Una Merkel—Picture Saver

This interview with Una Merkel originally appeared in the May 1935 edition of Movie Classic magazine.

Talent, combined with a marvelous
disposition, keeps this charming
young player the busiest actress
in Hollywood

By ROBERT FENDER

Una MerkelTHERE’S a girl in Hollywood known to directors and writers as “the pulmotor girl.” Does that mean anything to you? It didn’t to me, either, until I started thinking of those things used by firemen, lifeguards and physicians known as pulmotors. They’re the emergency machines employed to bring nearly dead people back to life.

Just so, when writers have a nearly dead story on their hands, they write in a part for this girl. And when directors see their pictures expiring dead away, they broadcast a frantic call for this very same girl. She’ll save it if it can be saved, they cry. Get her. And get her right now!

The “her” in this case, as anyone in Hollywood will tell you, is a charming little person with blonde ringlets in her hair, a twinkle in her eyes and a great heart tucked away inside her. Her name is Una Merkel. And she’s perhaps the most universally loved girl in town. Certainly she’s the busiest.

If you saw Una in a Hollywood crowd (say at a preview), you couldn’t pick her out if your life depended upon it. But ten to one she would be the young lady on your left who, on very tip-toe was jockeying for a better position to see the movie stars pass by. For Una is the most confirmed and ardent movie fan in town. She is, to my knowledge, the only one who saves all the programs of all the shows she attends—yes, and makes tiny penciled notes on the margins about players she likes best and why.

Una is so necessary to directors and ailing pictures, I suppose, because she is the only one of her kind in town. She is no more “movie actress” than you. Her unaffected laugh, tinkly and delightful to hear, differs from the average star’s studied “abandon” as a child’s laughter differs from the wearied old man’s croak. She is youth itself, mighty good for the soul, and she’ll continue to be young no matter how many years pile up on her.

“There’s so much,” she told me in her tiny feminine dressing room at M-G-M, “to be happy for. There’s so much to laugh about. Do you see that big building next door? Well, next week I’m going to have a grand big new dressing room.”

“Moving you over there, Una?”

Una laughed. “Oh, Heavens no,” she cried. “That’s going to be for the big stars. But they’ll leave their dressing rooms here and they’re going to give me a bigger one in this building. And they’re going to let me furnish it. Just as I like!” she finished, evidently carried away in high glee.

“Don’t you want to be a big star, Una?”

Una burst out laughing. “Me a star? Do you know any more funny ones?” Then she wrinkled her cute little brow and indulged in some thinking. “But,” she began, “but—even if I could, I don’t think I would. The other night I was trying to think what I’d rather be than myself and I couldn’t think of anything. Not,” she hurried, “that I think I’m pretty good but simply that I’m—I’m so darned happy!

“I love my husband, Ronnie Burla, and he loves me. I get more pleasure out of my work than anyone in Hollywood. There’s just one thing that worries me and that is that there are so many people who don’t share my good luck. I feel so sorry for people who don’t seem to have anything. I wish there was some better way of distributing money and happiness.

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A Trip Through Columbia Network Studios!

We recently came across this 1934 pamphlet/game board. It was a handout from WCCO, a Minnesota radio station that began operation in 1922 as WLAG (the call letters were changed to WCCO in 1924). But the pamphlet appears to have been issued by the CBS network, not an individual station. It’s our bet that this was distributed by CBS-affiliated stations across the country.

In 1934, CBS was headquartered in New York City (much of their programming originated from Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan), and we can only guess that it’s that facility that’s depicted here (but we encourage more astute radio historians than we are to chime in if we’ve got that wrong—Edit: A more astute radio historian did chime in; see the comments below).

Among the famous (and perhaps now not-so-famous) faces you’ll see on your stroll through the studios are crooner Dick Powell, theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, Irving Kaufman (in his Lazy Dan, the Minstrel Man mode—really? Blackface on the radio?), Bing Crosby, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Isham Jones, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, among others.

Click below to see a higher-res version of the image, or to view or download an even larger, higher-res version, click here.

A Trip Through Columbia Networks Studios

Past Paper: Stampix

As aficionados of all things vintage and ephemeral, we love coming across items we never knew existed, products we never knew were on the market.

When our beloved mother left us a few years ago, we found this item among the big box of old photos that she’d long promised to organize, but never quite got around to.

The images are not of Mom, though, or one of her relatives; it’s Dad’s younger sister, Aunt Marilyn. Each page of these tiny images is perforated, like a book of stamps, and like a book of stamps, they have adhesive on the back.

We’ve not researched it, but we wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a similar product is available today, from companies like Zazzle or Shutterfly, but we found this booklet of images particularly charming.

Past Paper: Who’s Who and Who’s Where

A couple of years ago, Ms. Cladrite and I picked up a couple of bits of paper ephemera that caught our eye and piqued our interest.

We don’t really know much about these Celebrity Bulletins. They were published by a company called Celebrity Information and Research Service, Inc., which was located at 681 Fifth Avenue (at 54th Street) and could be reached by telephone at PLAZA 3-2750.

As you’ll see, we’ve shared both an international and a New York edition with you below. And apparently, if you were a subscriber to Celebrity Bulletin back in the day and you required “additional information concerning the address, affiliation, management, record of career, and availability of any celebrity in the United States,” you could obtain it by “calling Celebrity Service and giving your account number” to their operator.

By clicking on the New York edition below, you can learn that, on Friday, Ocober 8th, 1954, Count Basie was scheduled to appear on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen at 11:30 p.m. And that Eddie Fisher was due to arrive in NYC on Saturday, Oct. 9, via Trans-World Airlines from California.

Or, if you click on the International Edition, which carries a date stamp of September 14, 1954, you can learn that James Stewart, Preston Sturges, Yvonne De Carlo, and Ira Gershwin were all in Paris on that day, but no two of them were lodging at the same hotel.

Celebrity Service was co-founded with writer Ted Strong by one Earl Blackwell (not to be confused with bitchy fashion commentator Mr. Blackwell), whom the New York Times described in his 1995 obituary as “a society impresario who made his fortune keeping track of celebrities.”

“In 1939,” the Times continued, “[Blackwell] founded the lucrative New York-based Celebrity Service, an information and research service that has since opened branches in Hollywood, London, Paris and Rome. … Mr. Blackwell, who later bought his partner out, sold the business in 1985, but remained active as chairman until his death.”