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Irene Dunne

Filmography

1930      

Leathernecking

 

1931      

Cimarron

The Stolen Jools

Bachelor Apartment

The Great Lover

Consolation Marriage

 

1932      

Symphony of Six Million

Back Street

Thirteen Women

 

1933      

No Other Woman

The Secret of Madame Blanche

The Silver Cord

Ann Vickers

If I Were Free

 

1934      

This Man Is Mine

Stingaree

The Age of Innocence

Sweet Adeline

 

1935      

Roberta

Magnificent Obsession

 

1936      

Show Boat

Theodora Goes Wild

 

1937      

High, Wide, and Handsome

The Awful Truth

 

1938      

Joy of Living

 

1939      

Love Affair

Invitation to Happiness

When Tomorrow Comes

 

1940      

My Favorite Wife

 

1941      

Penny Serenade

Unfinished Business

 

1942      

Lady in a Jam

 

1943      

Show Business at War

A Guy Named Joe

 

1944      

The White Cliffs of Dover

Together Again

 

1945      

Over 21

 

1946      

Anna and the King of Siam

 

1947      

Life with Father

 

1948      

I Remember Mama

 

1950      

Never a Dull Moment

The Mudlark

 

1951      

You Can Change the World

 

1952      

It Grows on Trees

Awards

Irene Dunne 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).

When we have learned to love our neighbor, not just ourselves, no matter where we come from, then America will be perfect. ~ Irene Dunne

Irene Dunne: Learn more about her, review her filmography and more

Actress, Biographies

Irene Dunne was born December 20, 1898, in Louisville, Kentucky, to Joseph John Dunn (1863–1913), a steamboat inspector for the United States government, and Adelaide Henry (1871–1936), a concert pianist/music teacher from Newport, Kentucky.

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. 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 1926. With a soprano voice, 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”, before making her Broadway debut in 1922 in Zelda Sears’s The Clinging Vine. The following year, Dunne played a season of light opera in Atlanta, Georgia.

On July 16, 1927, Dunne married Francis Griffin, a New York dentist, whom she had met in 1924 at a supper dance in New York. Dunne later 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.

in 1929. She signed a contract with RKO and appeared in her first movie, Leathernecking (1930), 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 tombstone.

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) and re-created her role as Magnolia in Show Boat (1936), directed by James Whale. Love Affair (1939) is the first of three films she made opposite Charles Boyer. She starred, and sang “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, in the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film version of the musical Roberta (1935).

Dunne was apprehensive about attempting her first comedy role, as the title character in Theodora Goes Wild (1936), but discovered that she enjoyed it. 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 roles include Julie Gardiner Adams in Penny Serenade (1941), again with Grant, Anna and the King of Siam (1946) as Anna Leonowens, 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 (1952) became Dunne’s last screen performance, although she remained on the lookout for suitable film scripts for years afterwards.

In her retirement, she devoted herself primarily to civic, philanthropic, and Republican political causes. In 1965, she became a board member of Technicolor, the first woman ever elected to the board of directors.

Dunne remained married to Dr. Francis Griffin until his death on October 14, 1965. 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 York.

She was good friends with actress Loretta Young and remained close to others like Jimmy Stewart.

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 Monica.

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

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Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood