Sunday, 24 July 2011
d. January 2nd, 1986.
42nd Street (1933) is one of my alltime favourite films, and I always especially liked the two wingwomen of going-out-youngster-coming-back-star Peggy (Ruby Keeler): 'Anytime' Annie (Ginger Rogers) and Lorraine (Una Merkel.) If you didn't know who either of them were, you would look at them and think, "Dang, both these women are amazing, and should be huge stars." One of them was, of course, but Una Merkel was always relegated to being the sassy best friend or the comic relief. Maybe it was her cartoonishly high voice, maybe something in her looks - IMDB somewhat bitchily notes "In her early years, before gaining a few pounds, she looked like Lillian Gish, but after Abraham Lincoln (1930) her comic potential was discovered." Because remember, fat women are funny, or something? Ugh. Anyway, Merkel's most notable roles, aside from 42nd Street, were as W.C.Field's bratty teenage daughter in The Bank Dick (1940), and Lillibelle in the western Destry Rides Again (1940), where her character gets into a vicious catfight with Marlene Deitrich's. She was in many, many films in the 1930s and 40s, as she was on an MGM contract, but was often 'loaned out' to other studios. In the 1960s she reappeared as a character actor, usually playing people's mothers. She's in the original Haley Mills version of The Parent Trap (1961).
Here is a nice memory that someone has edited into the Wikipedia entry for Merkel, flowing straight without a break after all the rather formal biographical information: "Una Merkel spent a lot of time with her sister in Seven Mile, Ohio. I was a child and lived next door. This was in the early 1940's. Her sister's husband owned the grocery store in Seven Mile. Una was beautiful with long red hair. We spent a lot of time together swinging on the porch." I feel so very touched that some old person thought to share this in an online encyclopedia. It kinda debunks the idea of the untouchable or or somehow ultra-human celebrity, if they will sit and swing on the porch with you.