILD WEST. He later became the boss of the Cinecolor company.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from L-to-R are Al LaRue (before his days as 'Lash'), Sarah Padden, Jennifer Holt, Lee Bennett, unknown player (possibly Ray Elder), Eddie Dean, Emmett 'Pappy' Lynn at the desk, and in the upper right corner is Johnny Carpenter. Scene from the Cinecolor SONG OF OLD WYOMING (PRC, 1945), Eddie Dean's first starring oater. Below is a crop / blowup from that still showing Lee Bennett and Jennifer Holt, the sister of Tim Holt.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)Above - Eddie Dean has bested Lee Bennett in a scene from DRIFTIN' RIVER (PRC, 1946).
On the trail of Lee Bennett / William Arthur Louvain Crespinel.
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), Rootsweb, ProQuest obituaries, and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provide more on William Arthur Louvain Crespinel (Lee Bennett) and the Crespinel family:
- England and Wales Birth Registration Index for William A. L. Crespinel, born 1914 in Willesden, Middlesex County, England. Mother's maiden name was Bull: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2F5J-14B
- 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey are 29 year old William Crespinel (born England; occupation "Photographer - Store"), his 26 year old wife Dorothy (born England), 5 year old son William (born New Jersey) and 2 year old daughter Kate (born New Jersey): https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M4RR-FCH
- 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - living at the Layden Hall apartment building, 2014 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles are 39 year old William I. Crespinel (born England; occupation "Technical Advisor - Motion Pictures"), his 36 year old wife Rosamond C. (born New Jersey) and 14 year old son William A. (born England): https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJT-V1K
- 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - living at an apartment building at 2125 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles is 25 year old William A. Cresspinel [sic] (born England). He is single; occupation is "Actor - Studios"; and in 1939, he worked 26 weeks and earned $1338.00: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9CK-Y4Q
- July 11, 1941 Los Angeles marriage license of 26 year old William Arthur Crespinel (born London, England) to 26 year old Kathryn Baker Kent (born Ohio). His first marriage and her second. His occupation is "Actor - Free Lance" and parents were William Crespinel (born England) and Dorothy Bull (born England):
- Los Angeles, California, Southern District Court Naturalization Index dated June 25, 1943 for William Arthur Louvain Crespinel: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KXQM-V1V
- California Birth Index for William Donald Crespinel, born March 3, 1944 in Los Angeles, and mother's maiden name was Baker: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V274-Z4X
- California Birth Index for James Thomas Crespinel, born April 13, 1947 in Los Angeles, and mother's maiden name was Baker: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V275-D83
April 23, 1947 issue of Variety had a birth announcement: "Mr. and Mrs. Lee Bennett, son, Hollywood, April 13 (1947). Father is a screen actor."
- Rootsweb has a marriage record for William Crespinel (born 1914 in England) and Daisy Aldrich Bonham (born 1924 in South Carolina) in March, 1954 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His parents were William and Dorothy Crespinel: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=:119005&id=I2637
- Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for 96 year old William Crespinel, born August 30, 1914 and he passed away on May 9, 2010 in New York, New York: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JTK8-F31
- A family tree on Ancestry.com noted that William Arthur Louvain Crespinel was born on August 30, 1914 to 24 year old father William and 20 year old mother Dorothy. He had one sister. He died on May 9, 2010 in New York, New York at the age of 95.
The New York Times newspaper had an obituary on Lee Bennett's father, William T. Crespinel, who passed away June 19, 1987 at his home in Laguna Beach, California. "He is survived by a daughter, Kathleen McCandless of North Hollywood, Calif.; a son, William A. Crespinel of Manhattan, and two grandchildren.": https://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/24/nyregion/william-crespinel-96-pioneer-in-color-films.html