Thursday, November 18, 2010

Una Merkel (1903-1986)

The American born beauty got her start in movies as a stand in for Lillian Gish in 1920 for the film "Way Down East".  She then got work on Broadway until 1930 when D.W. Griffith cast her in "Abraham Lincoln" where she played the part of Ann Rutledge. (Walter Huston played Abraham Lincoln).  Her comedic talent did not go unnoticed and bigger parts were headed her way.

with Ricardo Cortez in "The Maltese Falcon" 1931 (Una played Sam Spades dutiful secretary Effie)

click on autograph  from my collection and photos to enlarge

Una kept busy in comedic roles throughout the 1930's with an occasional dramatic role thrown in appearing in  notably "Private Lives" 1931 opposite Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery, the musical "42nd Street" 1933 co-starring Bebe Daniels, Warner Baxter, Ginger Rogers and Dick Powell as well as "Bombshell" that same year with Jean Harlow. She followed up with"The Merry Widow" in 1934 opposite Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald.  "Broadway Melody of 1936" soon followed  in 1935 with Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell then the hits "Born to Dance" 1936 co-starring Jimmy Stewart and Eleanor Powell.  She starred opposite Jimmy Stewart again in 1939 in the comedic western "Destry Rides Again" where she gets into a hair pulling battle with co-star Marlene Dietrich. Una married Ronald Burla in 1932 but they divorced in 1945. This was her only marriage and she had no children.

with co-star Maurice Chevalier in the "Merry Widow" 1934

with Robert Montgomery in "Private Lives" 1931

with Loretta Young in "Midnight Mary" 1933

Una continued getting roles throughout the 1940's appearing in the zany comedy "The Bank Dick"  1940 with W.C Fields then "Road to Zanzibar" in 1941 which was one of several road movies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and co-starring Dorothy Lamour (I will be doing a post on the glamorous Miss Lamour soon).  She starred in another musical comedy in 1943 "This Is the Army" opposite then actor Ronald Reagan and Joan Leslie. 

with Gary Cooper and actress Phyllis Brooks during a USO tour during WWII

Her roles is musicals and light comedies continued throughout the 1950's where she appeared in "My Blue Heaven" 1950 opposite Betty Grable then in "With a Song in My Heart" 1952 starring Susan Hayward and then in the remake of "The Merry Widow" that same year starring Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas to name just a few. During this time Una took parts in television like so many actors after the advent of TV.  Starring in "The Kentuckian" and "Studio One in Hollywood".  She then played Debbie Reynolds mother in "The Mating Game" in 1959.  Into the 1960's Una continued to get roles appearing in "The Parent Trap" 1961 starring Hayley Mills and Maureen O'Hara then in the romantic period piece "Summer and Smoke" with Geraldine Page and Rita Moreno that same year. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.

Una continued to take parts on television and in movies until 1968 then retired from acting for good. She passed away from undisclosed causes in 1982 and was buried at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell Kentucky, her place of birth.  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.  Ms Merkel starred in over 90 films during her long career and while under contract with MGM from 1932-1938 she appeared in up to 12 films a year.

with Myrna Loy in "Evelyn Prentice" 1934

Una Merkel facts:
She was originally cast as Blondie Blumstead in the 1933 film "Blondie" but was recast before shooting began.  The role went to Penny Singleton.

She almost died in 1946 when her mother committed suicide by turning on the gas.

She won a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway play "The Ponder Heart"

Her final film role was in "Spinout" 1966 starring Elvis Presley. (Not a bad ending to a long acting career that began in the Silent Screen Era.)

Until next time I hope you get a few minutes to yourselves with a great comedy, perhaps even one of Una Merkel's.  We could all certainly use a good laugh these days.


  1. Hi Clara.
    I would have to say Private Lives is my favorite Una movie even though its a bit campy. : ) I've been trying to watch more old movies lately.
    Thanks for following and please keep coming back for new posts. I've enjoyed looking at your site as well.