The origins of Joan Bennett’s affair with her agent, Jennings Lang, began with an apartment key. The two were drawn together when Lang was a rising agent at the Music Corporation of America (MCA), while Bennett’s husband, Walter Wanger, was faltering in his career as a film producer. It was MCA junior executive Jay Kanter that helped facilitate their trysts.
When the enterprising agent was asked to relinquish his keys to the senior Lang, Kanter had an inkling about his apartment’s purpose. “I don’t think he was borrowing it to take a nap,” Kanter told Love Is a Crime hosts Karina Longworth and Vanessa Hope (Bennett and Wanger’s granddaughter). In this week’s episode, “The Other Man,” we meet Lang, who would be shot by Wanger in the MCA parking lot in December 1951. Bennett and Lang’s dalliances led to that forgotten Hollywood scandal, and helped inspire the 1961 Academy Awards’ best-picture winner. “I think that’s where Billy Wilder got the idea for the movie with Jack Lemmon, called The Apartment,” Kanter shared. “He never told me. But it was quite obvious.”
The affair happening between Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray’s characters in the film was “totally loveless;” that wasn’t the case for Bennett and Lang, who were both married to other people. “From what I understand, is that my dad really flipped for her,” Lang’s son Rocky explained. “You know, he had a bad marriage at home. Apparently, Joan had a bad marriage with Walter. One thing led to another, and it wasn’t just a one-time thing,” adding, “It was pretty intense.”
Bennett and Lang’s passion wouldn’t come without its consequences. There was the infamous shooting, leading to rampant rumors about which body part of Lang’s was hit. (Spoiler: It’s not the one you think.) While Wanger and Bennett suffered professionally, Lang capitalized on the controversy and eventually became a vice president of Universal Studios—Wanger’s home in his heyday.
“There were three people involved in what happened in that parking lot in December 1951,” Hope explained. “Jennings Lang took the bullet, but his life and career continued otherwise unscathed, and he went on to have the greatest fortune of them all, becoming the head of a major studio. As we’ll see, my grandfather mounted a major comeback, but it wouldn’t last long.” Bennett’s fate was in similar limbo.
Listen to the episode above, and be sure to tune in next Tuesday, September 21, to discover the factors that led Wanger to his personal brink. Subscribe at listen.vanityfair.com/loveisacrime or wherever you get your podcasts.
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