Ethel Grandin was born on March 3, 1894 in New York City. She was the youngest child and only daughter born to Edward, a coal salesman, and his wife, Julia. She had three older brothers named Edward, Howell, and George.
Ethel made her stage debut at age six! She spent a lot of her childhood traveling around the country with various theatre troupes, and one of her frequent costars on the road was another young girl named Gladys Smith, who would later change her name to Mary Pickford. Not a bad way to start!
When she was seventeen, she went looking for film work at the Biograph studio. She was meeting with D.W. Griffith when he lifted up her skirt so that he could 'inspect her legs.' Well, Ethel was horrified by his gumption and left his office immediately. The casting couch is nothing new it seems...
Even though this incident turned her stomach, it didn't stop her from continuing to pursue a screen career. She next went to the IMP Studios to see Carl Laemmle. She had a much better experience there and was signed up! The pot was sweetened even more because her old friend and travelling buddy, Mary Pickford was working with the studio already and was known as "The IMP Girl" to movie audiences.
Ethel made her film debut in the 1911 short, Dorothy's Family. She would frequently appear in shorts with Mary, until Mary went to another studio and Ethel took over her role and became the new "IMP Girl."
One of Ethel's films became quite famous and quite notorious. In 1913 she appeared in the film, Traffic in Souls. This film is considered the first to show the selling of sex and marked the beginning of the so called 'sexplotation' genre.
Her career consisted of quite a few breaks. She would leave for awhile, and come back and do more films, and then go away again. The first time she did this it was because her brother, George, who also worked for a bit as an actor, died in 1916. Her next break could have been to concentrate on her marriage and her son and her last break became permanent when she retired from filming all together.
In 1922 she made her last screen appearance in A Tailor-Made Man.
After her film career was over, Ethel worked for awhile selling cosmetics. She remained pretty strong and healthy up until her eighties when she lost the ability to speak.
Ethel Grandin passed away on September 28, 1988 in Woodland Hills, California.
She was interred at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.
Ethel was married once, to director and visual artist Ray Smallwood. They were married in 1912 and remained married until his death in 1964. They had a son named Arthur in 1913. When Ray was in failing health later in life, the couple moved into the Motion Picture Country House so he could be better cared for. After he died Ethel decided to stay there and soon became neighbors with another lovely film star, Mary Astor.
Even after her career ended, Ethel would still receive tons of fan mail and she enjoyed answering every letter herself.
"...Nature has gifted Miss Grandin with the requisites necessary to screen success and I am certain, after reviewing a number of these pictures, she will prove more popular than ever in the series we are about to release." ~~ Producer George Kleine to Motion Picture World in the July 13, 1915 issue, when asked about Ethel appearing in films for the General Film Company.