Remembering Una Merkel on Her 114th Birthday…

In Herman Raucher‘s coming-of-age novel Summer of ’42, his teen-aged protagonist has a big crush not on Lana Turner, Betty Grable, or Rita Hayworth, but on Penny Singleton, best known for portraying Blondie, wife to Arthur Lake‘s Dagwood in a long series of comic B-pictures.

We have a similar little thing for Una Merkel, whose 114th birthday it is today. Una came to specialize in playing second bananas, but she was certainly not without her own charms, not the least of which was her Southern drawl.

Here are 10 things you should know about Una Merkel

Happy 95th Birthday, Judy Holliday!

The delightful Judy Holliday, born Judith Tuvim in New York City 95 years ago today, appeared in fewer than a dozen pictures and starred or was featured in fewer than that, but her impact on Hollywood was indelible. She remains one of our very favorites.

Here are 10 Judy Holliday Did-You-Knows:

  • Holliday grew up in Sunnyside, Queens and graduated from Julia Richman High School.
  • Holiday was rejected by Yale Drama School out of high school.
  • She went on to work briefly as a switchboard operator in Orson WellesMercury Theater.
  • Early in her career, Judy Holliday was a member of a cabaret group called The Revuers that was founded by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
  • She made her motion picture debut in a small role in Greenwich Village (1944). After two more bits parts that year, she returned to New York City and the theatre for five years.
  • Prior to its Broadway debut, Holliday replaced Jean Arthur as Billie Dawn in Garson Kanin‘s play Born Yesterday. Though there was talk of casting Rita Hayworth in the movie adaptation of the play, Katharine Hepburn, impressed by Holliday’s work in Adam’s Rib (1949), helped Holliday nab the screen role.
  • Though she was associated with dumb blonde roles, Judy Holliday’s IQ was said to be 172.
  • Holiday was investigated in 1950 (and eventually cleared) by the FBI due to allegations that she was a Communist. In 1952, she was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee regarding those same allegations. She wasn’t blacklisted as a results of the (unfounded) rumors surrounding her, but it is thought her career was negatively impacted.
  • Holliday won the 1957 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for Bells Are Ringing. She went on to play the same role in the 1960 film version opposite Dean Martin.
  • Holliday wrote a number of songs with jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan; he wrote the melodies, she wrote the lyrics. They also recorded an album, Holliday with Mulligan, together

Judy Holliday died of cancer three weeks before her 44th birthday, on June 7, 1965.

Happy birthday, Ms. Holliday, wherever you may be; you are sorely missed!

Judy Holliday

Happy 112th Birthday, Una Merkel!

In Herman Raucher‘s coming-of-age novel Summer of ’42, his teenaged protagonist (perhaps not coincidentally named … Hermie) has a big crush not on Lana Turner, Betty Grable, or Rita Hayworth, but on Penny Singleton, best known for portraying Blondie, wife to Arthur Lake‘s Dagwood in a long series of comic B-pictures.

Hermie was a little bit embarrassed by his preference in movie stars, but he figured there was not as much competition that way.

We have a similar little thing for Una Merkel, whose 112th birthday it is today. Una came to specialize in playing wise (and sometimes wisecracking), loyal second bananas to the leading ladies in films of the Pre-Code Era, but she was certainly not without her own charms, not the least of which was her Southern drawl.

Una Merkel

Ironically enough, it was Una who was first slated to play Blondie in that popular series of films before the role was finally awarded to Singleton.

Merkel was born Una Kohnfelder in Covington, Kentucky (we’ve long wondered at the choice of Merkel to replace Kohnfelder. It doesn’t seem the typical choice for a studio-concocted screen name) and began her career in silent movies. She’s listed in some sources as having appear in a 1924 short called Love’s Old Sweet Song and a feature film produced in Texas that same year called The Fifth Horseman. This now-lost (and good riddance) picture was an entry in the then-active genre of pro-Ku Klux Klan films, so perhaps the less said about it, the better. (We hope and trust our Una was just in it for the money.)

Merkel is said to have resembled Lillian Gish during the early years of her career, and she served as her stand-in for a while (on the 1928 classic The Wind, among others). After some time on Broadway, she was back before the cameras, portraying Anne Rutledge in D. W. Griffith‘s 1930 biopic, Abraham Lincoln.

As the years passed, Merkel got to stretch out a bit and her career showed staying power (her final role final role was in 1968, on the popular television program I Spy). Along the way, she appeared in Jean Harlow‘s final picture, Saratoga (1937), indulged in a hair-pulling catfight with Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939), and even appeared in the 1961 Disney comedy The Parent Trap as the Evers’ family’s housekeeper.

But our crush stems from her work in the 1930s, when she was every glamour gal’s best pal in movies such as Red-Headed Woman, 42nd Street, and Bombshell.

Here’s a scene from the latter picture, featuring our Una opposite Harlow and Louise Beavers.

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on Dec 10, 2013.

Happy Birthday, Una Merkel!

In Herman Raucher‘s coming-of-age novel Summer of ’42, his protagonist (coincidentally named … Hermie) has a big crush not on Lana Turner, Betty Grable, or Rita Hayworth, but on Penny Singleton, best known for portraying Blondie, wife to Arthur Lake‘s Dagwood in a long series of comedy B-pictures.

Hermie was a little bit embarrassed by his preference in movie stars, but he figured there was not as much competition that way.

We have a similar little thing for Una Merkel, whose 110th birthday it is today. Una came to specialize in playing wise and loyal second bananas to the leading ladies in romantic comedies, but she was certainly not without her own charms, not the least of which was her Southern drawl (she was born and raised in Kentucky).

Ironically enough, it was Una who was first slated to play Blondie before the role was finally awarded to Singleton.

Una enjoyed a lengthy career that began on Broadway before she started working in pictures in the late silent era. Her final role was in 1968, opposite Bill Cosby and Robert Culp on the popular television program I Spy.

But our crush stems from her work in the 1930s, when she was the glamour girl’s best pal in movies such as Red-Headed Woman, 42nd Street, and Bombshell.

Here’s a scene from the latter picture, featuring our Una opposite Jean Harlow and Louise Beavers.

A tip o’ the top hat to Fred Astaire

“As a dancer he stands alone, and no singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.”—Irving Berlin

Today marks Fred Astaire‘s 113th birthday. He’s been gone nearly 25 years (he died on June 22, 1987), and if you wanted to make a list of the things that are wrong with the world today, the fact that Mr. Astaire no longer walks—nay, glides—among us would be on that list.

Astaire had a down-to-earth elegance that is all too rare, and, in addition to his legendary talents as a hoofer, he was an icon of classic style, a darned good singer, and, from all accounts, a fine gentleman, to boot.

This world’s just a little poorer for the 25 years we’ve been muddling through without Fred Astaire, but his film work reminds us of what we once had.

The clip below finds our Fred paired with the lovely (to put it mildly) Rita Hayworth in 1942’s You Were Never Lovelier, performing a Jerome KernJohnny Mercer song that could well serve as the Cladrite Radio theme song, “I’m Old-Fashioned.”

Happy birthday, Fred, wherever you are. And say hello to Ginger for us.

For more on Astaire, we recommend Trav S. D.’s overview of his life and career.