Belfast native Una O’Connor is remembered for her expressive eyes. The stage-trained actress did not begin her career until she was in her early 30s. She learned how to create flesh-and-blood characters in the theater, often with the most minimal script description or direction. This skill would serve her well when she started making movies.
An early sound picture for Una was Alfred Hitchcock’s MURDER!, made in Britain in 1930. It didn’t take long for other directors to see what a valuable addition she was to any feature film in which she was cast. Though she had spent many years struggling to get noticed, her talent was obvious. And eventually Noel Coward wrote the part of an independent maid for her in his play CAVALCADE, which brought her real and lasting success. Fox made the story into a motion picture, and Una gladly repeated the performance in the studio’s screen adaptation.
After CAVALCADE, Una decided to remain in Hollywood. She hit her stride playing quirky comical characters in films with spooky settings during the mid-1930s. At Universal she worked with director James Whale in THE INVISIBLE MAN and in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Both became cult classics and her acting in them stands out. She went on to appear in other notable Hollywood productions, including a role in David Selznick’s version of LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY.
In between films Una continued to work on stage. She had become typecast in servant roles but didn’t seem to mind. When television came along in the late 1940s, many film stars felt the new medium was beneath them. Not Una. She saw it as an important field of employment which allowed her to play in a variety of productions. She also liked how television required her to combine the skills she had developed on the stage and in films. Occasionally, she still made movies. Though failing health curtailed her activities in the last few years of her life, she did manage turn up in Billy Wilder’s WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION as (what else) a prosecution witness, a role she had also done in the theater.
- murder! (1930); british international; crime; herbert marshall; 98 mins.
- cavalcade (1933); fox; drama; diana wynyard; 150 mins.
- the invisible man (1933); universal; horror; claude rains; 71 mins.
- david copperfield (1935); mgm; drama; edna may oliver; 129 mins.
- the bride of frankenstein (1935); universal; horror; elsa lanchester; 75 mins.
- the informer (1935); rko; drama; victor mclaglen; 91 mins.
- little lord fauntleroy (1936); ua; drama; freddie bartholomew; 98 mins.
- the plough and the stars (1937); rko; drama; barry fitzgerald; 72 mins.
- the sea hawk (1940); warners; adventure; flora robson; 127 mins.
- witness for the prosecution (1957); ua; crime; norma varden; 116 mins.