Thursday, October 28, 2010

Irene Dunne (1898-1990)

The American born beauty started her acting career at a very young age appearing in "A Midsummer Nights Dream" at the age of five. Following in her musician mother's footsteps she took vocal lessons at the age of thirteen and earned extra money after her fathers death by singing at her local church. After high school Irene relocated to Chicago for a short time then she found her way to New York where she traveled with a theater company for awhile. But she returned again to Chicago where she graduated from the Chicago Music College in 1926. Two years later she married Dennis Griffin a New York dentist who she remained married to until his death in 1965. They adopted one daughter together, their only child.

While performing in "Show Boat" in 1930 on the East coast she got noticed and was lured to Hollywood like a thousand young actresses before her. But Irene wasn't put in movies as an extra or given empty promises like so many wide eyed starlets before her or since. She appeared in one not so memorable movie in 1931 but her second film "Cimarron" the same year garnered her first of five Academy Award nominations and the film won Best Picture that year. Under contract at RKO she was given plum roles and starred in "No Other Woman" 1933 and in "Ann Vickers" the same year with Walter Houston and Conrad Nagel. 

Irene tried her hand at comedies and by 1936 she was nominated for her second Oscar for her role in "Theodora Goes Wild". Unfortunately she lost out to Luise Rainer for "The Great Ziegfeld". Carole Lombard was also nominated that year for her hilarious role in "My Man Godfrey" which is one of my favorite comedies. William Powell and Lombard are fantastically funny together. I've seen it probably twenty times and I still have to re-watch it every time it airs). In 1937 Irene was paired with the comedic genius Cary Grant and from there her career skyrocketed. Their first movie together was "The Awful Truth" 1937 (my favorite Dunne film) then they went on to star together in "My Favorite Wife" 1940 and "Penny Serenade" 1941.

publicity still with Cary Grant and their co-star Smith the dog for "The Awful Truth"

Her success continued throughout the late 1930's with "Love Affair" 1939 co-starring Charles Boyer and another Oscar nomination for her for Best Actress. 1939 was a tough year to be nominated though since Vivien Leigh was nominated for "Gone With The Wind" (she won) then Bette Davis was nominated for her amazing performance in "Dark Victory" not to mention Greta Garbo for "Ninotchka" and Greer Garson for "Goodbye Mr. Chips". Irene had always said "Love Affair" was her favorite film. (Warren Beauty and Annette Benning did a remake of it and both versions will bring a few tears). 

She worked continuously throughout the 1940's and received another Oscar nod for her role as the Norwegian mother in "I Remember Mama" 1948. She lost out for the fifth time to Jane Wyman "Johnny Belinda". Ingrid Bergman and Olivia de Havilland were also nominated that year. Irene made her last film in 1952 but she remained active doing charitable work and appearing in television guest spots.

with Robert Taylor

with Melvyn Douglas in "Theodora Goes Wild" 1936

In 1957 Irene was appointed the U.S delegate for the United Nations by President Eisenhower. The remainder of her life was spent on civic causes. She passed away from a heart attack in Los Angeles, CA in 1990 after a long fulfilling life. She appeared in over 60 films. She was interred in a mausoleum at Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA which can be viewed HERE. 
For a view of Irene's Holmby Hills mansion click HERE.

click on autograph and images for larger view

Interesting Irene Dunne Facts:

Her tombstone has the wrong birth date and reads 1901 instead of 1898.

It was always assumed that the Academy of Motion Pictures would award her with an honorary Oscar after she retired from acting after five Oscar nominations and no wins but that was never to be.

She claimed that always getting enough sleep kept her looking young. Her studio contract stipulated that she arrive on set at 10 a.m. and stop filming by 6 p.m. each day.

Her only color production was "Life with Father" in 1948 with William Powell.

She Christened the Mark Twain stern-wheel riverboat at Disneyland in 1955.

Her favorite leisure activity was going down the Mississippi River on river boats.

She was up for the lead in "Of Human Bondage" but lost out to Bette Davis.

Thanks for stopping by and please return for more of my collection from old Hollywood,


  1. Irene tried her hand at comedies and by 1936 she was nominated for her second Oscar for her role in "Theodora Goes Wild." Unfortunately she lost out to Carole Lombard for her role in "My Man Godfrey."

    Where is this alternate universe? Actually, Luise Rainer won the Oscar that year for "The Great Ziegfeld."

  2. Corrected! I was going to list Carole as being nominated that year and somehow skipped completely over poor Luise. Thanks and I will be sure to check out your site.
    I'm glad you stopped by.

  3. she appeared in 41 movies, not 60 :) but oh, she was the best. Lovely blog you have!

  4. Renata,
    Thanks for stopping by! I hope you'll have a look around in the archives and visit often.