Fran Bennett (1937–)

Fran Bennett is an actress who has worked in theater, television, and films. She appeared on stage across the nation and in Europe, and she has played roles on television from the 1960s onward in such hit shows as Guiding Light, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Scandal. Bennett was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2005.

Fran Bennett was born on August 14, 1937, in Malvern (Hot Spring County). Bennett earned a BS and an MA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and went on to earn credit toward a PhD there before leaving the program. She studied voice under Kristin Linklater, a Scottish actress who relocated to the United States in 1963 to work at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bennett was in Linklater’s first voice teacher training program and later became the voice and movement director for the Guthrie Theater. She served in this role for twelve years while also acting for the company. Under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, she studied movement with Litz Pisk, who was the head of movement at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England, from 1964 to 1970.

Bennett made her first appearance in television with the long-running soap opera Guiding Light in 1965–1966, playing the role of Mrs. Matson. However, her television career did not really take off until the late 1970s, starting with appearances in Diff’rent Strokes and Roots: The Next Generations. In the 1980s, she played small roles in such shows as Lou Grant (two episodes), General Hospital (three episodes), Dallas, Trapper John, M.D., Benson, Cagney and Lacey, Knots Landing (three episodes), L.A. Law (two episodes), and The Bold and the Beautiful (thirteen episodes). In 1991, she played Fleet Admiral Shanthi in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Redemption II.” (Her later appearance as a Vulcan midwife in the 2009 Star Trek reboot was cut from the theatrical release but restored in the DVD special edition.) That same decade, she also had prominent roles in Quantum Leap, In the Heat of the Night, Murder, She Wrote, and Crisis Center.

Bennett has also had a modest presence on the big screen, with such films as New Nightmare (1994), Foxfire (1996), and 8MM (1999), as well as several lesser-known movies. The twenty-first century has seen her act in several well-known television series, including The Book of Daniel (eight episodes), Boston Legal, ER, Community, and Scandal.

Bennett perhaps remains best known for her work in theater. She was the head of acting and the director of performance at the CalArts School of Theater from 1996 to 2003, and, for the school’s professional arm, the Center for New Theater, she played the title role in King Lear at its 2002 premiere in Los Angeles, California, and at the 2003 Frictions Festival in France. In 2006, she starred in Euripides’s Hippolytus for the inauguration of the Greek-style theater at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles. In addition, she is a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company and the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company.

Bennett also has a long history of serving as an educator. While studying in London, she also taught at the London Academy of Dramatic Art. She has served as a master voice teacher with Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, and led voice workshops at various universities throughout the United States, including Fisk University and Carnegie Mellon University.

Bennett has been the recipient of many honors, including an NAACP Theatre Award, the first AEA/AFTRA/SAG Diversity Award, and Watts Village Theater Company’s 2008 “Blazing the Trail” Award. August 7, 2005, was named Fran Bennett Day in her hometown of Malvern.

For additional information:
“Fran Bennett.” Antaeus Theatre Company. (accessed September 10, 2020).

“Fran Bennett.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed September 10, 2020).

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


    I love Ms. Fran Bennett because of her immense talent as an actress and most particular for her beautiful presence. She reminds me of many black people that I’ve had the great honor of knowing both in the past and currently. She has a wonderful way of making her character come fully to life, such as Virgil Tibbs’s Aunt Ruda in In the Heat of the Night. She is truly a national treasure both as an American actress as well as a beautiful woman. She is very much to be admired.

    James Hay