Unusual in her generation of actresses for having played female leads from the beginning of her career, Minna Gombell enjoyed successful careers on the stage (in the 1910s and 1920s) and on the screen (in the 1930s and 1940s). Born in Baltimore, she had a public grade school education followed by finishing school. She joined a Yonkers, New York theatrical stock company while a teenager, and when the company’s female star became ill, Gombell assumed the chief roles. She would never play in support in the theater again.
Gombell's acting style was characterized by simplicity of expression and the projection of human sympathy. Professionally she was famous for being a quick study, being able to absorb a script in hours, and so was often called upon when other leading ladies suffered misfortunes and a substitute was needed. Her first starring role on Broadway was in 1913's "Madam President." She was unfortunate in that she often found herself in plays of middling quality, and even her successes - 1924's "Mr Pitt," 1927's "Jimmie's Woman," and 1930's "Nancy's Private Affair" - were never blockbusters.
When she left New York for Hollywood in 1930, she found herself in a medium in which her quick study skills served her in very good stead. She appeared, usually as a supporting actress, in over 100 films, including such classics as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "High Sierra," "The Thin Man," "The Merry Widow," and "The Best Years of Our Lives." David S. Shields/ALS