Once hailed by acclaimed director D. W. Griffith as “the greatest natural actress now in pictures,” Una Merkel (1903-1986) was a rare individual in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Humble, self-effacing, and egoless, she confessed to having great insecurities and an inferiority complex. Never aspiring to be a star, she was more interested in good roles, regardless of their size, which often meant supporting the more important actors of her day—Jean Harlow, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Carole Lombard, and Marlene Dietrich, to name a few. But Una didn’t mind playing second fiddle to them. She was able to parlay these parts into a career that lasted more than forty years and included not only film, but also theater, television, and radio. Her career achievements went on to be acknowledged by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Tony Award, and an Oscar nomination.
Whether she played harebrained ingénues, wisecracking best friends, feisty pioneer women, or cantankerous matrons, critics appreciated her quirky characterizations, which were made even better with her trademark Southern accent, deft comic delivery, and incomparable stage presence. Filmmakers and co-workers respected her tireless work ethic and professionalism, while her family, friends, and fans loved her sweet, kindhearted disposition; genuine concern for others, and down-to-earth personality.
This book, the first full-length biography devoted to Una Merkel, will finally give this endearing actress her just due, examining not only her extraordinary career, but also her amazing life, which may have seemed idyllic and storybook from the outside, but was actually filled with a great amount of tragedy and pain.
Scrupulously researched, this biography is enhanced by information gleaned from some of Merkel’s personal correspondence, rare archival documents, interviews, and recollections shared by her friends and colleagues.