Una Merkel was an American film actress. Merkel resembled the popular actress Lillian Gish, and her resemblance allowed her to begin her career as a stand-in for Gish in 1920’s Way Down East. She appeared in a few films during the silent era, including the two-reel Love’s Old Sweet Song filmed by Lee DeForest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process, and co-starring Louis Wolheim and Donald Gallaher. However, she spent most of her time in New York City working on Broadway. Merkel returned to Hollywood and achieved her greatest success with the advent of “talkies”.
She played Ann Rutledge in the film Abraham Lincoln directed by D. W. Griffith. During the 1930s, Merkel became a popular second lead in a number of films, usually playing the wisecracking best friend of the heroine, supporting actresses such as Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Loretta Young, and Dorothy Lamour. With her kewpie doll looks, combined with a strong Southern accent and wry line delivery, she enlivened scores of films of the era and worked with most of the stars of the period.
Merkel was an MGM contract player from 1932 to 1938, appearing in as many as twelve films in a year, often on loan-out to other studios. She was also often cast as leading lady to a number of comedians in their starring pictures, including Jack Benny, Harold Lloyd, and Charles Butterworth.
One of her most famous roles was in the Western Destry Rides Again in which her character, Lillibelle, gets into a famous “cat-fight” with Frenchie over the possession of her husband’s trousers, won by Frenchie in a crooked card game. She played the elder daughter to the W. C. Fields character, Egbert Sousé in the 1940 film The Bank Dick.