Most famous for her flamboyant screen performance as Belle Whatling in "Gone With the Wind," Ona Munson won plaudits in vaudeville, on stage as the lead in "No, No, Nanette," and comedies such as "Manhattan Mary" and "Hold Everything," in radio as Lorelei Kilbourne co-starring with Edward G. Robinson in the series "Big Town," in dramas such as "Five-Star Final" and Ibsen's "Ghosts," and as a versatile supporting actress in movies. At the time of her suicide in 1955, she had begun appearing in television.
Blessed with a distinctive voice and clear American diction, she was among the better vocal actresses of the late 1920s. Trained as a dancer in Portland, Oregon, she first appeared on Broadway in "George White's Scandals," co-starred with Eddie Buzzell in "No Other Girl" and married him during the run. Her triumph in "No, No, Nanette" made her a musical comedy star, a status that was solidified by 1926's "Twinkle Twinkle."
Throughout the 1920s, she labored to improve her singing and by 1927, when she introduced the song "You're the Cream in My Coffee," in "Hold Everything," she had achieved professional grade as a songstress. She began her film career with First National in 1931.
One of the smartest women in Hollywood in the 1930s, she chafed at roles that had her mooning at cowboys from ranch windows or playing blonde secretaries. She would retire from films in 1942. She had a volatile romantic life, falling in love with Ernst Lubitch and marrying Eugene Berman, one of the great painter-designers of the American stage. Her suicide note read, "This is the only way I know to be free again."
NOTES: "Ona Munson Emerges," NY Times (Nov 28, 1926), X:2. "Ona Munson, Star of 'Tip-Toes'," LA Times (Jun 23, 1926), A:8. LA Times (Sep 17, 1931). "Ona Munson to Star in Films,' LA Times (Feb 26, 1931). "Ona Munson Retires from Films," NY Times (Oct 25, 1942). LA Times (Jan 30, 1950), 2. LA Times (Feb 12, 1955), 4. NY Times (Feb 13, 1955), 16. David S. Shields/ALS