Child actress, born into a theatrical family, grows up and marries wealthy Texas oil man and becomes a mover in the business world in her own right--a synopsis of Bonita Granville Wrather's real life story reads like the implausible script of one of her early movies.
Wrather, a former child star as Bonita Granville, and now a Kennedy Center trustee, came to Washington on Easter Sunday to narrate the premiere of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," the centerpiece of the Kennedy Center's seventh annual "Imagination Celebration." Wrather is also on the board of the American Film Institute.
Wrather says she "just kind of fell into acting. My family was all in the theater, so I was naturally immersed in it." Wrather's father, the late Bernard Granville, was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies and many other Broadway shows, and her grandmother, Maria Brambilla, was a prima ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
Born in Manhattan in 1923, Wrather played an infant's part in her father's vaudeville act at age 3. The fledgling actress made her movie debut in "Westward Passage" at the age of 7. "I was in Hollywood, and they were looking for somebody who looked like she could be the daughter of Ann Harding and Laurence Olivier," Wrather said. "They thought I looked like Harding and chose me."
In her early pictures, Wrather played a series of "brat" roles, even winning an Academy Award nomination at age 12 for her role as the malevolent child in "These Three," adapted from Lillian Hellman's stage play "The Children's Hour." All told, Wrather appeared in more than 55 movies, from a string of girl detective movies to "Now Voyager," "The Plough and the Stars" and "Hitler's Children," her first non-ingenue role.
In 1947, Wrather retired from her acting career to marry Texas oil man Jack Wrather, who was also a television and movie producer. "I stopped acting because I have a very busy husband," she said. "I get an itch to get back into it once in a while, but mostly I keep busy promoting our properties." After her three children had grown, Wrather returned to acting, starring in television shows like "Playhouse 90" and "Studio One."
"I haven't been involved in entertainment since I stopped producing the 'Lassie' television series nearly 10 years ago," Wrather said. "I got involved with the 'Lassie' show because my husband owned the property and I wasn't acting anymore. I was just poking around the studio, and I went into the cutting room and the story department . . . " Wrather became associate producer, then producer, of the long-running series.
"Now I'm off on other things," said Wrather, who is on the board of directors of the Wrather Corp. "We have a ship in Long Beach, which is now a floating hotel." That "ship" happens to be the grand old ocean liner the Queen Mary. The Wrathers also own Howard Hughes' famous flying boat, the Spruce Goose.