Bonita Granville was born in Chicago, Illinois, Granville was the daughter of stage actors, and made her film debut at the age of nine in Westward Passage(1933). Over the next couple of years she played uncredited supporting roles in such films as Little Women (1933) and Anne of Green Gables (1934) before playing the role of Mary in the film adaptation of Lillian Hellman's 1934 stage play The Children's Hour. RenamedThese Three, a 1936 film that told the story of three adults (played by Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, and Joel McCrea) who find their lives almost destroyed by the malicious lies of an evil attention-seeking child. For her role as that child, Granville was nominated for anAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actress, then the first youngest person to be nominated for that award. Despite this success, and although she continued to work, the next few years brought her few opportunities to build her career.
In 1938, she starred as the saucy mischievous daughter in the multi-Academy Awards nominated hit comedy film Merrily We Live and as girl detective Nancy Drew in the hit film Nancy Drew, Detective. The Nancy Drew film success led to Granville reprising the role in three sequels from 1938 to 1939, including Nancy Drew... Reporter (1939).
As a young adult, she was once again cast in supporting roles, often in prestigious films such as Now, Voyager (1942), as well as two Andy Hardy films with Mickey Rooney, Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (1944) and Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946). She is also remembered for her starring role in the World War II anti-Nazism film Hitler's Children (1943). Her career began to fade by the mid-1940s.
She was the heroine of the novel Bonita Granville and the Mystery of Star Island written by Kathryn Heisenfelt, published by Whitman Publishing Company in 1942. The novel's subtitle is "An original story featuring BONITA GRANVILLE famous motion-picture player as the heroine". The story was probably written for a young teenage audience and is reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. It is part of a series known as "Whitman Authorized Editions", 16 books published between 1941-1947 that featured a film actress as heroine.
In 1947, Granville married Jack Wrather, who had produced some of her films. He formed the Wrather Corporation, and bought the rights to characters from both The Lone Ranger and Lassie. Granville worked as a producer for several film and television productions featuring these characters, including the 1954 TV series Lassie. She appeared in the film version of The Lone Ranger in 1956, and made her final screen appearance in a cameo role in The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981).
In 1949, she appeared with Rod Cameron in the comedy film Strike It Rich, filmed about Tyler, Kilgore, and Lindale in east Texas.
The marriage lasted until Wrather's death in 1984, shortly after release of the movie The Magic of Lassie, which starred Wrather's pal James Stewart. Granville herself died four years later of lung cancer in Santa Monica, California, at the age of sixty-five. Their children are daughters Molly and Linda, and sons Jack and Christopher. Jack and Molly were from Wrather's previous marriage to Mollie O'Daniel, a daughter of Governor and U.S. Senator W. Lee O'Daniel.
Bonita Granville has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6607 Hollywood Boulevard, for her contributions to motion pictures. She was honored at the Disneyland Hotel, which Jack Wrather owned until it was sold to the Walt Disney Company. The Bonita Tower and Granville's Steak House were named in her honor.