To all that read this blog, my other website is HelenParrish.com
I may be contacted at BobbyRJS@aol.com
Please ignore the google email at the top of this blog.
Also, I am no longer connected to Gannon University.
A website dedicated to my dear friend Ann Rutherford will be coming soon....
Please check back often.
Monday, January 23, 2012
This past year I had almost given up my goal to be a film historian, due to physical ailments and not receiving the needed support from my Professor at college. When I would watch my favorite classic films, however, I decided I loved it too much to end it.
I also realized something else; of course I love all the great stars like Clark Gable, William Powell, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert and many other stars of the day. Nevertheless, my favorite out of all of these are the child stars of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. This may sound strange, but I always felt them as a part of my family, because of the time I spend researching and collecting their memorabilia. They have become a part of me and I can sympathize with some of their hardships.
This brings me to the following introduction…
The year 2011 was a sad year regarding the loss of many stars. Everyone knows we lost with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, Anne Francis, Harry Morgan, David Nelson (the last main cast member of Ozzie and Harriet.) Few knew we lost such stars as singer Georgia Carroll (bandleader Kay Kaiser's wife), and Barbara Kent (one of the last stars of the silent era.)
Much has been said for Elizabeth Taylor as she was called “Hollywood's Last Living Legend,” by many news broadcasts. This is far from the truth. They are many legendary stars still with us, God willing.
As I mentioned in my Opinion Piece about my attachment to the child stars, I will write about three major child stars that have passed away in 2011, and have been overlooked.
The following quotes taken from child stars Bonita Granville Wrather and Jackie Coogan are two excellent reasons why I am dedicated to the classic films of the 1920’s to the 1940’s.
“I feel very strongly that motion pictures for the past many years for the past decade have appealed to the lowest possible denominator, I don't happen to approve of that, films from the 30’s and early 40’s always had an uplifting quality to them. “
-- Bonita Granville Wrather
“I don't think we can ever return to the innocence of the 20’s and 30’s, which children were just children and, society has collapsed morally and physically so it's absolutely impossible to make that things that were important then important now. “
-- Jackie Coogan
JACKIE COOPER 1922 – 2011
Jackie Cooper (Fanpix.net)
He was born John Cooper, Jr. in Los Angeles, CA September 15, 1922. He was raised by his mother, Mable Leonard Bigelow, since his father left when Jackie was two years old.
Jackie’s mother Mabel was a pianist and later a secretary for the Fox Studio. His mother’s uncle, Jack Leonard, was a screenwriter, and mother’s aunt, Julie Leonard was an actress. She was married to famous Hollywood director, Norman Taurog.
Jackie was introduced to films by his grandmother who would take him along with her as she looked for work. He started at the age of three in Lloyd Hamilton comedies, then on to small parts in Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and Sunny Side Up. Jackie was nominated for the Academy’s best actor award in 193l for the movie, Skippy, about a boy and his dog. The famous story goes that his uncle, director Norman Taurog, told Jackie he would shoot his dog if he didn’t cry. This became the title of his autobiography, “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog”, in 1981.
He became a member of Our Gang from 1929 to 1931, and then Hal Roach sold his contract to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. There he made films with veteran actor, Wallace Beery. The Champ (193l), The Bowery (1933), The Choices of Andy Purcell (1933), Treasure Island (1934), and O’Shaughnessy’s Boy (1935).
Scene From When a Fellow Needs a Friend (1932) (Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
The Cast of Gallant Sons (1940) (Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
Jackie had a smooth transition from child star to teen star. He was the first Henry Aldrich in the series of films before Jimmy Lydon took over the role. He played Jane Withers boyfriend in Her First Beau (1941). Jackie starred with Bonita Granville in White Banners (1938) Gallant Sons (1940) and Syncopation (1942). As I mentioned in my previous blog, Jackie and Bonita were an item. They are my favorite Hollywood couple besides Gable and Lombard.
Scenes From The Courtship Of Jackie Cooper and “Bun” Granville
(Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
Jackie remained very successful in television, directing, and producing. He was most famous in his later years for playing Newspaper Editor Perry White in the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve.
Jackie Cooper and Bonita Granville
(Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
This might be a strange thing to say in tribute, but I always thought Jackie Cooper had the snazziest suits as a teenager and even when he was older. He never looked bad.
Hollywood’s Snazziest Dresser Jackie Cooper (Fanpix.net)
One of my biggest regrets as a film historian is that I never got the opportunity to interview Jackie Cooper. I always meant to write to him, but something always came up. What an icon.
Jackie was married three times. His first wife was June Horne 1944-1949. He had one son John “Jack” Cooper born in 1946. His second wife was Hildy Parks from 1950-1951. His last marriage to Barbara Kraus lasted from 1954 till her death in 2009. They had three children, Russell born in 1956; Julie born in 1957, dying in 1997; and Cristina born in 1959, dying in 2009.
EDITH FELLOWS 1923-2011
Edith Fellows (Fanpix.net)
I discovered Edith Fellows a few years back when I read Dickie Moore’s book, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car. I found out she was living at the Motion Picture and Television Retirement Home and wrote to her in care of that address. When I talked to Sybil Jason, she told me Edith was ill. “In regards to Edith Fellows, I am sad to say she has been ill health for quite some time. For years we were in daily contact and as friends we were as close as sisters. Edith does not stay in contact with anyone due to her health (heart) and I miss her friendship terribly.” Undaunted, I still sent her a card at Christmas to wish her well, knowing I would not get a response but hoping she would read it.
According to the book, Behind the Silver Screen, Stories from Residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund Retirement Community, when she moved into the Motion Picture Home, no one could be happier than her neighbor across the hall, who was none other than Marcia Mae Jones. “DidJa know,” confided Marcia Mae, “Edith has been my best friend since we were three years old, and now we live across the hall from each other!”
Edith Fellows life almost seems too much like the plot of a tearjerker movie. She was born May 20, 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother left her when she was two months old and her grandmother, Elizabeth, raised her because her father worked. Edith was pigeon-toed so her grandmother consulted a doctor who recommended taking dance lessons. She started out at dance and found out she could sing and do dialogue. One day, a man visited the dance studio saying he was a talent agent from Hollywood. If they gave him $50 he could put an ad out in Hollywood and when they came to Hollywood they could meet Hal Roach. Since Edith and her family were poor, the studio raised the money for them to go. When they arrived in Hollywood, it turned out the address of the talent agent was a vacant lot.
Edith Fellows and her Grandmother Elizabeth Fellows (Fanpix.net)
So her grandmother cleaned houses and did other odd jobs, because she was too proud to go back and tell everyone what actually happened. Edith finally received a part in the 1929 Charley Chase Short, Movie Night. This led to uncredited parts for Our Gang and few minor parts in movies until she appeared in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch with fellow child actress Virginia Weidler, and alongside Pauline Lord, Zazu Pitts, and W.C. Fields. When you watch Edith Fellows in this film, you can tell how natural her acting is and her genuine excitement especially in the theater scene.
Despite her professional success, her home life was lonely and cruel. Grandmother Elizabeth would not let Edith play with other children because she did not want her to get injured or ruin her delicate skin. Edith could not shout, so as not to damage her singing voice. Elizabeth kept her away from anyone whom she considered a bad influence. Even when Edith’s father finally made it to California, he was considered unnecessary and sent away.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934) (Fanpix.net)
As stated in Dickie Moore’s book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car), Edith was allowed to have a party once. Since she had no friends her own age, her grandmother invited her friends. Edith invited Cliff Edwards, a veteran actor and singer whom she had worked with and loved. When Cliff asked the grandmother where all the children were, she said it was none of his business. “It is my business,” he said. “Why aren’t there any children? What are these old farts doing here?” That was the end of the party, and the grandmother was livid.
Also stated in Dickie Moore’s book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Edith did have a secret savior, however, her teacher, Lillian Bartley. Edith was her only student at the studio’s school. When the young girl could not concentrate on lessons, Lillian would ask what was wrong. It was then little Edith could open up to someone. Lillian and Edith decided to keep their special friendship from the grandmother, because she would probably try to separate them. Edith said she really did not learn “the three R’s, but learned to survive, through the kindness and help from her teacher.” When it was time to graduate, Lillian took the exams for Edith so that she could pass and set everything up so she could graduate with Hollywood’s Professional School Class of 1940.
When Edith became successful, her mother came back into the picture. She wanted custody of the young girl, and her money. There was a nasty court battle, but eventually Edith’s grandmother regained custody, and the judge ordered Edith’s earnings to be placed in a trust.
Edith Fellows Autograph (Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
When Edith turned 21, she claimed her earnings, but instead of receiving $100,000, she was left with a check for $900.60. Since her grandmother had been dead for more than a few years, Edith assumed her own mother had in some way depleted her account.
Edith Fellows In Later Years ( Taken From Behind the Silver Screen Stories from Residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund Retirement Community)
Edith was married twice. First to Freddie Fields from 1946 – 1956. They had a daughter, Kathy, in 1947. She then married Hal Lee from 1962 – (Divorced)
She took a break from acting to raise her family, and returned to acting in television supporting roles in the 1980’s. In fact, fellow child actor Jackie Cooper revealed he had plans to make a movie about Edith Fellow’s life in 1985, but it never came to be.
SYBIL JASON 1927-2011
Sybil Jason (Fanpix.net)
As a little girl, she was adapt in piano, singing, dancing, and mimicking the stars of the day. She moved to London and performed in nightclubs, and on her Uncle Harry Jacobson’s radio show. Harry Jacobson was a popular orchestra leader at that time. During a performance at London’s Palace Theater, a movie producer took notice and signed her for her first film in 1935, Barnacle Bill.
(Sybil’s sister, Anita practically raised her at that time due to the mother’s frail health. Anita coached her, was in charge of her costumes, and was her devoted companion.)
Jack Warner of Warner Brothers was so impressed after seeing Barnacle Bill; he brought Sybil to Hollywood to be his answer to Shirley Temple. Although not as successful as Shirley, she made some wonderful pictures, Little Big Shot (1935) with Glenda Farrell, I Found Stella Parish (1935) and Comet Over Broadway (1938) with Kay Francis, The Singing Kid (1936) with Al Jolson, and The Great O’Malley (1937) with Humphrey Bogart and Pat O’Brien. Sadly, Warner Brothers did not renew her contract in1938.
Sybil did however get to work alongside Shirley Temple, when Darryl F. Zanuck cast her in The Little Princess (1939) and The Blue Bird (1940). She enjoyed working with Shirley and never felt any rivalry or competition with her. Unfortunately, many of her dramatic scenes were cut from The Blue Bird, so much so that Sybil and her sister Anita did not attend the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She did remain friends with Shirley Temple for the rest of her life.
Sybil Jason and Al Jolson (Fanpix.net)
I had always intended on writing Sybil Jason a letter, but one day I found her on of all places, Facebook. On her page was her email address, (WBKID). I wrote Sybil a fan note and said I was a film historian and wanted to interview her by telephone if possible. I also told her that we had a mutual friend in Ann Rutherford, and how I loved Al Jolson.
After a few weeks, Sybil wrote back and apologized for the delay. She said she could not do a telephone interview because she was ill and the medication she was on made her voice sound different. She spoke highly of Ann Rutherford. It really didn’t bother me that I could not interview her at that time, and I was honored of Sybil’s words of encouragement for my career.
Then another time, she wrote a comment on my facebook. I had posted pictures of Ann Rutherford and Joan Leslie and wrote, “Here are two of my favorite old movie actresses, and how much I would love to spend the day with them.” Sybil wrote, “If you saw two of my very favorite pals now you wouldn’t call them “old movie stars”. Both Joanie Leslie and Annie Rutherford look and act great!!!”
Although I never had the chance to meet Miss Jason, through our little opportunities of correspondence, I found her most charming and very loyal to her fans. I knew she was ill, but shocked when she died because she said it wasn’t anything life threatening.
Sybil was married once to Anthony Drake from 1947 until his death in 2005. They had one daughter, Toni.
Cooper, Jackie, and Dick Kleiner. Please Don’t Shoot My Dog The Autobiography of Jackie
Cooper. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1981.
Moore, Dick. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car).
New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984.
Bart, Peter., et al., eds. Behind the Silver Screen Stories from Residents of the Motion Picture &
Television Fund Retirement Community. Motion Picture & Television Fund. Variety
Custom Publishing, 2005.
Van Biema, David. “Former Child Star Edith Fellows High-Steps Back to Hollywood
After a 21-Year Intermission.” People Magazine 10 December 1984.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Have you ever had a favorite actress who every time you see or think of them you also think of a song from one of their pictures? In my mind there are only two actresses who share this distinction. Like many of you, I will always think of Gene Tierney to the strains of Laura from her 1944 film of the same name. That very same year another perhaps lesser known film was made, Hollywood Canteen with the song, Sweet Dreams Sweetheart. For me this melody will always be associated with Joan Leslie.
Joan Leslie was born Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel on January 26, 1925 in Detroit, Michigan. When the depression hit, her father, a bank clerk, lost his job and the family lost their house.
Joan had two sisters and they were all very talented dancers. They started winning prizes in amateur shows. They called themselves “The Brodel Sisters”, and were finding bookings on the vaudeville circuits. The Brodel Sisters act consisted of all three sisters performing an opening song and dance number, followed by two of the sisters doing a dance number, and then Joan would come out with either a song or doing her impressions. She would impersonate popular stars of the time including Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Zasu Pitts, and Maurice Chevalier, among others. This was during the era when Vaudeville was dying, and the “Talkies” were becoming more popular. During the summer the sisters were booked on a tour of Southern cities.
The family decided to move to New York in hopes of receiving better bookings. They did, including their own hometown of Detroit at the Fox and Apollo Theaters. However it was at The Riviera Night Club, in New Jersey that Joan got her first break! An MGM talent scout happened to be there and Joan received a small part in the Greta Garbo film of Camille. Although she was uncredited, if you watch the film, you can easily spot her.
It was around this time that her mother could see that writing on the wall of the death of Vaudeville. The Brodel Sisters act broke up. Joan’s oldest sister, Mary, moved to Hollywood and started getting small parts in films. Joan followed soon after and also began picking up small parts. Some of these films where you might be able to spot a young Joan Brodel are Men with Wings, Nancy Drew Reporter, and the 1939 Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer classic, Love Affair.
Also in 1939, Joan received one of her first minor-billed roles in Walter Wanger’s production for United Artists Winter Carnival, starring Ann Sheridan, Richard Carlson, and Helen Parrish. Joan’s role was that of “Betsy Phillips”, who was a girl who skipped out of her private girls’ boarding school to attend the Winter Carnival at Dartmouth College, enter the contest for Queen and pretend that she was a college student. She was still being billed under Joan Brodel.
Joan Brodel continued to appear in films in small parts or as an uncredited role. It was around 1940 or 1941 that she was signed by Warner Brothers, who changed her name to “Joan Leslie.” She was soon cast into a short called Alice in Movieland, where you can see her doing some of her impressions. She was then cast in the role of Velma in 1941’s High Sierra starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. She played a crippled girl whom Bogart’s character falls in love with and pays for the surgery to make her walk again. However, her character does not feel the same way about him. Also in 1941, Joan made The Great Mr. Nobody, The Wagons Roll at Night, and Thieves Fall Out.
Joan was then cast opposite Gary Cooper in Sergeant York, as Gracie Williams, his love interest and future bride. This was her breakthrough role! In 1942 came the role Joan is probably most remembered for, Mary, George M. Cohan’s girlfriend and eventual wife, in what I consider to be the greatest movie musical of all time, Yankee Doodle Dandy! So much has been said and written about this film that I really do not know what I can add. However I will say this, though it is clearly Jimmy Cagney’s film and he gives an Academy Award winning performance as George M. Cohan, Joan Leslie is his equal in every way. Her voice in this film as well as other musicals she was in was dubbed by “Sally Sweetland.” According to Joan, Sally had a voice similar to hers but with a finer, professional finish. I really do not think in this article that I could convey my feelings about this movie into words.
In 1943, Joan portrayed Katie Blaine in The Hard Way. She is from the industrial town of Greenhill. As Katie prepares for her High School graduation, she realizes that all the girls will be wearing new white dresses. She and her older, married sister, Helen Chernen (played by Ida Lupino) see a beautiful white dress for $10 in a store window, but they cannot afford it. Helen begs her working class husband to buy it, but he refuses. So Katie wears an old flower printed dress and when it is time to take class pictures, is pushed off to the side of the other girls wearing their new white dresses. Feeling defeated, Katie goes out on a date that night to a vaudeville theatre and is mesmerized by the act Runkel and Collins (played by Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson.) After the show, Katie goes to the Soda Fountain with her friends and begins doing imitations of the act. Helen wants to escape her dull, monotonous life and sees an opportunity with her sister. She pushes Katie into the act and into a marriage with Runkel (Jack Carson.) Not to give everything away but Helen begins to manipulate and ruin everyone’s life to the point where they want nothing to do with her. I hope I gave you enough information for you to want to see the movie. In this film you get the opportunity to see Joan Leslie’s dancing and performing skills, and a fine dramatic performance.
Also in 1943, Joan appeared with Fred Astaire in The Sky’s the Limit. Joan is actually 17 years of age in this film and Fred is 44 years old. But Fred had actually asked for Joan to co-star in this film with him. She had danced for him previously for another movie, Holiday Inn but Warners would not lend her out to Paramount. Although there was a huge age difference, in watching the film you would never know it. Joan does look older than a teenager, and she and Fred have a natural chemistry. Joan sings a Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer song, My Shining Hour (once again dubbed by Sally Sweetland.) She and Fred also do a duet called A Lot in Common. I consider this to be one of the best movie musical duets.
One of my favorite Joan Leslie movies besides Yankee Doodle Dandy, is the 1944 film Hollywood Canteen. Joan plays herself in this movie and meets a soldier named Slim (Robert Hutton) on leave at the legendary Canteen. He always dreams of meeting Joan Leslie and when he ends up at the Canteen, she is all he can talk about. The stars hear about this and go around asking each other if they know when Joan will be coming. Many Warner Brothers stars make cameos in this film and it is definitely not to be missed. Some of the stars were Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Joan Crawford, The Andrews Sisters, Jack Carson, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman and of course the founders of the Hollywood Canteen, John Garfield and Bette Davis. At first Slim gets a chance to kiss Joan Leslie, then he runs into her at the farmer’s market and they strike up a friendship. On the third night at the Canteen, Slim turns out to be the millionth man and picks Joan as his date. They run into too much publicity and decide to make it a quieter evening and end up at Joan’s house. They are so innocent that Joan and Slim will not go into the house until her parents come home. Slim eventually gets invited to a family dinner at Joan’s and he meets the family. The parents in the movie are not actually Joan Leslie’s but her sister is, Betty Brodel. It is just a charming movie and I thought it really happened until I looked it up later.
In 1945, Joan starred with Fred MacMurray and June Haver (years before they were married) in Where Do We Go From Here. The 20th Century Fox picture is probably one of the most bizarre movie musicals ever made! Fred MacMurray wants to enlist into a branch of the service, but is constantly turned down because he is 4F. He comes to a USO Canteen where he meets up with June Haver, but she does not want to have anything to do with him because he is not a soldier. Joan Leslie’s character, Sally Smith, likes him but he is too dim-witted to notice. Fred gets in possession of a magic lamp which of course contains a genie. The genie grants him a wish to be in the army; however the genie misunderstands and sends Fred to Washington’s army at Valley Forge. What happens next is a series of misadventures where Fred ends up with Christopher Columbus, after which he buys Manhattan Island from the Indians. He then goes to Dutch New York which is New Amsterdam and in the funniest part of the movie, thinking he is finally in the army, Fred discovers he is marching with the WACS! Both Joan and June Haver also appear in his adventures. Some of the funniest moments for Joan are her name changes (such as Prudence at Valley Forge, and Katrina in New Amsterdam where she talks in backward sentences.) Joan Leslie, I believe, was using her real voice in some nice duets with Fred MacMurray.
These are only a small selection of the movies of Joan Leslie. There are many more including westerns such as 1948’s Northwest Stampede and l954’s Jubilee Trail.
In 1950, Joan married Dr. William Caldwell and later had twin daughters Patrice and Ellen. He died in 2000.
It was through Joan’s daughter Professor Ellen Caldwell that I was able to ask Miss Leslie some questions about her career, which contributed greatly to this article.
This blog article is respectfully dedicated to Joan Leslie on the occasion of her 86th birthday.
All Pictures courtesy of Fanpix.net except for the Hollywood Canteen sheet music which is from the author’s personal collection.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
When you think of child actresses of the 1930’s, the name that comes to mind is without question, Shirley Temple. Not that Shirley doesn’t deserve her spot as number one; she most certainly does, for no other star before or since has captivated a nation. There were many others too, including Jane Withers, Sybil Jason, Ann Rutherford and Deanna Durbin among many others. But how many of you are saying “Bonita Granville?” I know you are probably saying, “Who is Bonita Granville?” If you do not know, you are missing out on who could be the most versatile child actress in movie history!
Bonita Granville was born on February 2, 1923 in Long Island, New York, to Bernard Granville a Vaudevillian and the former Rosa Timponti of the famous Timponti acting family of Chicago. When she was old enough to walk, her father would lead her on to the stage to take a bow. He would sometimes let her participate in skits but ad-libbing. Being from acting family and living around stage people, it was instilled in Bonita at an early age that she wanted to be an actress.
When she was eight years of age, the family moved to Hollywood so young Bonita could get over an illness. A casting director happened to live in the same apartment building as the Granvilles and asked if Bonita would like to play the daughter in the film Westward Passage (1933) because she resembled the movie’s star Ann Harding. The answer was yes, and she was soon playing many small roles in films for various studios.
The film where she would reach stardom was Samuel Goldwyn’s production of These Three (1936) based on Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour. The plot of this film is about two recent college graduates, Karen Wright (Merle Oberon), and Martha Dobie (Miriam Hopkins) who decide to turn an old farmhouse into a boarding school for young girls. One of the girls at school is Mary Tilford (Bonita Granville) whose grandmother, Mrs. Tilford, is the main benefactor. The characters played my Oberon and Hopkins meet a young doctor, Joe Cardin (Joel McCrea.) Karen begins to date Joe. She is unaware that Martha also has feelings for him.
Bonita tortures and threatens the other students blaming them for things she has done herself. One of the students Rosalie Wells (Marcia Mae Jones) is pulled into Bonita’s web of lies. Mary plants a bracelet she stole from another student with Rosalie’s things. When Mary finds out that Rosalie injured her arm because she was listening to an argument between Martha and Martha’s Aunt Lily, (about Martha’s apparent feelings for Joe) and got her arm closed in the door by accident, she concocts a twisted version of the exchange. Because of the presence of the young doctor, Mary starts a rumor that Martha was having a sexual affair with Joe and tells her grandmother. She tells a frightened Rosalie that she will tell everyone that Rosalie stole the bracelet if she does not go along with the lie.
Eventually the truth comes out, but not before the teachers are humiliated and Joe is fired from his job at the hospital.
After Mrs. Tilford offers reparation to Martha for the trouble Mary caused, Martha only asks that she explains everything to Karen so that Karen can get back together with Joe.
Bonita’s performance in These Three earned her an Academy Award Nomination (not the miniature “special” one given to a specific child star but for best supporting actress.) However, she lost to Gale Sondergaard for Anthony Adverse. Her portrayal was so convincing that many people believed it to be the real her! Parents sent her letters, Bibles, and instructions by the droves telling her to be a good little girl and not a menace to society.
This could not be further from the truth as Bonita was exactly the opposite. Called “Bunny” by her friends, she was a devout Catholic who was so intelligent she graduated from high school at age sixteen. She spoke French and Italian and studied German. Her hobbies included record collecting, collecting ivory elephants, horseback riding, and dress designing. Her circle of friends included Marcia Mae Jones, Deanna Durbin, and Helen Parrish among others. Her best friend was Ann Rutherford. Her first major boyfriend was actor Jackie Cooper.
According to his 1981 Cooper’s autobiography, “Please Don’t Shoot my Dog,” Bonita and her mother were very religious, and Jackie Cooper had to take Bonita to confession before their dates on Saturday nights. Her strong moral character is strongly reflected in the article she wrote for the September 1943 edition of “Photoplay.” It was entitled, “My Wartime Morals.”
This is not to say that Bonita was without a sense of humor, for she could also be a practical joker. Her favorite prank was to escort a guest to a door and when opening it would find themselves in a clothes closet; she got a big kick out of it!
Not that she was ever typecast, but Bonita was often called upon to play a “meanie” many more times in her career. Right after These Three, she played in 1937’s Maid of Salem, where she was one of the people who accused Claudette Colbert’s character of being an evil witch. Bonita then played in two of my favorite movies of hers, both in 1938, My Bill, and The Beloved Brat. The Beloved Brat was about a wealthy young girl (Roberta Morgan), whose parents did not pay much attention to her. They also really did not care. Bonita lashes out at the servants, causing any kind of trouble imaginable. This includes a fake fire that sends the entire town’s fire department over to her house. Realizing they could no longer control her, her parents send her to a private girl’s school. She is against this at first, but soon finds solace in helping teach the younger girls in the school. She finds where she wants to be thanks to the help of the principal of the school, played by the legendary silent screen actress and wife of John Barrymore, Dolores Costello.
Bonita’s most famous role came in 1938 and 1939 as Nancy Drew, the title character based on the books by Carolyn Keene. There were four movies in the series: Nancy Drew -- Detective, Nancy Drew... Reporter Nancy Drew: Trouble Shooter , and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
In 1940, Bonita had a small part in the MGM film, Escape, starring Robert Taylor and Norma Shearer. Robert Taylor played a man who was looking for his mother and found out she was sentenced to die in a concentration camp. Norma Shearer played a widowed American countess, Taylor had befriended. The countess ran a boarding school for girls, and Bonita played a girl who was a deep Nazi sympathizer. She strongly believed in the Nazi ideology. Her chilling performance clearly illustrates how the minds of the German youth were brainwashed by the Hitler.
Bonita’s most powerful performance after These Three was RKO’s 1943 anti-Nazi propaganda film, Hitler’s Children. She plays a German-born American, (Anna Miller) who lives at the American school in Berlin. She meets and falls in love with a Hitler youth, Lt. Karl Bruner (played by Tim Holt) who was born in America but is now a Nazi. On Memorial Day, she is taken by the S.S. to a working camp, where she appears to have accepted Nazism. Tim Holt’s character also works at the camp. She eventually cracks and shows her true side, which is for American ideals. She is taken to be whipped in front of the whole camp and Holt tries to stop it. Before this, she is deemed unfit to bear children, and is marked for sterilization. She also attempts to escape and a hide in a church, but is found. This is one of the only anti-Nazi films to show the brutal treatment of young women.
Bonita continued to act in many films throughout the 1940’s, including two pictures in the Andy Hardy Series.
In 1948, Bonita married Jack Wrather, a wealthy businessman who made his money in oil, as well as other investments. He also owned the ocean liner, The Queen Mary, and later the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. Bonita and Jack would go on to co-produce the television series, Lassie. During this time, they raised four children, Molly, Linda, Jack, and Christopher. They had many close friends, including future President, Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy. Bonita and Jack were very much involved with the Reagan campaign.
Jack Rather died in 1984, but Bonita still kept busy. In 1986, she became Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute, a position she held until her death two years later.
Bonita Granville Wrather died on October 11, 1988 at the young age of 65. A victim of cancer, she was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
I have only mentioned a few of the many films and reasons why I believe Bonita Granville is very important. She should be more well-known today than she is. In fact, I think she is just as good, if not better, than someone she greatly admired growing up and someone she co-starred in the film, Now Voyager, and that would be Miss Bette Davis. Bonita should be studied and most of all remembered and I want to do something about that along with the many of the other forgotten actors and actresses of this era.
And just one side-note, during my research for this article, I came across many old clippings which had said that Bonita was not pretty, was very plump, and not much to look at. Now, if I may say so, whoever wrote these articles really needs to have their eyes and their heads examined! First of all, the name Bonita is Spanish for the word “pretty.” And the word fits Bonita perfectly!
All pictures curtesy of Fanpix.net (other sources cited in article)