As a teenager, Athole Shearer’s divorced mother moved the two girls to New York City and then to Hollywood and in 1920 she obtained her first minor film roll. In 1923, Athole Shearer married John Ward with whom she would have a son. Divorced, in 1928 she married again, this time to noted film director Howard Hawks (1896-1977). They divorced twelve years later in 1940 at a turbulent time for Hawks who had been fired by studio owner Howard Hughes as the director of the film The Outlaw.
Athole Shearer suffered from bipolar disorder that went unrecognized for years resulting in her suffering numerous problems. Although she was the most attractive of the two Shearer sisters, her film career was limited to a few bit parts because of her personal difficulties. She spent many years in mental institutions uintil her illness was properly diagnosed.