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How I Fell In Love With Merna Kennedy
A bit about Merna
Merna Kennedy, (born Maude Kahler; September 7, 1908 – December 20, 1944), was an American actress of the late silent era and the
transitional period into talkies. Kennedy was best known during her brief career for her role opposite Charlie Chaplin in the silent film The Circus (1928).
Kennedy was brought to the attention of Chaplin by her friend Lita Grey, who became Chaplin's second wife in 1924. A dancer, she had muscular legs which helped her gain the role of the circus bareback rider. Kennedy continued acting after The Circus, starring in early sound films, but retired in 1934 when she married choreographer/director Busby Berkeley. Their marriage broke up a year later.
Kennedy died of a heart attack, aged 36, four days after her marriage to Master Sergeant Forrest Brayton.
It just happened. Okay?
recently and all without my planning or foreknowledge. With much sadness (and humor) I confess: "I fell madly in love instantly while watching a Charlie Chaplin classic, "The Circus," on one of those classic movie channels."
Although I appreciated Chaplin's mastery of his role as The Tramp, it was Merna Kennedy's role as the equestrian and how she portrayed this role that caused my heart to break right into. Never have I watched any black and white silent movie with the intensity as I did when I was completely hypnotized with Kennedy's demure and even playful role as the girl in the circus where Chaplin accidentally ends up hiding from the police for being the victim of a pick-pocket scheme.
" All Merna would have had to do was wink at me and I would have passed out."— Me. Ken Avery
Merna did "it" for me
and all without talking. If you want to know the truth, I was secretly thankful that this was a silent film because Kennedy having to speak dialogue might have lost my attention. Her playing off Chaplin's facial expressions with her deep, mysterious eyes made my blood pressure rise at least three points.
I know that in a recent thesis I published about falling in love I talked about how tough it was for me to cope with this scary emotion, but this film made me realize that in a time long, long ago, such love did exist with women like Merna Kennedy.
Merna's a natural beauty
is all I kept thinking as I watched Kennedy bat her eyes at Chaplin and then show compassion on him when the ringmaster, a brute-of-a-character, kept punishing poor Chaplin as he struggled to do as he was told for a handful of change in order to eat a meager meal.
This scene where Chaplin is anxiously awaiting a homemade soup boiling in a tin can over a small fire on the circus lot was my favorite. Kennedy, who Chaplin's character did not know that she lived in one of the circus trailers, was watching him with pity in those deep, alluring eyes while his attention was only spent on the soup.
The ringmaster was punishing Kennedy's equestrian role by not allowing her to eat due to her missing a key movement in the performance the night before. I told you that this guy was a brute-of-a-character. But soon, Chaplin, with big heart, noticed Kennedy's look of longing for just a sip of the soup, motioned for her to join him in his humble meal that did include a sandwich of some sort that he had stashed inside of his big suit coat.
The Tramp hits success
thanks to Kennedy revealing how the ringmaster was just using him for cleaning jobs and feeding the animals, but never paying him his worth due to Chaplin's performance that kept audiences filling the huge tent every night. In short, Chaplin was like we all are at times. Used.
As soon as Kennedy lovingly told Chaplin's character what was happening, things changed.Chaplin stood up to the brute-of-a-character, the ringmaster, and started making money as well as getting needed respect from the ringmaster. But Chaplin, as it turns out, had fallen in love with Kennedy's super-feminine character and who could blame him? Not me.
Enter the dashing tightrope walker
who, with his dashing looks and clean cut appearance, stole Kennedy's heart right in front of Chaplin. This is where I started getting a sour taste in my mouth for how Kennedy's facial expressions and lovely eyes told the story all too well. She too, had felt Cupid's stinging arrow and had fallen for the tightrope walker who in his last performance had disappeared from the circus while riding a wire down from the tightrope causing the ringmaster to panic.
Chaplin, eaten up with jealousy, engineered a super scheme with the help of a circus employee who he paid to rig him up with a small wire attached to his back so he could impress Kennedy's equestrian character by doing some tightrope walking of his own.
And Chaplin nailed it spot on. But the suspense came to a head when his harness broke, but he did not know it and continued to dance and wriggle around high above the audience who now was almost fainting for fear for the little guy.
Sadly, a terrible ending
Chaplin too, rode down from the tightrope on a bicycle and outside of the big tent only to meet the angry ringmaster who sent him packing. As the film started in its final scenes, Chaplin, now back to his Tramp character is seen in deep thought gazing into a campfire while darkness is beginning to cover him.
Kennedy, unbeknownst to Chaplin, had ran away from the circus to be with Chaplin. I thought the film would end with Chaplin and Kennedy in a loving embrace and both in love. Boy, was I wrong. Chaplin, for some reason, knew that Kennedy's role was to be with the clean, dashing tightrope walker she had fell for, so he made a trail back to the circus to tell the tightrope walker of her emotions for him.
This to me was idiotic. I would have never deserted a lovely girl like Merna Kennedy on or off film. But the tightrope walker and Kennedy were happily wed as Chaplin threw rice on them. Did I say idiotic? Asinine, to be exact. Sorry, Chaplin fans.
The happy couple and Chaplin return to the circus and show the depressed ringmaster that they are man and wife and enter Kennedy's trailer for their honeymoon. Kennedy, out of loyalty to Chaplin, invited him to join them for some talk, food or a drink. But he refused.
The vengeful ringmaster hired Chaplin back, but placed him in the last trailer as the circus was pulling out of that town to get to their next location.
Chaplin closes the film by just sitting down on a wooden box and after a little soul searching, walks into the sunset in his trademark Tramp style of walking.
I didn't like the ending. I am sure that I am not alone in that feeling. But my heart did beat faster when Kennedy was in my view.
If any one of my valued followers know anyone who is related to this film goddess, Merna Kennedy, please point them to this hub and tell them that I did this out of sheer respect and love for their mom, sister, aunt, or cousin.
Merna, I wish I had been born in your generation. That's all I really need to say.
Good night, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
© 2016 Kenneth Avery