Know Your Character Actor – Una O’Connor

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September 22, 2013 by smumcounty

UnaYoungUna O’Connor was born Agnes Teresa McGlade in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1880. She changed her name when she joined the stage in Dublin performing at the Abbey Theatre in 1912. After playing minor roles for several years in both Ireland and London she got her first big break on the London stage when she was cast in Noel Coward’s “Cavalcade”. When the play was made into a Hollywood film in 1933, Una jumped the pond with it and never looked back.

Cavalcade

Cavalcade

With her oversized nose, rubbery face, and bird-like movements, Una was in great demand in Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s as a character actress. She played mostly small, supporting roles as a maid, housekeeper, innkeeper, or wife where her outsized expressions were excellent fodder for comic relief.

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein

Her high pitched, piercing, shrieks were ideal for horror where she was a favorite of director James Whale who cast her as the innkeeper’s wife in “The Invisible Man” (1933) and as a housekeeper in “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). HG Wells was reportedly disappointed in the screen adaptation of his work but did praise Una’s performance. Her more serious side was on display in John Ford’s “The Informer” (1935) in which she played the mother of an IRA soldier who is betrayed by Victor McLaglen’s informer. In 1939, she played the role for which she is likely best known appearing in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” as Maid Marian’s personal maid. In “Cluny Brown” (1945) she showed she could play a part without having to rely on her characteristic voice when she played the disapproving mother of Cluny’s snobbish suitor. She spoke nary a word but expressed her obvious displeasure by loudly clearing her throat.

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

Arguably her biggest role occurred late in life when she appeared as the accused’s housekeeper in the Broadway production of “Witness for the Prosecution” from 1954 to 1956. She reprised her role for the film adaption in 1957 in which her performance as a witness provided comic relief and received glowing reviews. This was her last film role and she died from heart disease two years later in New York at the age of 78.

Short clip from the documentary “The Northern Irish in Hollywood”:

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