Hanna Meron (Marron)
An only child, Hanna Meron was born in Berlin on November 23, 1923. She began her long acting career as a four-year-old child prodigy, appearing in children’s theater, radio plays and films, including Fritz Lang’s famous M (1931). She attended a Montessori school which encouraged her artistic tendencies and also inculcated knowledge of French which stood her in good stead when she and her mother spent a year in Paris before immigrating to Palestine in 1933. At the Ben Yehuda Gymnasia she first became acquainted with the Hebrew language and its culture.
After a few stage appearances, including some at the Ohel Theater, she joined Habimah’s acting studio in 1940. During World War II she volunteered for the Auxiliary Territorial Service of the British army, in which she served for two years before joining the Jewish Brigade’s entertainment troupe. In 1945 she joined the recently founded Cameri (Chamber) Theater in Tel Aviv. Here she helped shape the company’s policy by becoming active in management and as a member of the repertory committee, which favored contemporary drama, including new works by Israeli dramatists. At first she appeared only in supporting roles, but after her 1948 success as Mika in He Walked in the Fields by Moshe Shamir (1921–2004) she became one of the country’s leading actors, playing many major roles, teaching and directing.
Meron’s unique comic ability has been pronounced since the beginning of her career. She has a gift for addressing the audience directly and she clearly delights in her success. Occasionally she even brings to her serious or tragic roles a comic quality that relieves the tension. Indeed, “Hanneleh,” as she is affectionately referred to, brought freshness, vitality and innovation to the Hebrew stage, which had hitherto suffered from an excess of sanctimoniousness and pathos. She also brought a hint of sexuality—an important element in her stage personality. Some of her press interviews portray her—as she herself does—as an attractive woman with many male admirers. One critic, writing of her 1990 appearance as Sarah in Womb for Rent by Shulamith Lapid, enthused that the sixty-seven-year-old actress “appears truly ageless, sexy and delightful.”
Among Meron’s many opportunities to display her comic ability were her appearances in plays by Shakespeare: Rosalind in As You Like It (1955), Maria in Twelfth Night (1959) and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing (1963). In 1954 she played Eliza Doolittle in G. B. Shaw’s Pygmalion, in 1968 the leading role in Hello, Dolly, and in 1993 she appeared as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Her performance as Aunt Hanna in the television series Relatives, Relatives (1983) made her a household name among non-theatergoers.
But Hanna Meron’s career is not limited to comedy. In 1971, a year after her involvement in an Arab terrorist attack on an Israeli plane at Munich Airport which led to the amputation of one leg, she successfully played the title role in Medea by Seneca. She also portrayed the protagonists in three plays by Henryk Ibsen (1828–1906): Nora in A Doll’s House (1959), the eponymous heroine in Hedda Gabler (1966) and Mrs. Alving in Ghosts (1989).
Despite the impression of flightiness conveyed by her comic roles, Meron approaches her acting with serious study, diligence and precision, thoroughly familiarizing herself not only with the text but also with the play’s background, the period in which it was written and that in which it is set.
Hanna Meron’s first husband was Yossi Yadin (1920–2001), a fellow actor at the Cameri. She later married the architect Ya’akov Rechter (1924–2001). They had three children: Amnon (b. 1958), Ofra (b. 1961) and Dafna (b. 1965). Like many women of her generation, she ultimately subordinated her career to that of her husband and her family. After leaving the Cameri in 1980, she appeared in only one production per year. An underlying sense of frustration may explain her choice of roles, in many of which she portrays an independent woman who determines her own destiny, often in conflict with a world dominated by men.
Unlike many actors whose celebrity status has frozen their image in their audiences’ collective memory and sealed their fate to be typecast, Meron has retained her artistic freedom. In 1985, two years after her enshrinement in public awareness as a comic television character, she decided to play Winnie in Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, a two-act play which consists of two monologues: the first, by a woman buried up to her waist in sand, is followed by one in which she is embedded up to the neck, able to move only her eyes. Probably one of the most difficult of dramatic texts, Meron perceived it as “a musical score, almost abstract, with many layers of philosophical thought.” She also made an interesting connection between Beckett’s world of the absurd and her personal history:
I related the play so closely to my own life. I began to think of my mother, who had come to Israel from Germany and who until her death was not happy in this country. The situation is a strange one, maybe, but don’t we all have situations in our lives when we feel we are stuck, not knowing how to go on, somehow rooted? So it became a kind of mixture of my mother ... and my own professional struggles with freelancing and with this play (Ben Zvi: 1992, 43–44).
Even at the age of eighty, Meron did not content herself with acting. She edited, directed and performed in a production entitled And Then We Went Back to [Café] Kassit (2002), based primarily on the writing of Nathan Alterman (1910–1970). In this production Meron served as intermediary between classical Israeli art and audiences who were unfamiliar with Alterman or might have forgotten him. As she said, “I love new things.”
The recipient of honorary degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, Hanna Meron was awarded the Israel Prize for Arts (Theater) in 1973, one year after her husband Ya’akov Rechter won the prize for Arts (Architecture).