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Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Place of Death
Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of Death
Claim to Fame
The Awful Truth
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Profile Bio Text
Born Irene Marie Dunn in Louisville, Kentucky to Joseph 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 rivaled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi on the river boats with my father."
She was only eleven when her father died in 1909. 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."
After her father`s death, she, her mother and 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."
She took piano and voice lessons, sang in local churches and high school plays before her graduation in 1916.
She earned a diploma to teach art, but took a chance on a contest and won a prestigious scholarship to the Chicago Musical College. She had hopes of becoming an opera singer, but did not pass an audition with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Dunne turned to musical theater, making her Broadway debut in 1922 in Zelda Sear`s The Clinging Vine. The following year, Dunne played a season of light opera in Atlanta, Georgia. Though, in her own words, Dunne created "no great furor," and by 1929 she was playing leading roles in a successful Broadway career, grateful that she was never in the chorus line.
Dunne met her future husband, Francis Griffin, a New York dentist, at a supper dance in New York. Despite differing opinions and battles that raged furiously, Dunne eventually agreed to marry him and leave the theater. They were wed on July 16, 1928.
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. Dunne was discovered by Hollywood while starring with the Chicago company of the musical in 1929. She signed a contract with RKO and appeared in her first movie in 1930, Leathernecking, an early musical. She 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 Show Boat.
During the 30s and 40s, Dunne blossomed into a popular screen heroine in movies such as Back Street (1932), and Magnificent Obsession (1935). The first of several films she made opposite Charles Boyer, Love Affair (1939) was one of her best. She sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in the 1935 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film version of the musical Roberta. She possessed an exceptional aptitude for comedy. The unique Dunne trademark flair for combining elegance and madcap comedy is seen at its best in such films as Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940), the latter two opposite Cary Grant. Other notable roles include Anna Leonowens in Anna and the King of Siam (1946), Lavinia Day in Life with Father (1947), and Martha Hanson in I Remember Mama (1948). In The Mudlark (1950), Dunne was nearly unrecognizable under heavy makeup as Queen Victoria. She retired from the screen in 1952, after It Grows on Trees, a comedy about a couple who discover that money does grow on trees, at least in their back yard.
Shortly after "It Grows on Trees" opened, she performed as the opening act on the 1953 March of Dimes showcase in New York City. While in town, she made her first appearance as the Mystery Guest on "What`s My Line?".
She continued with television performances on Ford Theatre, General Electric Theater, and the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, remaining active as an actress until 1962.
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."
In 1957, Dwight David Eisenhower appointed Dunne one of five alternative U.S. delegates to the United Nations in recognition of her charitable works and interest in conservative Catholic and Republican causes. In her retirement, Dunne devoted herself primarily to civic, philanthropic, and Republican political causes. In 1965, Dunne became a board member of Technicolor, the first woman ever elected to the board of directors.
Dunne remained married to Dr. Griffin until his death on October 15, 1965. They lived in Holmby Hills, California in a Southern plantation-style mansion that they designed. They had one daughter, Mary Frances (née Anna Mary Bush), who was adopted in 1938 from the New York Foundling Hospital, run by the Siste
Madison High School
Chicago Music College
Full Name at Birth
Irene Marie Dunne
Adelaide Dunne (nee Henry) (piano teacher)
Loretta Young (Best friends), Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Stewart, Clare Boothe Luce, Nancy Reagan, Anita Louise, Roddy McDowell, Bob Hope, Cesar Romero, Ricardo Montalban, Charles Boyer, Leo McCarey, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Feldman
Fast Talking Dames (Yale University Press)  (Maria DiBattista), Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood (Wes D. Gehring), Irene Dunne: A Bio-Bibliography (Bio-Bibliographies in the Performing Arts) (Margie Schultz), The Star Machine (Jeanine Basinger), The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s (Elizabeth Kendall)
Joseph J. Dunne (Steamboat captain)
Irene Dunne (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). She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1958.
Major (dog), Sanka (dog)
Subtle Humor, Caustic Wit, Opera voice
Mary Frances (daughter), Mark Francis (grandson), Anne Marie (granddaughter), Vanna Bonta (granddaughter-in-law)
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Music Profile Complete
1922–1985 1922–1962 (acting), 1922–1985, 1922–1962 (acting), 1922–1962
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