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Classically Speaking:
Promoting Classic Movies in a Jaded World!

Thursday, November 07, 2019


Una Merkel UNA MERKEL (1903-1986), born Una Kohnfelder made 98 movies, 97 films and one TV movie.  She performed in seventeen television shows, several important plays on Broadway, one of which she won a Tony Award for her role in The Ponder Heart (1956). She is credited with seven plays on Internet Broadway Database. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Summer and Smoke (1961). Looking at her extensive filmography, one can see that she was extremely hardworking.

In the 2006 film, The Holiday starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black and Jude Law, Kate Winslet’s character Iris Simpkins makes friends with an elderly screenwriter from the Golden Age of Hollywood named Arthur Abbott played by Eli Wallach. Arthur advises Iris to stop playing the role of the best friend in life, but instead see herself as the leading lady that she truly is. Although directors rarely cast Una Merkel as a leading lady, she truly was one in my book.  She often played the best friend to various leading ladies, such as Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Loretta Young and Eleanor Powell. Yet, Una Merkel was not some forgettable vanish-into-the-woodwork introverted confidante.  Always charismatic, she showed that she had it all, good looks, irresistible charm, warmth, and straight-talking street smarts. Her hilarious wisecracks often stole the biggest scenes from those cast as the glamour girl heroine.  

I first saw Una Merkel in The Parent Trap (1961).  She played Brian Keith’s character Mitch Evers’ outspoken housekeeper Verbena on his ranch.  Una Merkel’s performance made this role extremely memorable to me, with her remark, “I'm not saying a word. Not one single word,” after conveying exactly how she felt about what was going on. 

It was difficult choosing only five films for this showcase.  Una Merkel had made films for some forty-eight years. At one glance, I counted at least thirty-two of her films that I knew for certain that I’d seen, all good films at that, of her rather lengthy filmography. So, I chose five films that I had revisited in the recent past.

Haven't you seen The Parent Trap (1961)? Una Merkel plays Mitch Evers’ housekeeper Verbena, who keeps her eye on everyone and everything on his ranch, but claims always to be minding her own business. She is delightful in this Disney family feature.

Watch this and then see these other four films.

42nd Street (1933) Una Merkel is a headliner in this film.  She plays dancer and chorus girl Lorraine Fleming. She sings, dances, and acts.  Look for the number, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, where all the stars of the film sing.
Destry Rides Again (1939) Una Merkel plays Lily Belle or Mrs. Callahan, in this wonderful western about a man named Tom Destry, Jr. played by James Stewart, who is asked to come to town to make Bottleneck a lawful, safe, and respectable town.  Look for the legendary cat-fight with Frenchy played by Marlene Dietrich that had the censors up in arms during production.
Don’t Tell the Wife (1937) Una Merkel plays Nancy Dorsey, one of the main cast of characters. Here’s definitely a non-best friend role where she plays a wife that loves her husband despite his constantly putting his get rich quick schemes ahead of her happiness.
Evelyn Prentice (1934) Una Merkel plays Amy Drexel, friend to the lead Evelyn Prentice played by Myrna Loy.  This is a prime example of the wisecracking yet warm best friend that you will come to know and love, like I have. Look for the scene where Amy Drexel answers Evelyn’s phone with a French accent.  Amy Drexel's the friend that’s full of fun.

*Contributed by: "Elizabeth Van Cleve Randolph" Date: Thu, Nov 07 2019 / 11:21:21 PDT

Academy Awards®
© A.M.P.A.S.®
1962 Nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role:  Summer and Smoke