Sunday, January 3, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Week: Una O'Connor

Una O’Connor was born Agnes Teresa McGlade in Belfast, Ireland, in 1880. She took her stage name when she joined Dublin’s prestigious Abbey Players. By the 1930s, she was appearing in West End stage productions and had small roles in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder (1930).
She didn’t attract much attention until she appeared in the Academy Award-winning adaptation of Noel Coward’s play Cavalcade (1933). She and Herbert Mundin played the Bridges, servants to the upper-class Marryot family—a concept not dissimilar to the later acclaimed television drama Upstairs, Downstairs. That performance provided O’Connor with a ticket to Hollywood, where her patented hysterics kept her in demand for almost three decades.

She was a favorite of both James Whale and John Ford. For Whale, she made memorable supporting appearances in The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). She played more serious characters for Ford in 1935’s The Informer (as Wallace Ford's mother) and The Plough and the Stars (1936).

O’Connor seems to have made a movie with almost every big Hollywood star at one time or other. She was in three Errol Flynn films: The Adventures of Robin Hood (a delightful turn as Marian’s maid-in-waiting), The Sea Hawk, and The Adventures of Don Juan. She also appeared in films with Ronald Colman (Random Harvest), Barbara Stanwyck (Christmas in Connecticut), Bob Hope (My Favorite Spy), Bing Crosby (The Bells of St. Mary’s), Norma Shearer and Fredric March (The Barretts of Wimpole Street), and Jennifer Jones (Cluny Brown).

Her most frequent co-star was Charles Laughton. They worked together in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, This Land is Mine, The Canterville Ghost, Forever and a Day, and Witness for the Prosecution. Indeed, Witness for the Prosecution provided O’Connor with her most famous role, as the hard-of-hearing housekeeper Janet McKenzie. She played the part for two years on Broadway and reprised it for Billy Wilder’s film version. It was her final performance.

Una O’Connor died of heart disease in 1959. She never married.


  1. What an outstanding choice for Underrated Performer of the Week! Una O'Connor is a wonderful scene stealer. She is magical in "The Adventures of Robin Hood," while protecting her sweet lamb, Maid Marian, yet falling for the undeniable charm of Sir Robin of Locksley. I loved her work in "Witness for the Prosecution," too, opposite the irascible Sir Wilfrid Robarts.
    Excellent post about an unforgettable character actress!

  2. Rick and Toto2 ,saying Una was a scene stealer is a under statement. Great choice Rick.

  3. Great choice Rick. She was one of those actresses you saw in many movies and never knew her name. I always remember her the best in Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood. She had an unforgettable charming I can remember it today.

  4. Rick, wonderful review. I remember Una O’Connor in:
    Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
    The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

    love the picture you picked for your post.

  5. wallace ford was the son to una o'conner not wallace beery

  6. Thanks, Anonynmous, for catching an embarrassing typo that no one else saw! It's been fixed.