Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Always the Sidekick, Never the Star

When we look back at classic Hollywood, we most often think of the beautiful and sometimes tragic movie stars that lit up the silver screen with their signature personalities and looks. The other actors that appear in classic films are simply space fillers; many are almost completely forgotten today. However, every once in a while, some of these “space fillers” produce a spark of recognition. You know you have seen them in another movie, but you just can’t seem to remember which one. You probably don’t even know their name, but for a short moment, they steal the scene away from the stars. Whenever you see them, it seems as if they just keep playing the same role over and over: the comedic sidekick, the maiden aunt, or the straitlaced businessman. Nevertheless, they provide much needed laughs when the stars fail to elicit even the smallest giggle. These character actors need to be remembered for the contributions they made to film, so for the next few weeks, I will be shining a spotlight on some of the well-known ones and some of my personal favorites.

Una Merkel
Born in Kentucky on December 10, 1903, she began her career as a stand-in for Lillian Gish in the 1920’s. With the advent of sound, Merkel hit her stride playing the wisecracking best friend of some of the biggest stars of the 1930’s. As she became older, she transitioned from being the friend to being the mother or eccentric aunt. She finally received some recognition for her work by receiving an Oscar nomination for her role as Mrs. Winemiller in Summer and Smoke, one of her last films. She died in 1986 at the age of 82.

Recommended Films:
Red-Headed Woman (1932) 42nd Street (1933) Bombshell (1933) True Confession (1937) Destry Rides Again (1939) The Parent Trap(1961)
Summer and Smoke (1961)


Raquelle said...

Gotta love that Una Merkel. I'm always very excited to see her in any movie. She definitely livens up the screen.

Ginger Ingenue said...

Wonderful job on this post, Genevieve! It's very well written.

I like Una Merkel too. Especially in RED-HEADED WOMAN and 42nd STREET.

Also: I love, Love, LOVE your new header! How cute is that?! :)


C.K. Dexter Haven said...

Part of what made old Hollywood so great were those "second banans"! They ended up working a lot more and did just fine. Nowadays, the "big" stars take all the juicy character roles, when someone like Eve Arden would eat today's leads for breakfast. But you know that...;)

I always had a thing for Una Merkel...;)

Genevieve said...

Raquelle: I totally agree with you!

Ginger: Thanks! I actually had a decent amount of time to work on it.

Yes, its from Bringing Up Baby! One of my favorite movies : )

Dexter: They are one of my favorite parts in classic film. Eve Arden would totally demolish many of today's actors. She was wonderful as was Una Merkel!