1903 - 1955

Born Owena Wolcott in Portland, Oregon on June 16, 1903, Ona Munson was dancing in the original chorus of George White’s Sandals by the time she was 16. After work in vaudeville, her first taste of fame was in the original stage production of No, No Nanette. Munson had ingénue roles in a string of other Broadway musical comedies like Twinkle Twinkle, Manhattan Mary, and Hold Everything. At the advent of talking pictures, Munson was invited to Hollywood where she had her first starring film role the Warner Brothers film Going Wild in 1930. The next year she appeared in the musical comedy Hot Heiress and Five Star Final. After only a handful of films, Munson returned to New York where she resumed her successful stage and radio career. In 1938, she returned to Hollywood and soon filmed her best known role, that of southern madam Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind (1939). Two years later she had another showy part as the notorious Madame Gin Sling in Josef von Sternberg’s cult classic The Shanghai Gesture (1941). Her additional movies included Drums on the Congo, The Big Guy, The Cheaters, and Dakota. Her final film was The Red House (1947). Though Munson wed three times these were considered lavender marriages, meant to conceal Munson’s bisexuality and her involvement in Hollywood’s “sewing circle”, the lesbian social scene originally formed in the 1920s around actress Alla Nazimova. Munson’s affairs with women included Nazimova, actresses Greta Garbo and Tallulah Bankhead, filmmaker Dorothy Arzner and writer Mercedes de Acosta. Weeks after meeting de Acosta, Munson wrote “I long to hold you in my arms and pour my love into you.” After a year, Munson severed the relationship with de Acosta. Due to uffering from depression for years, the 51 year old actress died by suicide on February 11, 1955 in her New York apartment from an overdose of barbiturates, leaving the note, "This is the only way I know to be free again...Please don't follow me." 


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Bisexual

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Great Depression (1929-1939) Interwar Period (1918-1939) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929)

Field(s) of Contribution

Art, Music, Literature & Theater




US History

Commemorations & Honors

Posthumous Hollywood Walk of Fame Star ForMotion Pictures (1960)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Carrie Maxwell
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell