In honor of Merna Kennedy, who was born on this day in 1908.
Excerpt from “Merna Approves Charlie” by Katherine Lipke, Los Angeles Times, May 16th, 1926:
Merna Kennedy–17–with radiant red hair and green eyes. Lita Grey Chaplin’s chum is now Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady in “The Circus.”
A girl, boyish and nonchalant–yet constantly flushing with an undercurrent of feminine feeling. She would probably just as soon call Charlie Chaplin “You egg” during a scene as not. Yet she is breathless in her admiration for his direction and technique.
When Charlie Chaplin chose Merna Kennedy from her place as comedienne in “All For You,”1 everyone was surprised. Everyone but Merna! To the rest she was just a little girl with a charming smile, vivid hair and dancing feet.
But Merna to herself is a girl who has been handed many things by life and who is growing to expect many things. This opportunity with Chaplin is splendid but a girl to whom no one ever said “No,” who has never met disappointment, how can she judge how great an opportunity it is….
But Merna, with her gay bubbles of enthusiasm, with her eyes untouched by any problem, just stammers prettily that Charlie is such fun–that it is great to work with him–she has never been so happy–she wants to be in pictures always–and then repeats that Charlie is such fun.
She is full of stories about him. How he is constantly impersonating some one or other, many times herself. How at the end of some such impromptu entertainment she gets up and mimics Charlie while directing, revealing all the funny mannerisms of which he is unconscious. And Charlie at the end laughs and protests that he can’t look as bad as that.
She explains how he grew brutal the other day on the set and told her many unpleasant things about herself. She hesitated between anger and tears, and when tears won out he rushed her to the camera and she discovered that this lachrymose display was what he had been working for.2
She tells of Charlie Chaplin–the playboy, who takes Lita, Merna and Harry Crocker (also in “The Circus”) to the beach to plan out the picture and then they all go swimming instead and come back tired and laughing, with the picture still in the background.
These are not things about Charlie Chaplin which have impressed his new leading lady. His laughter and his companionability. She talks constantly of Lita and Charlie as if the comedian, like Lita and herself, were 17 in years and inclination.
When Charlie planned a test for her for “The Circus” she wasn’t excited or self-conscious.
It was something to get over with before signing the contract. It did not occur to her that she might not be the right screen type.
Charlie grew saucily impertinent with her while the camera was grinding out the test. She snapped back at him with flippant good humor without self-consciousness. Something to be done and she was doing it. Not a crisis to be feared! Life has never introduced Merna Kennedy to a crisis.
1All For You was a musical comedy in which Merna had a leading dance role. At the suggestion of his wife, and Merna’s close friend, Lita Grey, Chaplin attended a performance at Mason Opera House in Los Angeles. (Screenland, July 1926). He was impressed with her but nothing was said to Merna until some time after that when the musical’s run in Los Angeles was complete & she was offered a contract to go on tour with the show. Her mother asked Chaplin if he thought she should do it. He said, “no,” that if Merna could pass a screen test he would give her an opportunity. Chaplin also changed the spelling of her name from Myrna to Merna. (San Bernadino County Sun, March 3, 1926)
2Chaplin used the same technique on Claire Bloom for the emotional “I’m walking” scene in Limelight (1952).