Ethel <I>Grandin</I> Smallwood

Ethel Grandin Smallwood

Death 28 Sep 1988 (aged 94)
Burial North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Memorial ID 11313929 · View Source
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Charming star of silent films. At the age of six, Ethel Grandin took her first step on stage in child parts. After several years with touring companies, she decided to try her luck in the fledgling motion picture industry which was largely based in her native New York. When she applied at Biograph, D.W. Griffith lifted her skirt to inspect her legs. Disgusted with Griffith's rudeness, she instead inquired at Carl Laemmle's Independent Motion Pictures (IMP) where Mary Pickford (with whom Ethel toured on stage) was the resident "IMP girl". They co-starred in a number of short films including "The Toss of a Coin" (1911) before Mary departed the studio for greener pastures. In desperate need of a leading lady, they replaced Pickford with Grandin. Thus Ethel became "The IMP girl".

The next few months were spent filming many one reel productions including the recently rediscovered "Uncle's Visit" (1911). Later in the year, she was sent to film on location in Edendale, California where Thomas Ince was shooting epic western subjects. Under the banner of Bison 101, Kay-Bee, and Broncho, Ethel made many early classics such as "The Invaders", "The War on the Plains", "The Crisis", "The Deserter", and "The Lieutenant's Last Fight" (all 1912 and still extant). Most of these productions were photographed by Raymond C. Smallwood, whom Ethel married. Their son, Arthur Grandin Smallwood, was born in Hollywood in 1912.

By 1913, Carl Laemmle invited Ethel to return to the eastern IMP studios. At the time of her arrival in New York, the company had not yet worked out her schedule. In the meantime, she played a key supporting role in "Traffic In Souls", which IMP director George Loane Tucker was producing secretly with his own money. An Expose on the horrors of white slavery, Ethel played a terrified young girl who is shanghied into a brothel. Of course, she escapes with her virtue intact. Carl Laemmle had not wanted the film made due to it's 6 reel length, but since it was not made with his money, he agreed to distribute the early feature to theaters. Overnight, "Traffic In Souls" became a sensation, packing theaters everywhere. Historians consider it the first film to discover that sex on the screen sells. Ethel, already popular, was elavated to superstardom. For the next year she continued appearing in many IMP productions before setting up her own independent studio with her husband.

The couple produced about a dozen short films including "In Her Daddies Footsteps", "The Fashion Shop", and "The Burglar and the Mouse" (all 1915) when they suddenly ceased production. She never explained why, but it was around this time that her brother, George, died at the age of 25. Perhaps Ethel put her career on hold in the wake of her brother's passing. The following year, she returned in the 16 episode serial "The Crimson Stain Mystery" with Maurice Costello. Despite the serial's popularity, Ethel was absent from the screen for five years before making a comeback in the early twenties. She was Gareth Hughes leading lady in "The Hunch" and "Garments of Truth" (both 1921), and made her swan song opposite Charles Ray in "A Tailor Made Man" (1922). The industry by now had practically reinvented itself.

Ethel may have found the changes too overwhelming, for she retired again and this time did not return. She spent the years in contentment raising her son who graduated from Hollywood High School. He worked in the motion picture industry in various technical capacities before enlisting in the air force.

Ethel would work again, but this time selling make-up for a major cosmetics company. In the early sixties, Ray Smallwood was in poor health prompting the couple's move to Motion Picture Country House where Ray died in 1964. Ethel, who paid her way, remained at the facility for the rest of her life. Her neighbor was none other than Mary Astor, a silent film leading lady herself and Humphrey Bogart's co-star in "The Maltese Falcon". Her fan mail continued to pour in and she enjoyed answering it all. By the mid eighties, she was still mentally and physically active although she lost her voice. Thus, she literally became a silent star.

After suffering a congestive heart failure, Ethel passed away peacefully at age 94. In 2006, she became a great great grandmother. She was married to director Ray Smallwood. BIO PROVIDED BY: Jim Trottier

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  • Maintained by: Bill
  • Originally Created by: TLS
  • Added: 8 Jul 2005
  • Find a Grave Memorial 11313929
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Ethel Grandin Smallwood (3 Mar 1894–28 Sep 1988), Find a Grave Memorial no. 11313929, citing Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Bill (contributor 46917486) .