Ellie Smith grew up in Auckland where she attended Auckland Girls' Grammar School and learnt speech and drama from Judy Treloar and Gil Cornwall. After auditioning unsuccessfully for Anthony Richardson, Artistic Director of the Mercury Theatre (and later Artistic Director at Fortune), she got some radio work and appeared in the pioneering local television drama series, Section Seven, before travelling to the UK. She worked there through the 1970s, including seasons in the original London productions of The Rocky Horror Show and Chicago along with The Beggars' Opera, Toad of Toad Hall, and a national tour of The Rupert Bear Show.
Having returned to New Zealand in 1981, she initially did cabaret spots on the Hudson and Halls TV programmes. She took a lead role in the first Wellington production of Chicago. At Wellington's Downstage Theatre she headlined in The Biograph Girl, Piaf (twice), Educating Rita, Skirmishes (a touring production by the Actors' company which she established), Streaming, Hooters, Trumpets and Raspberries, The Share Club, Judy, Shirley Valentine, The (female) Odd Couple, The Rise and fall of Little Voice, I Can Sing Tall, The Visit, A Christmas Carol, and Sweeney Todd. She directed productions at Downstage of Unsuitable for Adults, Sylvia, and Pinter's Once for the Road. She was Trainee Director in 1985, co-directing that year's revival of Foreskin's Lament, and Artistic Director 1998-9.
At Wellington's Circa Theatre, she was seen in productions of The Unexpected Man, The Master Builder, Soul Mates, Taking Off, Cinderella, and McNally's Master Class. She directed a revival of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
For the Auckland Theatre Company she starred in End of the Rainbow and appeared in She Stoops to Conquer as Mrs Hardcastle.
She was an early Lotto presenter on local television, hosted a number of light entertainment series and acted in William Shatner's A Twist in the Tale. On British television, she was seen in Perfect Scoundrels, and the Noel Edwards Breakfast Show. She is in the NZ film Chicken.
She underook the M.A. course in Creative Writing at Victoria University and has since completed a number of stage plays (Ruthie Bird and the King of Hearts, Fat Chance, Tock Tick and Goodnight Elaine which was given script development support by Auckland Theatre company.)
With the exception of the comedy, Fat Chance, a core thematic element in her plays is the relationship of parents (usually mothers) and their children. Her writing for the stage is also clearly intended to address the oft-heard complaint that there are not enough roles for actresses of a certain age. Her play One Perfect Moment exemplifies both these elements of her writing craft and went on to have a NZ Premiere at the Fortune Theatre in 2017.
Ellie is a member of the NZ Order of Merit, an honour awarded in 2004 for her services to theatre.