Merna Kennedy

Merna Kennedy (born Maude Kahler;[1] September 7, 1908 – December 20, 1944) was an American actress of the late silent era and the transitional period into talkies.

Merna Kennedy
Merna Kennedy Freulich.jpg
Kennedy in 1933
Maude Kahler

(1908-09-07)September 7, 1908
DiedDecember 20, 1944(1944-12-20) (aged 36)
Resting placePinecrest Cemetery, California
Years active1928–1934
  • (m. 1934; div. 1935)
  • Forrest Brayton
    (m. 1944)


She was born in Kankakee, one of two children to Maud (née Reed) and John Kahler, a German-American butcher turned chiropractor. After her parents separated, her mother moved the family to California, where she married a grocer two years later, and changed their name to Kennedy. At the outbreak of World War I, their mother prepped seven-year-old Merna and brother Melvin (known as Merle) to tour as a dancing and singing sibling act on the Orpheum and Pantages theater circuits of vaudeville, where she became acquainted with Lita Grey.[2] Merle broke his leg ending the duo, prompting Grey to suggest silent films to Merna.[2]

Kennedy was best known during her brief career for her role opposite Charlie Chaplin in the silent film The Circus (1928). A role she was brought to the attention of Chaplin for by her friend Lita Grey, who became Chaplin's second wife in 1924.[3] As a dancer she had muscular legs, which helped her gain the role of the circus bareback rider.

Merna Kennedy in May 1933.

Kennedy continued acting after The Circus, starring in early sound films, but retired in 1934 when she married choreographer/director Busby Berkeley on February 10, 1934[4] at Hollywood United Methodist Church.[5] Their marriage broke up by 1936.[2]


Kennedy died at age 36 of a heart attack on December 20, 1944, four days after her marriage to Master Sergeant Forrest Brayton.[6] She is buried at Pinecrest Cemetery in California.[7]


Silent FilmsEdit

Kennedy and Glenn Tryon in the film Skinner Steps Out (1929)



  1. ^ Birth Records from the Kankakee Historical Society.
  2. ^ a b c Chaplin, Lita Grey; Vance, Jeffrey (March 5, 1998). Wife of the Life of the Party: A Memoir. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9781461674320.
  3. ^ "The Short Life of Merna Kennedy, Chaplin's Co-Star in "The Circus"". (Travalanche). September 7, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  4. ^ Spivak, Jeffrey (September 29, 2010). Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813140087.
  5. ^ Mercado, Eric (July 1, 2012). "Heaven Sent Los Angeles Magazine". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved August 7, 2019.
  6. ^ "Chaplin Protégé Taken by Death". The Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. December 28, 1944. p. 4.
  7. ^ Ellenberger, Allan R. (May 1, 2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. ISBN 9780786409839.

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