She was one of the most talented actresses I’ve ever seen.
She was so fantastic at playing the villain, Lee Dumonde, on DAYS OF OUR LIVES that I can recall, one day back in the early 1980’s, wanting to throw something (though I didn’t) at the television because her performance as a “witch with a capital B” was so bone-chillingly evil that it was making me so mad. Now that’s talent!
Her name was Brenda Benet.
It must be due to the fact that there’s so many JonBenet Ramsey specials on television lately that I keep recalling Brenda Benet. I’ve even been wondering about the coincidence of two gals who knew how to give a great performance, who both had “Benet” in their names, dying violently.
Actually, her real name was Brenda Ann Nelson. As stage names go, “Benet” goes better with Brenda. She was from California. I wish I had more information about her background, but what’s out there is rather cryptic. I seem to recall reading somewhere that she had several siblings. She was married twice, the second time to actor Bill Bixby, and had a little boy, Christopher Sean, with him. She got parts in several shows in the 1960s and 1970s.
Then she was cast on DAYS OF OUR LIVES and did a spectacular job.
Unfortunately, not long after her second marriage ended, Christopher died during a ski trip. While her role on DAYS was a feat of great acting, I remember being horrified at reading that she was receiving a deluge of hate mail because of how well she played the bad girl on the show – and that she was on the receiving end of it while grief-struck over her son. This, I thought, was untenable. I wrote to her in care of the studio and said how terrific I thought her performance was. I was invited to join her fan club and wondered if I would be the only member, given the fact that her role as the “other woman” between the show’s beloved starring couple, Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes, who played “Doug” and “Julie” and were also married in real life. I joined Brenda’s club.
Soon I received a wonderful, funny newsletter written by her assistant, Tammy Bruce. I may have even gotten two of them. It’s hard to remember exactly, since all of this happened around 1982. I do remember, clearly, looking forward to the next newsletter.
The next thing I heard was that Brenda had killed herself…a month after the anniversary of the death of her little boy. Much later more details came out, among them that on the day the poor woman shot herself, she had first locked herself in a bathroom – and arranged for Tammy Bruce to come to her house right before it happened. The staging of the suicide couldn’t possibly have been more horrific.
It was said later that she deliberately wore no makeup on the last day she appeared on the set of the soap opera. It was like she was symbolically removing a mask (of Max Factor) and letting people see who was underneath. Hindsight may be an exact science, sure, but didn’t anyone there think twice when they saw the actress do that? Did no one think to ask her what was going on? Might someone have been able to intervene?
These aren’t questions without answers, but I think they’re worth mentioning anyway. If you see something, say something…
What kind of fine collection of work might Brenda Benet have been able to accomplish, if only she’d lived? She obviously had major issues. Yet she looked like Vivien Leigh and also had one of the most enormous stores of inborn talent I’ve ever seen, before or since. There was incredible potential there.
It came out later that the hate mail she was receiving helped to destabilize her further. I was always so glad I’d taken the time to send her a nice note. I’ve also always wondered just what, exactly, was the rest of the talented lady’s back story. There’s no mystery as to how Brenda Benet died, but what was the rest of the story of how she lived?