“There were months and months in which I had to depend on extra work — atmosphere in mob scenes, or dancing in big ball-room sets in a crowd — for a living. I was given a lead with Charles Ray later, which buoyed my hopes very high, but even after that good engagement I had to do many more months of small bits and extra work before Mr. Schulberg happened to see me in a picture and think I had ability.” — Ethel Shannon in 1923.
Ethel Shannon was an only child raised by a single mother in Denver, Colorado. While working as a waitress at the Onyx cafe in Denver, Shannon entered a “Red-head” beauty contest held by the Orpheum Theatre circuit. She won the event, and Orpheum signed her to a contract. Shannon, who was only 17 years old at the time, then made live theatrical appearances as early as 1915-16.
Shannon moved to Los Angeles around 1919. While there, she found work as an extra, thanks to a friend of hers.
Weighing 98-pounds, Shannon was tiny, even by silent film standards. Her acting inexperience also hindered her career. Shannon briefly earned the nickname “The Little Disturber.” She was also said to have found “success by violating all the precedents of the picture industry.” That could be a nice way of saying that she was aggressive…or promiscuous.
In 1923, producer B.P. Schulberg signed her to a contract, and cast her in lead roles. That same year, Shannon became a WAMPAS star.
However, Shannon’s film career was brief. Clara Bow, a new redhead on the block, quickly rose to fame, eclipsing Shannon’s box-office appeal. Also tripping up Shannon’s career was a bad two-year marriage to a stockbroker in 1924. In 1927, Shannon remarried, this time to scenario writer Joseph Jackson. Afterwards, she retired from the screen to become a mother.
Joseph Jackson drowned near Laguna in 1932. Four years after his death, Shannon announced that Warner Bros. had signed her to contract. However, Ethel Shannon’s return to motion pictures failed, and she dropped from sight. In 1951, she passed away at the age of 53.