THE THOMAS AND DOROTHY LEAVEY CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF LOS ANGELES RESEARCH COLLECTIONJACK AND BONITA GRANVILLE WRATHER BIOGRAPHIES
BONITA GRANVILLE WRATHER (1923-1988)
Bonita Granville Wrather was born in 1923 in New York City to Bernard Granville and Rosina Granville (neé Timponi). Bonita's lineage was rich in the field of the arts and entertainment: her maternal grandmother had been a ballerina for the Ballet Russe of Monaco, and her maternal grandfather conducted at the famed La Scala opera house of Milan, Italy. Father Bernard was a regular on the vaudeville stage of New York, talented and popular enough to appear in the top end of that venue, the famous Ziegfeld Follies. It was from her father that Bonita came by the nickname "Bunny."
The erosion of the Granvilles' fortunes because of the Great Depression brought a move to Los Angeles from New York in hopes of improving the family's lot. Bernard's career is obscure after this move, but that of his precocious daughter is not. By 1932, at the age of nine, she gained her first movie role, in "Westward Passage," after which she began to earn minor parts in other movies, including one in the 1933 Oscar winner for best picture, "Cavalcade." Her portrayal of the mendacious student in Director William Wyler's "These Three" earned her a 1936 Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress and confirmed her as one of the top child stars in Hollywood, and as one whose roles had bite. Bonita Granville's turn in this film and others such as "Maid of Salem" marked her as one of Hollywood's more memorable "brats." In the early 1940s, Bonita Granville Wrather landed strong supporting roles in such films as the Bette Davis vehicle "Now Voyager" (1942) and the film noir classic "The Glass Key" (1942). Her most memorable role in the 1940s came in the propaganda masterpiece from RKO Radio Pictures, "Hitler's Children" (1943), as the heroine who resists the evil of National Socialism.
Bonita Granville met Jack Wrather, a native Texan with a considerable oil business, in 1946, and the two would marry in 1947. The couple had two children, Christopher and Linda. Her film roles had begun to decrease at this point, although she did star in the Jack Wrather productions "The Guilty" (1947), and "Strike It Rich" (1948). Bonita Granville also appeared in dramatic television productions such as Playhouse 90 and Studio One in the 1950s. Her husband's acquisition of the television properties "Lassie," "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," and "The Lone Ranger" would result in her move into production. She assumed the position of associate producer of "Lassie" in 1958; later she became the show's executive producer, thus playing a considerable role in fostering the success of one of television's longest running and most successful programs.
Bonita Granville Wrather's professional activities and successes extended beyond the field of television production. In 1968 she became a member of the board of the Wrather Corporation, the company run by her husband, and which oversaw all of her and her husband's enterprises. After the death of her husband (1984), Bonita Granville Wrather assumed the chair of the board of the Wrather Corporation, and directed the numerous business enterprises of the company until its sale to the Disney Corporation in 1988. In recognition of her talent and success, she received a presidential appointment in 1972 to the board of trustees of the Kennedy Center, the steward of the cultural riches of the United States. In another signal acknowledgment of her professional expertise and leadership skills, Bonita Granville Wrather served as chair of the American Film Institute from 1986 to 1988. Besides her significant accomplishments in business and entertainment, Bonita Granville Wrather was a leader in charity and civic causes, serving on the boards of the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild and the Children's Bureau of Los Angeles, on the Board of Trustees of Loyola Marymount University, on an advisory council of KCET-TV, and on the founders' board of the Los Angeles Music Center. Bonita Granville Wrather died in 1988.
JACK WRATHER (1918-1984)
Jack (John Devereaux) Wrather, Jr., was born in Amarillo, Texas, in 1918 to J. D. (John Devereaux), Sr., and Mazie Wrather, the former an important player in the development of Texas oil fields, and the latter descended from a prominent Texas family, the Cogdells. As a youth, the junior Wrather made several moves, living in, among other places, Long Beach, California, before graduating from high school in Tyler, Texas, in 1935.
Wrather attended the University of Texas, from which he graduated in 1939, starting a life-long relationship of service to the university. After graduation, in a highly publicized courtship and wedding, he married Molly O'Daniel in 1941, the daughter of Texas governor Wilbert Lee ("Pappy") O'Daniel. The couple had two children (John D., III, "Jack"; and Molly) but would begin divorce proceedings in 1946.
He worked for the Overton Refining Company, his family's oil business, and upon his father's illness, became president (1940). Service in World War II as a United States Marine Corps officer (1942-1945) disrupted this work, but following his release from active duty in 1945, Jack Wrather resumed oversight of the family oil business and managed its development into the Wrather Petroleum Corporation, which he ran as president until 1957.
While increasing his family's oil fortunes, Wrather began to diversify his business interests, displaying the hallmark entrepreneurial character that would lead to a multi-million dollar business empire. Establishing residences both in Los Angeles and Dallas, he moved into the entertainment and leisure field on the hunch that Americans were ready to spend their dollars in these areas after the hardships of World War II. In 1946, he began the production of movies through his Jack Wrather Productions, Inc.; his company produced several "B" pictures for the"Poverty Row Studio" Monogram.
Astutely recognizing the potential of the new television industry of the post-World War II era, Jack Wrather steadily began iin the 1950s to acquire style memorable and highly successful television properties, which would be organized under his Wrather Television Productions. Those storied icons of American pop culture Lassie and The Lone Ranger were acquired in 1956 and 1954 respectively as television programs; in 1957 Wrather also purchased "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," another successful television program. His skillful handling, with noticeable input from Bonita Granville Wrather, of "Lassie" and "The Lone Ranger" ensured not only their continued place in American entertainment but also a newfound growth in their popularity.
A correlative venture was Wrather's purchase of television stations in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Bakersfield, California; San Diego, California, and other places. Continuing his cultivation of the television business, in 1958, Wrather founded, with his partner Associated Television Ltd. of England, International Television Corporation, which became a leading company in the distribution of television programs. Radio station WNEW of New York became a Wrather holding in 1955. Acquired in 1957 Muzak was, at that time, of one the country's largest record libraries and an innovator in the development of elevator music. In short, Jack Wrather had created a broadcasting empire. In the area of public television Jack Wrather had a distinguished niche as well, founding KCET-TV of Los Angeles, and serving on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (1970-1974).
Besides broadcasting, Jack Wrather also spearheaded major developments in the field of leisure. Walt Disney tabbed him to develop the Disneyland Hotel, which Wrather successfully did in 1955 to the astonishment of the many who had predicted that the venture would fail.
All these ventures were part, or would be placed under the umbrella, of the Wrather Corporation, which became a publicly owned company in 1961. One of the major achievements of the Wrather Corporation was the rejuvenation of the Queen Mary properties in Long Beach, California, beginning in 1980 and the creation of Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose as a companion entertainment and tourist attraction (1983).
In politics, Wrather is best known as a member of Ronald Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet," which advised the California governor and spurred his run for the presidency. Wrather served President Reagan as a member of his transition team in 1981.
One of the major enterpeneurs in the United States in the post-World War II era, Jack Wrather died in 1984. Wrather had married Bonita Granville in 1947, and the couple had two children, Christopher and Linda.
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