1898-1990                             Actress

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      Born on 20 December in Louisville, Kentucky, USA


      Makes her Broadway debut in The Clinging Vine


      Marries Francis Dennis Griffin. 1 adopted daughter


      Signed by RKO and makes screen debut in Leathernecking


      Oscar nomination for her role in Cimarron


      Appears in Show Boat. 2nd Oscar nomination for her role in Theodora Goes Wild


      3rd Oscar nomination for her role in The Awful Truth, her first teaming with Cary Grant


      4th Oscar nomination for her role in Love Affair


      5th Oscar nomination for her role in I Remember Mama


      Retires from the screen after It Grows on Trees. Turns to business and politics


      Becomes first woman to be elected to Technicolor's board of directors. Death of husband


      Dies of heart failure on 4 September in Los Angeles



    1. It Grows on Trees (1952)
    2. The Mudlark (1950)
    3. Never a Dull Moment (1950)

    4. I Remember Mama (1948)
    5. Life with Father (1947)
    6. Anna and the King of Siam (1946)
    7. Over 21 (1945)
    8. Together Again (1944)
    9. The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)
    10. A Guy Named Joe (1943)
    11. Lady in a Jam (1942)
    12. Unfinished Business (1941)
    13. Penny Serenade (1941)
    14. My Favorite Wife (1940)

    15. When Tomorrow Comes (1939)
    16. Invitation to Happiness (1939)
    17. Love Affair (1939)
    18. Joy of Living (1938)
    19. The Awful Truth (1937)
    20. High, Wide, and Handsome (1937)
    21. Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
    22. Show Boat (1936)
    23. Magnificent Obsession (1935)
    24. Roberta (1935)
    25. Sweet Adeline (1934)
    26. The Age of Innocence (1934)
    27. Stingaree (1934)
    28. This Man Is Mine (1934)
    29. If I Were Free (1933)
    30. Ann Vickers (1933)
    31. The Silver Cord (1933)
    32. The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933)
    33. No Other Woman (1933)
    34. Thirteen Women (1932)
    35. Back Street (1932)
    36. Symphony of Six Million (1932)
    37. Consolation Marriage (1931)
    38. The Great Lover (1931)
    39. Bachelor Apartment (1931)
    40. Cimarron (1931)
    41. Leathernecking (1930)



      5' 5" (1.65 m)


      First Lady of Hollywood



I r e n e  D u n n e

Irene Dunne, Picture Play Cover

    Irene Dunne (Irene Marie Dunn)
    b. Louisville, Kentucky (1898-1990)

      Irene Dunne is an almost forgotten name to
      today's movie audiences. Indeed, if she is
      remembered at all it is through the Cary Grant
      connection. For her contribution to Hollywood's
      history is but a rumour, a whisper lost in the
      winds of time. Is that fair?

    Not really. But Dunne was not a great beauty, or a commanding actress. I'm not even sure she was innately funny. There are times in her work when respectability shows; she was staunch as both Republican and Catholic, and she favored what she regarded as serious roles— drama and weepies—as opposed to the comedies for which she is treasured. Stanley Cavell once wrote of The Awful Truth that:

      "if one is not willing to yield to Irene Dunne's temperament, her talents, her reactions, following their detail almost to the loss of one's own identity, one will not know, and will not care, what the film is about."

    Richard Schickel's obituary tribute noted:

      "She always knew how to put a man in her place, but at the same time leave him room to maneuver out of it."

    I would add that, in two very different films with Cary Grant The Awful Truth and Penny Serenade—she seems smarter or more knowing than Grant, yet graceful enough to watch him catch up, without letting him feel it. And Grant was testing company (he, too, revered her timing).

    Then there is her age. For some time, it was believed that Dunne had been born in 1904, but 1898 is now taken as the true date. Which means that she was over thirty when she made her screen debut. Very few actresses cast in romance simply missed their twenties. (Jean Harlow never met her thirties.) Dunne had a happy family life until her father died when she was eleven. Harder years followed: she sang in church choirs for money (her mother was a musician), she taught music herself, and studied at Chicago Musical College. In 1920, she failed an audition for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

    So she went into musical comedy, rising slowly to the role of Magnolia in the touring production of Show Boat. By 1930, she was under contract to RKO, initially as a singer. But her first film, Leathernecking (30, Edward Cline), was stripped of its songs. Then Richard Dix chose her to play opposite him in Cimarron (31, Wesley Ruggles). That proved a huge success. and she is really the heart of what is a soggy Western. So Irene Dunne was set up as an actress.

    She worked hard at RKO, but not always in good material: Bachelor Apartment (31, Lowell Sherman); Consolation Marriage (31, Paul Sloane); as the crippled teacher in Symphony of Six Million (32, Gregory La Cava); and Thirteen Women (32, George Archainbaud). She had a great success at Universal as the secret mistress in Back Street (32, John M. Stahl), and suffering and sacrifice seemed to appeal to her—Dunne herself approved of the characters unself-pitying acceptance of her life. This sort of role was repeated in The Secret of Madame Blanche (33, Charles Brabin); If I Were Free (33, Elliott Nugent); The Silver Cord (33, John Cromwell), where Joel McCrea nearly gives her up for his mother; very good in Ann Vickers (33, Cromwell), where she plays Walter Huston's mistress with unusual intelligence; and This Man Is Mine (34, Cromwell). The series was topped off by her blind woman in Magnificent Obsession (35, Stahl).

    That Dunne is worthy, but not overly interesting. She sang at last in Stingaree (34, William Wellman), and got into a series of musicals: Sweet Adeline (35, Mervyn Le Roy); with Astaire and Rogers in Roberta (35, William A. Seiter), singing Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"; and repeated her stage role in Show Boat (36, James Whale).

    She did not want to do Theodora Goes Wild (36, Richard Boleslavsky), in a Sidney Buchman script from a Mary McCarthy story. But she did it, and a, great comic talent was revealed in the story of a woman who writes a best-selling book and flls in love with her New York illustrator (Melvyn Douglas).

    At Paramount, she did High, Wide and Handsome (37, Rouben Mamoulian), singing "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" (Kern again). But Columbia and Leo McCarey grabbed her for The Awful Truth (37), for which she got her third Oscar nomination (Theodora and Cimarron had preceded it).

    So she was established in musicals, melodramas, and high comedy—that versatility had few rivals. Still, she was forty and the decade was ending uneasily. She had more success, but nothing as bracing as The Awful Truth: Joy of Living (38, Tay Garnett); Invitation to Happiness (39, Ruggles); nominated again for the wonderful Love Affair (39, McCarey—with Charles Boyer), one of most influential of romances; When Tomorrow Comes (39, Stahl); with Grant again in My Favourite Wife (40, Garson Kanin); and very touching in the brilliant Penny Serenade (41, George Stevens).

    During World War 2, Dunne starred in the fantasy melodrama A Guy Named Joe (1943, remade by Steven Spielberg as Always in 1989), and this led to a series of dramatic portrayals in such handsome productions as The White Cliffs of Dover (1944) and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). She also starred in the film versions of two classic American plays, Life With Father (1947) and I Remember Mama (1948, for which she earned a fifth Oscar nomination).

    After the pale comedy It Grows on Trees (1952), Dunne retired from the screen and turned to politics and business. She was appointed an alternate delegate to the United Nations by President Eisenhower, and later served on the board of directors of Technicolor with fellow screen actor George Murphy.

    Whichh brings us in where we began. Dunne was rescued from total obscurity in the 1970s when the American Film Institute and the Los Angeles County Art Museum began to screen her long-unseen best work, and as a result, the films finally were cleared for TV reissue.

    The long, unsung actress was too ill to accept her Kennedy Center Honors in 1985, but longtime fans saw the ceremony as vindication-and a reminder of, when all is said and done, her great versatility.

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