Not long ago, Joe sprung on Frank a photo of Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper and a third person, a winsome young woman Frank could not identify.
When Frank admitted that he was stumped and pleaded ignorance, Joe commanded — “Bonita Granville. Look her up!”
A stunned Frank responded that he didn’t need to. ”I once had lunch with that woman.”
In New York in the Seventies when he worked for Variety, Frank found himself sitting in Sardi’s Restaurant opposite Granville, then in her fifties. What exactly the interview was about is long forgotten, but it might have had to do with one of the do-good projects Bonita was involved in then.
She was most pleasant, and made no reference that can be recalled about her Hollywood career as a child star. She came from a theatrical family, and started acting in movies at the age of nine in RKO’s 1932 drama, Westward Passage, starring Laurence Olivier, Ann Harding and Zazu Pitts.
Her specialty for a while was playing obnoxious, bratty girls. She was nominated for a best actress Oscar in 1937 for her role as a little nasty who says unpleasant things about her teachers in director William Wyler’s These Three with Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea.
She later appeared in some of Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy pictures (1944′s Andy Hardy’s Blond Trouble and 1946′s Love Laughs At Andy Hardy) at Metro.
Granville gained much notoriety for her four title roles as detective/reporter Nancy Drew beginning with Nancy Drew Detective in the mid-Thirties. An interesting change of pace for her came in 1943 with an appearance in RKO’s Hitler’s Children, director Edward Dmytryk’s Hitler Youth expose costarring Tim Holt and Kent Smith. And let’s not forget her tart-tongued turn in 1942′s Now, Voyager with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid.
Bonita retired from acting in the early Fifties, and worked behind the cameras as the producer of a TV series about one of America’s most famous canines, Lassie. Her nearly 40-year marriage to wealthy businessman Jack Wrather — who produced the Lassie TV series as well as the Lone Ranger TV series – ended with his death in 1984. The couple had four children.
Bonita, who died in 1988 of lung cancer (she was 65), is buried next to her husband in Holy Cross cemetery in Culver City, California.