Remembering Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett, self-portrait, 1990

This is the year the few of us remaining from the Ridgefield High School Class of ’37 were to celebrate our 75th reunion. Instead, the very few of us left are mourning the loss of our class president, Harry Bennett. Not only was he the class president, he became one of the most successful.

It would not be difficult to write a book about Harry. Many of us will remember him in class, on the basketball court, on the dance floor, on the golf course, and embarking on the career that was to become his life’s work. That career took a couple of detours, but ended on a pinnacle he was too modest to talk about. The biggest detour came when he was a commissioned army officer leading troops in Guadalcanal and other Pacific zones in World War II.

When he first started applying his talent in New York, it was doing graphics and artwork for advertising firms. Few may know it was Harry Bennett who was given one day to come up with a sketch of a man for use in advertising for the book or movie The Godfather.  Harry collected a fee of $800. Changes that occurred in the industry soon thereafter would have made that fee several thousand dollars.

A 1977 book cover by Harry Bennett. The model for the mason was Nano Marconi, father of First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

For many years, he did covers for books written by Victoria Holt, and his work was more and more in demand.

After doing that for a few years, Harry became unhappy with that line of artistry and wanted to be more creative. He turned to contemporary art and painting. Leaving everything behind, he decided to travel across the country. When he arrived in Oregon, he knew instantly that’s where he wanted to be.

His hands turned to expressionism. It wasn’t long before his new line of painting started drawing attention, and Bennett paintings were being featured in a number of galleries, including his own, and one with his son, Tom.

I have to inject that one time, when Harry sent me some pictures of his contemporary works, my response was I could do equally well by throwing a can of paint against the wall.

Harry Bennett are the Firemen’s Ball with Darcy Peatt Shean in 1979

That new-found success had to take an unexpected break for some time. Harry developed a major illness that required a stay at a clinic in California. He recovered and resumed his very successful career.

After years in Oregon, and with his health deteriorating, Harry and his wife, Margy, decided it was time to return to the East Coast to be near their daughter and her family in Maryland.

We talked by phone every so often, but while he tried to remain the upbeat Harry, it was obvious my friend was not doing well. Ironically, I tried unsuccessfully to reach him Wednesday, only to learn he passed away two days later at the veterans hospital.

It’s sadly ironic that Harry would leave us in the year that would have been our 75th reunion. We lost two others this year, Jim DeLuca and Mary Kelly Birarelli.

Harry was gifted with much talent and many friends. I’m lucky to be one of them.

Paul Baker, a Ridgefield native, now lives in Southbury. Mr. Bennett’s obituary can be found here

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  • Deborah Bennett Besharat

    Thank you, Mr. Baker, for your poignant portrait of my father. I know he would have appreciated such a beautiful tribute from one of his best friends.

  • Jonathan

    My first memories of Harry dated back to the early 1980’s; somewhere between 1981 and 1984 when I was a student at South Kent School and my grandmother “Peg” Wilson had a 40.5 acre estate atop a most beautiful westward facing hill in Western Connecticut. There was a pond, lots of grass, hay fields, woods, a main house, barn garage, and a converted barn called “The Studio” which was rented out to a man my father used to call “Bennett the tenant”. Very fond memories of Harry! He used to hear me practice my loud electric guitar on winter break nights and, instead of complaining, told me he thought it was beautiful.” He was close with me and my grandmother and was often invited to her cocktail parties along with other notables as concert pianist / artist Willard MacGregor and others in the art field. My senior year of South Kent, I was assigned to write a non fiction term paper about a person of interest. At my father’s suggestion, I wrote one about “Bennett the tenant”. Spending time during the interview process was inspiring, yet, like hanging out with a kindred spirit. I received an “A” on that paper (one of my few ever). In 1985, Harry stopped by our boat in Marina Del Rey, Ca. He always encouraged me as an artist. We exchanged letters half a dozen years ago. He has inspired me in what I do now. Godspeed my old friend!

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