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Irene Dunne

irene dunne, irene dunne beverly hillbillies
Irene Dunne born Irene Marie Dunn, December 20, 1898 – September 4, 1990 was an American film actress and singer of the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s Dunne was nominated five times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her performances in Cimarron 1931, Theodora Goes Wild 1936, The Awful Truth 1937, Love Affair 1939 and I Remember Mama 1948 In 1985, Dunne was given Kennedy Center Honors for her services to the arts


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Later life
  • 4 Personal life
  • 5 Death
  • 6 Awards and nominations
  • 7 Filmography
  • 8 Television credits
  • 9 Radio appearances
  • 10 In popular culture
  • 11 See also
  • 12 Notes
  • 13 References
    • 131 Books
    • 132 Articles
  • 14 External links

Early lifeedit

Dunne was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Joseph John Dunn, a steamboat inspector for the United States government, and Adelaide Henry, a concert pianist/music teacher from Newport, Kentucky Irene Dunne would later write, "No triumph of either my stage or screen career has ever rivalled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi on the riverboats with my father" She was fourteen when her father died on April 6, 19132 She saved all of his letters and often remembered and lived by what he told her the night before he died: "Happiness is never an accident It is the prize we get when we choose wisely from life's great stores"3

Following her father's death, Irene, her mother, and her younger brother Charles moved to her mother's hometown of Madison, Indiana Dunne's mother taught her to play the piano as a very small girl According to Dunne, "Music was as natural as breathing in our house"3 Dunne was raised as a devout Roman Catholic4 Nicknamed "Dunnie", she took piano and voice lessons, sang in local churches and high school plays before her graduation in 1916

Dunne earned a diploma to teach art, but took a chance on a contest and won a prestigious scholarship to the Chicago Musical College, where she graduated in 19265 With a soprano voice,6 she had hopes of becoming an opera singer, but did not pass the audition with the Metropolitan Opera Company


Irene, after adding an "e" to her surname, turned to musical theater She toured several provincial cities in 1921–22 playing the lead role in the popular play "Irene",7 before making her Broadway debut in 1922 in Zelda Sears's The Clinging Vine8 The following year, Dunne played a season of light opera in Atlanta, Georgia Though in her own words Dunne created "no great furor" By 1929 she had a successful Broadway career playing leading roles, grateful to be at center stage rather than in the chorus line On July 16, 1927, Dunne married Francis Griffin, a New York dentist,9 whom she had met in 1924 at a supper dance in New York Despite differing opinions and battles that raged furiously,3 Dunne eventually agreed to marry him and leave the theater

Dunne's role as Magnolia Hawks in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Show Boat was the result of a chance meeting with showman Florenz Ziegfeld in an elevator the day she returned from her honeymoon She was discovered by Hollywood while starring with the road company of Show Boat10 in 1929 She signed a contract with RKO and appeared in her first movie in 1930, Leathernecking, a film version of the musical Present Arms Already in her thirties when she made her first film, she would be in competition with younger actresses for roles, and found it advantageous to evade questions that would reveal her age Her publicists encouraged the belief that she was born in 1901 or 1904, and the former is the date engraved on her tombstone10

Dunne moved to Hollywood with her mother and brother and maintained a long-distance marriage with her husband in New York until he joined her in California in 1936 That year, she re-created her role as Magnolia in what is considered the classic film version of the famous musical Show Boat, directed by James Whale Edna Ferber's novel, on which the musical is based, had already been filmed as a part-talkie in 1929, and the musical would be remade in Technicolor in 1951, but the 1936 film is considered by most critics and many film buffs to be the definitive motion picture versioncitation needed

During the 1930s and 1940s, Dunne blossomed into a popular screen heroine in movies such as the original Back Street 1932 and the original Magnificent Obsession 1935 The first of three films she made opposite Charles Boyer, Love Affair 1939 is perhaps one of her best known She starred, and sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", in the 1935 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film version of the musical Roberta

Dunne and Melvyn Douglas in Theodora Goes Wild promotional poster 1936

Dunne was apprehensive about attempting her first comedy role, as the title character in Theodora Goes Wild 1936, but discovered that she enjoyed it11 She turned out to possess an aptitude for comedy, with a flair for combining the elegant and the madcap, a quality she displayed in such films as The Awful Truth 1937 and My Favorite Wife 1940, both co-starring Cary Grant Other notable roles include Julie Gardiner Adams in Penny Serenade 1941 once again opposite Grant, Anna Leonowens in Anna and the King of Siam 1946, Lavinia Day in Life with Father 1947, and Marta Hanson in I Remember Mama 1948 In The Mudlark 1950, she was nearly unrecognizable under heavy makeup as Queen Victoria

The comedy It Grows on Trees of 1952 turned out to be Dunne's last screen performance, although she remained on the lookout for suitable film scripts for years afterwards The following year, she was the opening act on the 1953 March of Dimes showcase in New York City While in town, she made an appearance as the mystery guest on What's My Line12 She also made television performances on Ford Theatre, General Electric Theater, and the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, continuing to act until 1962

In 1952–53, Dunne played newspaper editor Susan Armstrong in the radio program Bright Star The syndicated 30-minute comedy-drama also starred Fred MacMurray13

Dunne commented in an interview that she had lacked the "terrifying ambition" of some other actresses and said, "I drifted into acting and drifted out Acting is not everything Living is"14

Later lifeedit

Dunne was present at Disneyland on "Dedication Day" in 1955 and was asked by Walt Disney to christen the Mark Twain River Boat, which she did with a bottle filled with water from several major rivers across the United States

In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed Dunne one of five alternative US delegates to the United Nations in recognition of her interest in international affairs and Roman Catholic and Republican causes15 In her retirement, she devoted herself primarily to civic, philanthropic, and Republican political causes16 In 1965, she became a board member of Technicolor, the first woman ever elected to the board of directors17

Personal lifeedit

Dunne remained married to Dr Francis Griffin until his death on October 14, 1965 They lived in Holmby Hills, California in a Southern plantation-style mansion they designed They had one daughter, Mary Frances née Anna Mary Bush, who was adopted in 1936 finalized in 1938 from the New York Foundling Hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity of New York18 Both she and her husband were members of the Knights of Malta

Dunne was a devout Catholic who became a daily communicant She was a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California19 She was good friends with actress Loretta Young and remained close to others like Jimmy Stewart20

One of Dunne's last public appearances was in April 1985, when she attended the dedication of a bust in her honor at St John's Roman Catholic Hospital in Santa Monica, California, for which her foundation, The Irene Dunne Guild, had raised more than $20 million The Irene Dunne Guild remains "instrumental in raising funds to support programs and services at St John's" hospital in Santa Monica21


Crypt of Irene Dunne at Calvary Cemetery notice incorrect birth year

Dunne died at her Holmby Hills home in Los Angeles on September 4, 1990,22 and is entombed in the Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles Her personal papers are housed at the University of Southern California23 She was survived by her daughter, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren24

Awards and nominationsedit

Dunne has been described as the best actress never to win an Academy Award25 She received five Best Actress nominations during her career: for Cimarron 1931, Theodora Goes Wild 1936, The Awful Truth 1937, Love Affair 1939 and I Remember Mama 1948

She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 195826 Other honors include the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University in 1949, the Bellarmine Medal from Bellarmine College in 1965 and Colorado's Women of Achievement in 1968 She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6440 Hollywood Blvd and displays in the Warner Bros Museum and Center for Motion Picture Study27


Year Title Role Notes
1930 Leathernecking Delphine Witherspoon
1931 Cimarron Sabra Cravat Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
stolen !The Stolen Jools Herself Film produced for charity by the Masquers Club
Bachelor Apartment Helene Andrews
great !The Great Lover Diana Page
Consolation Marriage Mary Brown Porter
1932 Symphony of Six Million Jessica
Back Street Ray Smith
Thirteen Women Laura Stanhope
1933 No Other Woman Anna Stanley
The Secret of Madame Blanche Sally Sanders St John
The Silver Cord Christina Phelps
Ann Vickers Ann Vickers
If I Were Free Sarah Cazenove
1934 This Man Is Mine Tony Dunlap
Stingaree Hilda Bouverie
age !The Age of Innocence Countess Ellen Olenska
Sweet Adeline Adeline "Addie" Schmidt
1935 Roberta Stephanie
Magnificent Obsession Helen Hudson
1936 Show Boat Magnolia Hawks
Theodora Goes Wild Theodora Lynn/Caroline Adams Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1937 High, Wide, and Handsome Sally Watterson
awful !The Awful Truth Lucy Warriner Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1938 Joy of Living Margaret "Maggie" Garret
1939 Love Affair Terry Mckay Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Invitation to Happiness Eleanor Wayne
When Tomorrow Comes Helen Lawrence
1940 My Favorite Wife Ellen Arden
1941 Penny Serenade Julie Gardiner Adams
Unfinished Business Nancy Andrews
1942 Lady in a Jam Jane Palmer
1943 Show Business at War Herself
guy !A Guy Named Joe Dorinda Durston
1944 white !The White Cliffs of Dover Susan Dunn
Together Again Anne Crandall
1945 Over 21 Paula "Polly" Wharton
1946 Anna and the King of Siam Anna Owens
1947 Life with Father Vinnie Day
1948 I Remember Mama Martha "Mama" Hanson Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1950 Never a Dull Moment Kay Kingsley Heyward
mud !The Mudlark Queen Victoria
1951 You Can Change the World Herself Produced by The Christophers
1952 It Grows on Trees Polly Baxter

Television creditsedit

  • Schlitz Playhouse of Stars 1951 Host
  • General Electric Theater 1953 episode: "Go Fight City Hall" 10/15/1962
  • Saints and Sinners 1962 episode: "Source of Information" 10/15/1962
  • Insight 1960 episode: "Beelzebub & the Bolsheviks" 1/15/1962
  • Frontier Circus 1961 episode: "Dr Sam" 10/26/1961
  • The DuPont Show with June Allyson 1959 playing "Dr Gina Kerstas", episode: "The Opening Door" 10/5/1959
  • What's My Line 10/20/1957 Episode # 385 Season 9, Ep 8 Mystery Guest
  • Ford Theatre 1952 episode: "Sheila" 5/24/1956
  • Letter to Loretta 1953 Host, episode: "Tropical Secretary" 5/24/1956
  • Ford Theatre 1952 episode: "On the Beach" 5/24/1956
  • Letter to Loretta 1953 Host, episode: "Slander" 10/30/1955
  • Ford Theatre 1952 episode: "Touch of Spring" 2/3/1955
  • Ford Theatre 1952 episode: "Sister Veronica" 4/15/1954

Radio appearancesedit

Year Program Episode/source
1935 Lux Radio Theater Secrets
1936 Lux Radio Theater Bittersweet
1938 Lux Radio Theater Theodora Goes Wild
1939 Lux Radio Theater The Sisters
1940 Lux Radio Theater Love Affair
1940 Lux Radio Theater Show Boat
1941 The Screen Guild Theater My Favorite Wife
1941 Lux Radio Theater Unfinished Business
1941 The Screen Guild Theater Penny Serenade
1941 The Cavalcade Of America Cimmarron
1946 Lux Radio Theatre Together Again28
1952 Family Theater The Crossroads of Christmas29

In popular cultureedit

According to Francis Ford Coppola's audio commentary on Bram Stoker's Dracula, Columbia used Dunne's image on the familiar logo In Mad Men the character of Peggy Olson is compared to Irene

See alsoedit

  • List of people from the Louisville metropolitan area


  1. ^ "Good Night, Irene Dunne; Hollywood Loses An Airy and Elegant Gal from Film's Golden Age" People September 17, 1990 Retrieved May 8, 2016 
  2. ^ Indianapolis Star, April 7, 1913, p 5
  3. ^ a b c Irene Dunne February 17, 1945 "Hats, Hunches and Happiness" Picturegoer Magazine 
  4. ^ Stafford, Jeff "Thirteen Women" Turner Classic Movies Retrieved 2010-08-12 Irene Dunne, a devout Catholic, 
  5. ^ Gehring, Wes D, Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006, p 15
  6. ^ 1
  7. ^ Logansport Pharos-Tribune, March 18, 1922
  8. ^ The Clinging Vine, Internet Broadway Database
  9. ^ The Indianapolis Star, July 31, 1927, p 57
  10. ^ a b The Irene Dunne Site: The Pre-Hollywood Years – 1898–1929 Retrieved August 18, 2015
  11. ^ Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies introduction to the film
  12. ^ "What's My Line - Irene Dunne Feb 1, 1953"
  13. ^ Dunning, John 1998 On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3 Pp 119-120
  14. ^ Shipman, David Movie Talk, St Martin's Press, 1988, p 37
  15. ^ "Ike Appoints Irene Dunne to UN Post" August 10, 1957 Palm Beach Post, p 4
  16. ^ Gehring, Wes D, Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006, pp 168–170
  17. ^ Gehring, Wes D, Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006, p 176
  18. ^ "Irene Dunne Adopts Baby: Actress Formally Becomes Foster-Mother of Girl, 4", The New York Times, 17 March 1938, p 17
  19. ^ Church of the Good Shepherd: Our History
  20. ^ a painting of James Stewart and Irene Dunne together is displayed in the James Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA: http://wwwjimmyorg/
  21. ^ See http://californiaprovidenceorg/saint-johns/giving/ways-to-give/
  22. ^ "Irene Dunne, Leading Star of '30s and '40s, Dies at 88" Los Angeles Times September 5, 1990 Retrieved May 9, 2016 
  23. ^ "USC Cinematic Arts Library's Archives of Performing Arts: Collections List" USC Libraries Research Guides Retrieved May 9, 2016 
  24. ^ Peter B Flint September 6, 1990 "Irene Dunne, a Versatile Actress Of the 1930's and 40's, Dies at 91" The New York Times Retrieved May 9, 2016 
  25. ^ Milton, Michael "Neil Postman, Irene Dunne and Living" accessed 21 August 2010
  26. ^ Vanity Fair Archived 2013-07-12 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library, 2000, Gifts of Vanna Bonta
  28. ^ "'Together Again' With Irene Dunn sic Next 'Lux' Drama" Harrisburg Telegraph December 7, 1946 p 19 Retrieved September 12, 2015 – via Newspaperscom 
  29. ^ Kirby, Walter December 21, 1952 "Better Radio Programs for the Week" The Decatur Daily Review p 44 Retrieved June 8, 2015 – via Newspaperscom 


  • TCM Film Guide, "Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era", Chronicle Books, San Francisco, California, 2006


  • Pursuits of Happiness, by Stanley Cavell, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981
  • The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s, by Elizabeth Kendall, New York, 1990
  • Irene Dunne: A Bio-Bibliography, by Margie Schultz, New York, 1991
  • Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood, by Wes D Gehring Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003
  • Irene Dunne: a bio-bibliography, by Margie Schultz New York: Greenwood Press, 1991
  • Fast-talking Dames, by Maria DiBattista New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001
  • Independent Stardom: Freelance Women in the Hollywood Studio System by Emily Carman Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2015 ISBN 978-1477307816


  • "I'm Still In Love With Irene Dunne", by Wes D Gehring, USA Today, July 2003
  • "Irene Dunne – Elegant Leading Lady of the Golden Age", by John Roberts; Films of the Golden Age Fall, 1998, Issue #14
  • "We Remember Irene," Film Comment New York, by Richard Schickel, March/April 1991
  • "Irene Dunne: Nominee for The Awful Truth," Architectural Digest Los Angeles, by Richard Schickel, April 1990
  • "Irene Dunne 1904–1990: A Bright Star," Filmnews,by Peter Kemp November 1990
  • "Irene Dunne, Top-rank Film Star of the '30s and '40s, Dead at 88," Variety New York, 10 September 1990
  • "Irene Dunne: The Awesome Truth," Film Comment New York, by James McCourt January/February 1980
  • Interview with J Harvey, Film Comment New York, January/February 1980
  • "Irene Dunne," interview with John Kobal, in Focus on Film London, no 28, 1977
  • "Hats – Hunches and Happiness" by Irene Dunne Picturegoer, England February, 1945
  • "Irene Dunne: Native Treasure", Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book, DeWitt Bodeen, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978
  • Irene Dunne, in Films in Review New York, Madden, J C, December 1969

External linksedit

  • The Irene Dunne Site
  • Irene Dunne on Internet Movie Database
  • Irene Dunne at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Irene Dunne at the TCM Movie Database
  • Irene Dunne discography at Discogs
  • Kennedy Center Biographical Info for Irene Dunne
  • Irene Dunne at Find a Grave
  • Irene Dunne Film Reference by Jeanine Basinger
  • Real Movie Stars – Stanford University
  • Photographs of Irene Dunne
  • Indiana Historical Marker for Irene Dunne in Madison, Indiana

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