Una Merkel is one of those stars I’d really, REALLY like to have a site for soon. She’s one of my favorite character actresses of the 1930s. Since she was almost exclusively a supporting player, her depth and range as an actress are often overlooked. From her smart ass dummy in 42nd Street, to her overly sensitive bride in Private Lives, to her brainy gold digger in Beauty for Sale, to her deep and sensitive nanny in Day of Reckoning, Merkel consistently knocked it out of the park, sometimes just brilliantly propping up the films’ leads, and sometimes stealing the show from them completely.
She wasn’t conventionally beautiful, and she wasn’t as glamorous as Joan Crawford or Myrna Loy. But she had something that no other actress had. An undefinable quality that made her likable, funny, and sexy as hell. She was just charming, whether she was smart assing the hell out of a man, or being sweet and playing dumb.
She made a number of films with close friend (and Obscure Classics favorite) Madge Evans. The two made an excellent pair. Merkel’s unique sass and flair balanced perfectly with Madge’s more reserved and refined performances. Merkel was often the live wire that allowed Madge to let loose. Watching the two of them together in Beauty For Sale and Paris Interlude is simply a blast. Their real life friendship shows through on screen. Both were brilliant actresses, but they never felt more genuine than they did when they were together.
Merkel’s characters often made a practice of duping simple men. She could play dumb like few actresses could, and the men were like putty in her hands. That sweet baby voice, the raise of her eyebrows and turn of her lip, and they were hers. Temptresses like Garbo and Dietrich are remembered today for turning men into jelly with their smoldering glances and sex appeal, but they had nothing on Merkel’s baby talk.
Few actress were, and ever will be, as unique as Merkel. Everything she did and possessed was so uniquely her, so completely unlike an actress out there.
By: Katie Richardson