Happy Birthday, Irene Dunne!

dunne3Irene Dunne (December 20, 1898 – September 4, 1990) was an American actress and singer who starred in movies from the 1930s through the early 1950s. Dunne was nominated five times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her roles 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.



Irene Dunn was born in Louisville, Kentucky to Joseph Dunn, a steamboat inspector, and Adelaide Henry, a concert pianist and music teacher. Of her childhood, Irene later wrote, "No triumph of either my stage or screen career has ever rivalled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi on the river boats with my father." In 1909, when Irene was only 11, her father died. The two had been very close, and she lived by what he said to 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."



Irene added an "e" to her surname and began acting on Broadway, where she had several lead roles but in her own words, "created no great furor." In 1928, she married Francis Griffin, New York dentist, after which she left the theatre. After a chance meeting with Florenz Ziegfeld in an elevator the day after she returned from her honeymoon, Dunne was cast as Magnolia Hawks in Show Boat.

While on tour with the Chicago company of the musical, she was discovered by Hollywood, and promptly signed a contract with RKO. Her first movie, in 1930, was Leathernecking. Irene, along with her mother and brother, moved to Hollywood. Her husband joined her in 1936.

Within the next few years, Dunne became a screen siren ad popular heroine in films like Back Street (1932) and Magnificent Obsession (1935). She is perhaps best known for her film Love Affair (1939), the first of three films costarring Charles Boyer. She also starred in and sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in the film version of Roberta.


Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant, and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth


Irene Dunne with Cary Grant

Her first comedy role was as the titular character in Theodora Goes Wild (1936). Discovering that she had an aptitude for comedy, she went on to star in The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940), both with Cary Grant.


Other notable roles included 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. In 1953, she appeared on "What's My Line?"

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


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 20 December 2014
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