Born in Chicago on February 2, 1923, Bonita Granville’s family moved west when she was 7; she almost immediately gravitated toward the film business. In 1932’s Westward Passage, her film debut, she played the daughter of star Laurence Olivier. Inexplicably, she was most often cast in young female roles ranging from precocious and obnoxious to downright mean and spiteful. Her finest hour was in These Three, a 1936 film directed by William Wyler. Based on the Lillian Hellman play The Children’s Hour, Bonita propelled the plot with her performance as a schoolgirl whose malicious lie about two teachers disrupts all their lives. Film critic Leonard Maltin called it “a restrained, genuinely chilling performance.” For her keen portrayal, Bonita was honored, at age 13, with an Oscar® nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
Off screen, Bonita, called “Bunny” by her friends, was the opposite of her movie persona. In 1939 she finally got a chance to play a markedly nicer character: the title role in Nancy Drew, Detective. Warner Bros. hoped to create a series of movies based on the juvenile mystery novels that would rival MGM’s successful Andy Hardy films. Bonita starred in only three more Nancy Drew pictures, but, ironically, later appeared in two Andy Hardy movies. She made the often-challenging transition from child star to young adult in more than 55 films, including classics like 1942’s The Glass Key with Alan Ladd and Now, Voyager with Bette Davis.
Bonita married Southern California businessman Jack Wrather on February 5, 1947, giving up her career as an actress to become a key player in his expanding entertainment empire.
She became a producer on two of Wrather’s television shows, The Lone Ranger and Lassie, and is even credited with discovering Jon Provost, who played Timmy in that long-running series. Later, television’s dramatic anthologies lured Bonita back to acting, and she starred in series such as The United States Steel Hour, Studio One, and Playhouse 90.
At her husband’s side during the construction and operation of the Disneyland Hotel, Bonita officiated over the groundbreaking and dedication of the world-famous Dancing Waters show. In her honor, the Hotel’s third tower was named the Bonita Tower, and, in 1983, fine dining arrived in the form of the sumptuous Granville’s Steak House.
In the 1980s, Bonita oversaw the renovation of the docked luxury liner Queen Mary, restoring the ship to its original art deco grandeur. She was a founding member of the Los Angeles Music Center, a member of the Board of Trustees at the American Film Institute, and assumed the chairmanship of the Wrather Corporation after her husband’s death in 1984. Under her watch, Disney acquired Wrather’s operations in 1988 and obtained ownership of the Disneyland Hotel.
Bonita passed away on October 11, 1988, in Santa Monica, California.