Irene Dunne


Actor
Irene Dunne

About

Also Known As
Irene Marie Dunn
Birth Place
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Born
December 20, 1898
Died
September 04, 1990

Biography

Affectionately nicknamed "The Iron Maiden," lovely Irene Dunne hoped to have a career in opera, but her singing skills ultimately led instead to Broadway and movie stardom. On the basis of her early film credits, which were dominated by such dramas as "The Age of Innocence" (1934) and "Magnificent Obsession" (1935) and musicals like "Show Boat" (1936), Dunne surprised some critics and au...

Photos & Videos

The Awful Truth - Movie Poster
Penny Serenade - Movie Posters
My Favorite Wife - Scene Stills

Family & Companions

Francis Griffen
Husband
Dentist. Married in 1927; lived on opposite coasts for part of their marriage.

Biography

Affectionately nicknamed "The Iron Maiden," lovely Irene Dunne hoped to have a career in opera, but her singing skills ultimately led instead to Broadway and movie stardom. On the basis of her early film credits, which were dominated by such dramas as "The Age of Innocence" (1934) and "Magnificent Obsession" (1935) and musicals like "Show Boat" (1936), Dunne surprised some critics and audience members with her considerable comedic flair on view in such highly regarded pictures as "Theodora Goes Wild" (1936) and "The Awful Truth" (1937). She also continued to excel in dramatic parts, with her portrayals in "Penny Serenade" (1941) and "I Remember Mama" (1948) being of particular note. In spite of often excellent performances, Dunne never won an Academy Award and that led in later years for her to be called the finest American actress to have never received that honor. Regardless, Dunne was highly respected by her peers and her decision to retire comparatively early was viewed as a way to exit the business on a high note, while she still had some say in the roles being offered. Dunne's talent in the areas of drama, comedy, song and dance made her one of the most multi-facetted performers of the 1930s and '40s and the consistent quality of that work made her much beloved among fans of classic Hollywood cinema.She was born Irene Marie Dunn (the "e" was added later) on Dec. 10, 1898 in Louisville, KY, but spent much of her teenage years in Madison, IN. From an early age, Dunne displayed an aptitude for singing and her skills were further developed through vocal training. Dunne also learned to play piano via instruction from her mother, a professional musician, and had formative performing experiences in school plays and as a member of the local church choir. Following Dunne's graduation from Madison High School, she attended the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music and Chicago Music College, hoping to utilize her gifts in the world of opera. While that did not pan out, Dunne's vocal talent opened other doors and she received opportunities to shine as a professional singer. Dunne took her first bow on Broadway in the title role of "Irene" (1919-21), replacing original star Edith Day during the hit play's two year engagement. A similar experience followed on "The Clinging Vine" (1922-23). As the understudy for star Peggy Wood, Dunne was given her shot when Wood lost her voice to laryngitis. Additional employment came as a cast member in the traveling company of "Show Boat" and return engagements on Broadway, though "Yours Truly" (1927), "She's My Baby" (1928) and "Luckee Girl" (1928) had far more modest runs than Dunne's previous Great White Way credits.On the personal front, Dunne wed dentist Francis Griffin. The couple would go on to adopt a daughter and their union lasted until Griffin's death almost four decades later. Meanwhile, Dunne's talent and magnetism inevitably attracted the attention of Hollywood and she was signed to a contract by RKO Radio Pictures. In contrast to the usual trajectory for newcomers, Dunne vaulted right into lead roles with the film adaptation of the musical-comedy "Leathernecking" (1930). The studio thought highly enough of Dunne to next cast her opposite Richard Dix in their large scale western "Cimarron" (1931). Playing a character that provides support to her family but possesses her own share of shortcomings, Dunne received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination and the movie became the first Western to win Best Picture honors. Despite this distinction and enthusiastic reviews, the production was a commercial disappointment in relation to its immense cost. Dunne continued to toil for RKO in potboilers like "Back Street" (1932) and "Thirteen Women" (1932), but soon found an excellent vehicle for her talents in the company's adaptation of Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence" (1934). Loaned out to Universal, she enjoyed a further strong dramatic vehicle in the form of "Magnificent Obsession" (1935), but Hollywood was also wise enough to start taking advantage of Dunne's other talents. This began on "Roberta" (1935), which found Dunne sharing the screen with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and performing two songs, including the highly popular "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Impressed with her talents, Universal brought her back for their cinematic incarnation of "Show Boat" (1936). As the memorably named heroine Magnolia Hawks, Dunne sang several of Jerome Kern's famous songs and her portrayal of the initially sheltered heroine ranked among the movie's foremost pleasures. In later years, this version was suppressed in favor of the 1951 remake, making it difficult for Dunne's fans to view some of her finest work from that period.One film that thankfully stayed in circulation and won Dunne many fans was the screwball comedy classic "Theodora Goes Wild" (1936), which found her acting for Columbia, the rising studio that had just enjoyed huge success with the engaging romantic farce "It Happened One Night" (1934). Dunne played the titular role of a small town girl-turned-best-selling author whose naughty book scandalizes her local community. Displaying wonderful comedic timing and an excellent rapport with co-star Melvyn Douglas, Dunne received another Oscar nomination for that performance and a third one soon after for "The Awful Truth" (1937), where she and Cary Grant played a soon-to-be-divorced couple determined to scuttle each other's new relationships. The two stars interacted with all of the amusing precision that made the best 1930s screwball comedies so delightful and the picture did brisk business. Both comedy and drama figured into the storyline of "Love Affair" (1939), one of the actress' most enduring films. While Dunne and Grant made a wonderful couple in "The Awful Truth," her pairing with French star Charles Boyer in this superb production made for some especially effective romantic chemistry. The result was yet another Academy Award nod that ended in disappointment.Dunne and Grant were soon reteamed for a pair of pictures, "My Favorite Wife" (1940) and "Penny Serenade" (1941). The former was an entertaining confection along similar lines to their earlier collaboration, but "Penny Serenade" was a much different enterprise. As a couple forced to deal with a series of events that test their love, Dunne and Grant proved just as adept at conveying more somber dramatic material in what was their final project together. Dunne graced a few other noteworthy films that decade, with the World War I romantic drama "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1944) and the lavish "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946) finding her in especially good form. However, "I Remember Mama" (1948) offered one of her finest turns. As the wise matriarch of a Norwegian family who made San Francisco their home in the early 1900s, she did an admirable job of embodying a woman who made numerous sacrifices to ensure her children good lives. Dunne received the last of five Oscar nominations for the movie and while she did not win, that performance was often cited as the finest she gave. Dunne went on to grace three more films, including a trip to England to star as Queen Victoria in the period drama "The Mudlark" (1950), but retired from the screen after "It Grows on Trees" (1952), making only occasional appearances on television programs during the next decade. Once acting was no longer her primary concern, Dunne found much in her life that provided diversion and fulfillment. In 1957, she was named an alternate delegate to the United Nations and later became the first woman on the Technicolor Corporation's Board of Directors. Dunne also dabbled in real estate acquisition, supported the Republican Party in various capacities, and contributed to charitable endeavors. In addition to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the actress was presented with the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985. Dunne succumbed to heart failure at her Los Angeles home on Sept. 4, 1990.By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

It's Showtime (1976)
Herself
It Grows on Trees (1952)
Polly Baxter
The Mudlark (1950)
Queen Victoria
Never a Dull Moment (1950)
Kay [Kingsley Heyward]
I Remember Mama (1948)
Mama [Marta Hanson]
Life with Father (1947)
Vinnie [Day]
Anna and the King of Siam (1946)
Anna Owens
Over 21 (1945)
Paula "Polly" Wharton
Together Again (1944)
Anne Crandall
The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)
[Lady] Susan [Dunn] Ashwood
A Guy Named Joe (1944)
Dorinda Durston
Lady in a Jam (1942)
Jane Palmer
Unfinished Business (1941)
Nancy Andrews [Duncan]
Penny Serenade (1941)
Julie Gardiner [Adams]
My Favorite Wife (1940)
Ellen [Arden]
Invitation to Happiness (1939)
Eleanor Wayne
Love Affair (1939)
Terry [McKay]
When Tomorrow Comes (1939)
Helen
Joy of Living (1938)
Maggie [Garret]
The Awful Truth (1937)
Lucy Warriner
High, Wide and Handsome (1937)
Sally Watterson
Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
Theodora Lynn [alias Caroline Adams]
Magnificent Obsession (1936)
Helen Hudson
Show Boat (1936)
Magnolia
Roberta (1935)
[Princess] Stephanie
The Age of Innocence (1934)
Ellen [Countess Olenska]
Stingaree (1934)
Hilda [Bouverie]
This Man Is Mine (1934)
Tony Dunlap
Sweet Adeline (1934)
Adeline [Schmidt]
The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933)
Sally [Sanders St. John, later known as Madame Blanche]
Ann Vickers (1933)
Ann Vickers
The Silver Cord (1933)
Christina [Phelps]
No Other Woman (1933)
Anna Stanley
If I Were Free (1933)
Sarah Casanove
Back Street (1932)
Ray Schmidt
Thirteen Women (1932)
Laura Stanhope
Symphony of Six Million (1932)
Jessica
Consolation Marriage (1931)
Mary Brown Porter
Cimarron (1931)
Sabra Cravat
Bachelor Apartment (1931)
Helene Andrews
The Great Lover (1931)
Diana [Page]
The Stolen Jools (1931)
Leathernecking (1930)
Delphine

Music (Feature Film)

Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
Song Performer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

It's Showtime (1976)
Other

Cast (Special)

The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1985)

Cast (Short)

Things You Never See on the Screen (1935)
Herself

Life Events

1920

Failed singing audition at New York's Metropolitan Opera

1922

First role on Broadway in "The Clinging Vine"

1930

Film acting debut in "Leathernecking"

1931

Confirmed as a star with her role in her second film, "Cimarron"; received her first Oscar nomination as Best Actress

1936

First notable screwball comedy success, "Theodora Goes Wild"

1937

Last full-fledged musical, "High, Wide and Handsome"

1948

Received last of five Oscar nominations as Best Actress for "I Remember Mama"

1952

Last film, "It Grows on Trees"

1952

Hosted a season of the TV anthology drama, "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars"

1957

Appointed alternate delegate to the United Nations' 12th General Assembly by President Eisenhower

1965

Became a board member of Technicolor

Photo Collections

The Awful Truth - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster from Columbia's The Awful Truth (1937), starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Penny Serenade - Movie Posters
Here are two different styles of the American one-sheet movie poster for Penny Serenade (1941), starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
My Favorite Wife - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from RKO's My Favorite Wife (1940), directed by Garson Kanin and starring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, and Randolph Scott.
Theodora Goes Wild - Movie Posters
Theodora Goes Wild - Movie Posters
Life with Father - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Warner Bros' Life with Father (1947), starring William Powell, Irene Dunne, and Elizabeth Taylor. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
I Remember Mama - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from the RKO film I Remember Mama (1948). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
I Remember Mama - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for I Remember Mama (1948), starring Irene Dunne. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Roberta - Irene Dunne Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos of Irene Dunne taken to help publicize RKO's Roberta (1935). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Love Affair (1939) - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from Love Affair (1939), directed by Leo McCarey and starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.
Never a Dull Moment - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from RKO's Never a Dull Moment (1950), starring Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray.
A Guy Named Joe - Publicity Stills
Here are a few stills taken to help publicize MGM's A Guy Named Joe (1943), starring Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Thirteen Women - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Thirteen Women (1932), starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Stingaree - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release movie posters from RKO's Stingaree (1934), directed by William Wellman and starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne.
Stingaree - Jumbo Lobby Cards
Here are a few jumbo lobby cards from RKO's Stingaree (1934), directed by William Wellman and starring Irene Dunne and Richard Dix.
Cimarron - Lobby Cards
Here are some Lobby Cards from Cimarron (1931), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Stingaree - Glass Slide
Here is a Glass Slide for the RKO film Stingaree (1934), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Glass slides were used by many theaters to promote coming attractions during slide shows between movie screenings.
Irene Dunne - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of studio publicity photos of Irene Dunne.
Stingaree - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from the RKO film Stingaree (1934), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne.
Stingaree - Publicity Stills
Here are several publicity stills from RKO's Stingaree (1934), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Stingaree - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a few stills taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Stingaree (1934), directed by William Wellman and starring Irene Dunne and Richard Dix.
Stingaree - Sheet Music
Here is the cover to original sheet music for a song from RKO's Stingaree (1934), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. The song is "Tonight is Mine" by Gus Kahn and Frank Harling.
Irene Dunne Cigarette Card
This is a small cigarette card for actress Irene Dunne. These cards were included in Cigarette packs in the 30's and 40's and were collectible items. Customers could even purchase books to organize and collect these cards. John Player & Sons was an active Cigarette Card producer, creating a wide range of cards featuring famous people of which film stars were an often popular draw.

Videos

Movie Clip

Silver Cord, The (1933) - Let Me Look At You Now Snapping forward as German-born Christina scientist (Irene Dunne) and her architect husband (Joel McCrea) arrive from Heidelberg at his family country home, meeting his brother’s fianceè (Frances Dee) then Robert (Eric Linden), and Laura Hope Crews their mother, in her celebrated Broadway role, in The Silver Cord, 1933.
Thirteen Women (1932) - She Seemed Very Charming We’ve just met Ricardo Cortez as L-A detective Clive, investigating a suicide on a just-arrived train, questioning spooky Ursula (Myrna Loy), who somehow psychically caused it, and who gives a false name, whereupon we join her worried former boarding school classmates Laura, Jo and Grace (Irene Dunne, Jill Esmond, Florence Eldridge) in Thirteen Women, 1932.
Thirteen Women (1932) - One Chain Of Destiny With extensive exposition in the opening scene we learned that boarding-school grad trapeze artist June (the brunette, Mary Duncan) is nervous because a swami predicted the death of her sister (Harriet Hagman), after which we meet him (C. Henry Gordon) and Myrna Loy as Ursula, whose role is not explained as yet, in RKO’s Thirteen Women, 1932.
Thirteen Women (1932) - Those Fool Horoscopes We learn here that somehow super-psychic powered Ursula (Myrna Loy) has been forging letters from her evidently credible lover the Swami, instigating the deaths of boarding school roommates, adding Hazel (Peg Entwistle) to her tally, whereupon we meet Laura (Irene Dunne) who reaches out to Helen (Kay Johnson), in RKO’s Thirteen Women, 1932.
Ann Vickers (1933) - I Once Bit A Policeman Popular Settlement House worker Irene Dunne (title character) meets Captain Resnick (Bruce Cabot), about to ship off to war in Europe, John Cromwell directing, from the first novel published by Sinclair Lewis after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, in Ann Vickers, 1933.
Ann Vickers (1933) - Muck And Slime Of Life Following what in the original Sinclair Lewis novel is openly called an abortion, social worker Irene Dunne (title character) is more vague as she convalesces and reflects with doctor and friend Malvina (Edna May Oliver), in Ann Vickers, 1933, directed by John Cromwell.
Ann Vickers (1933) - You Look Reasonably Disillusioned A good four reels into the film, Irene Dunne (title character), now a famous author and social scientist, finally meets Walter Huston, her fellow above-the-title star, a leading judge who recently blurbed her book, in Ann Vickers, 1933, from the Sinclair Lewis novel.
High, Wide And Handsome (1937) - You Think It's Daffy? Hunky Pennsylvania farmer and aspiring “rock oil” driller Peter (Randolph Scott) and crew (Ben Blue, Stanley Andrews, with Charles Bickford and Billy Bletcher the dimwit neighbors), can’t help noticing Sally (Irene Dunne), a guest with her father after their medicine show wagon burned, is kind of a babe, in Paramount’s High, Wide And Handsome, 1937.
High, Wide And Handsome (1937) - She's Been Kissed Before At the town dance in Titusville, PA, 1859, infatuated Peter (Randolph Scott) with visiting medicine-show performer Sally (Irene Dunne) as his Grandma (Elizabeth Patterson) jousts with stuffy Stark (Irving Pichel) and a scuff-up with Scanlon (Charles Bickford) ensues, in High, Wide And Handsome, 1937.
High, Wide And Handsome (1937) - The Morning's Half Over Arising on the Titusville, PA farm where she and her father (Raymond Walburn, with sidekick William Frawley) have been received as guests the day after their medicine-show wagon burned, Irene Dunne as Sally has a mixed exchange with hostess Grandma (Elizabeth Patterson), in Paramount’s High, Wide And Handsome, 1937, also starring Randolph Scott.
Sweet Adeline (1934) - We Were So Young For the second of two songs from the 1929 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II operetta, with an elaborate shot from director Mervyn LeRoy and cameraman Sol Polito, we find the title character (Irene Dunne) testing out a new tune by her beau Sid (Donald Woods), cueing a tiff, in Warner Bros.’ Sweet Adeline, 1934.
Sweet Adeline (1934) - Here Am I In a Hoboken, NJ German-style beer garden ca. 1898, Irene Dunne (title character and daughter of the owner) aims to impress the U.S. Army recruiter and (Spanish-American War) hero Major Day (Louis Calhern), with a song from the original 1929 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II operetta, in Warner Bros.’ Sweet Adeline, 1934.

Trailer

Never a Dull Moment - (Original Trailer) A female music critic (Irene Dunne) marries a rancher (Fred MacMurray) but her life out West has Never a Dull Moment (1950).
Secret Of Madame Blanche, The - (Original Trailer) Irene Dunne must do the noble thing to keep The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933) from the son she gave up long ago.
Guy Named Joe, A -- (Re-issue Trailer) A downed World War II pilot (Spencer Tracy) becomes the guardian angel for his successor (Van Johnson) in love and war in A Guy Named Joe (1943).
Love Affair - (Original Trailer) Near-tragic misunderstandings threaten a shipboard romance between Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939), directed by Leo McCarey. It was later remade by McCarey as An Affair to Remember (1957) starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
I Remember Mama - (Re-issue Trailer) Norwegian immigrants face the trials of family life in turn-of-the-century San Francisco in George Stevens' I Remember Mama, 1948, starring Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes.
My Favorite Wife - (Original Trailer) Seven years after his wife's disappearance, Cary Grant gets re-married. Guess who shows up for the honeymoon? Find out in My Favorite Wife (1940).
White Cliffs of Dover, The - (Original Trailer) An American woman (Irene Dunne) with a British husband fights to keep her family together through two world wars in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944) directed by Clarence Brown.
Life With Father - (Original Trailer) A straitlaced turn-of-the-century father presides over a family of boys and the mother who really rules the roost in Life With Father (1947).
Roberta - (Original Trailer) A football player inherits a chic Paris fashion house in the musical Roberta (1935) starring Randolph Scott, Irene Dunne and Fred Astaire.

Family

Joseph John Dunne
Father
Steamship inspector. Died in 1910.
Adelaide Dunne
Mother
Mary Frances Griffen
Daughter
Adopted in 1936.

Companions

Francis Griffen
Husband
Dentist. Married in 1927; lived on opposite coasts for part of their marriage.

Bibliography