We suspect that many of you trying to identify that mystery third person pictured to the left in yesterday’s “Monday Photo Challenge” came up empty. Take it from at least one of us.  Don’t feel bad.

Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to provide the answers to yesterday’s “guess the star” entry.

When Joe selected Monday’s photo, Frank quickly named Jackie Cooper as the young man in the middle presenting a bottle of bubbly to a wary-looking Judy Garland. She hardly needs an introduction so here’s a Cooper refresher.

Born in Los Angeles in the early 1920s, he from age 3 was dragged by his grandmother to various studio gates in quest of work as an extra. His mother, a rehearsal pianist for Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, managed to get her son a singing role when he was six. Cooper subsequently appeared in 15 Hal Roach “Our Gang” comedy episodes.

By age nine, he was popular enough to be elevated to star billing in 1931’s Skippy, a Paramount comedy based on a Percy Crosby comic strip about a mischievous doctor’s son who tries to save his friend’s mongrel from the clutches of a dog catcher.

The Skippy script was by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote All About Eve 19 years later. The director was Cooper’s uncle, Norman Taurog, who when faced with a recalcitrant child star — Jackie had refused to perform a crying scene — infamously threatened to shoot Cooper’s pet dog. (Taurog got the tears he was after.)

For his performance in the movie, the nine-year-old Cooper became the youngest nominee in history for a best actor Oscar, a record that still holds. Cooper referred to the Skippy experience in the title of his 1981 memoir, Please Don’t Shoot My Dog, written with Dick Kleiner.

But back to the identity of our mystery lass to the left. When Frank finally pleaded ignorance and threw up his hands, 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. (Granville died of lung cancer in 1988.)

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 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.

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 was buried next to her husband in Holy Cross cemetery in Culver City, California.

By the way, we received yesterday the following email from reader Mark, which adds some new points.

I think it’s Bonita Granville. who scored an Oscar nomination in 1936 for slamming across one of the most malevolent screen brats in film history in THESE THREE. She’s apparently partying, or at least socializing, with Jackie Cooper and Judy Garland, the other two people in the photo.

If I remember correctly, Jackie Cooper dated Bonita for a time, and earlier had dated Judy. Perhaps the Cooper/Granville romance was still going strong when this photo was taken?

Anyway, Bonita ultimately married Texas Oilman Jack Wrather and became a producer on the long-running LASSIE TV series with onscreen credit as “Bonita Granville Wrather.” She seems to have been one former child performer who managed to survive her years of Hollywood stardom and to live a secure and happy life as an adult “behind the scenes.”

Many thanks, Mark.



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