Irene Dunne


Screen Album
Summer 1937

IRENE DUNNE knows that she can turn on a tune any time she wants to, and that’s probably the reason why she hasn’t been singing before the cameras lately. She realizes that the voice is always there, ready to be used if and when the right musical vehicle comes along. Meanwhile she’s turned comedienne with a vengeance and has turned out a right slick job as a laugh-inducer.

Time was when Irene would talk real rationally on any subject, but nowadays it’s hard to pin her down to a conversation other than that involving little Mary Frances, the adopted child, who has come to rule the Griffin roost. Irene and her husband, Dr. Griffin, had decided on a boy, but when they sajy the lovely blonde young lady with arms outstretched toward them, all was up!

Their new home is run on schedule to suit the newcomer. The time that Miss Dunne has “taken off” to go to the studio lately has been occupied in making “High, Wide and Handsome” with Randy Scott.

My Luckiest Day

by Irene Dunne
October 1946

A simple nod of the head by a warmhearted stranger changed my life from that of a school teacher to a singer and later an actress.

It happened one summer when I’d gone up to Chicago from my home in Louisville to visit some cousins. I’d finished high school and was intending to go to college that fall prepatory to becoming a teacher.

My cousins told me that the Chicago College of Music was offering scholarships and suggested I try out for one They knew I’d been singing down in Louisville in church choirs and at school affairs.

Since I didn’t know anyone in Chicago who would accompany me, one of the head teachers, Eduardo Sacerdote, offered to play. Neither before nor since have I ever been so nervous. There were the judges sitting there, poker faced, and I imagined–very wrongly, I’m certain–that they looked terribly stern. My heart beat so hard I thought certain they could see the beat coming through my dress. Today I can go into a picture like “Anna and the King of Siam” with confidence, even though I know several million dollars are being gambled on the actors, but that simple song–I’ve even forgotten now what I sang–meant so much to me then. It was the intensity and earnestness of youth that fears disappointments more than does age.

Professor Sacerdote began playing. I folded my hands as I’d been doing in choir and tried not to twist my handkerchief. By the end of a few stanzas, I know my nervousness was showing in my voice. It didn’t have the fullness that it should have.

And then I glanced at Professor Sacerdote and he nodded to me, as much to say, “You’re doing fine.” That was what I needed. The heart slowed down, my voice swelled out–and I got the scholarship.

That was the luckiest day of my life. That nod took me to Broadway and then to Hollywood. And that nod seemed like only yesterday when the Chicago College of Music recently conferred a doctor’s degree on me. If I had had any degrees to give, I would have conferred them all long ago on Professor Sacerdote.

The Role I Liked Best

by Irene Dunne
Saturday Evening Post
March 9, 1946

I had to fight hard to get my first role in the movies; the others came without special effort. Maybe that’s why Sabra, in Cimarron, is still my favorite part.

I had a contract with RKO to make one picture. As I left New York, a friend gave me Edna Ferber’s book Cimarron, remarking, “This story is going to be done on your lot.”

Reading the book on the train, I became convinced that the fascinating homespun pioneer woman was just right for me. I’d lived many years in the Middle West, had known simple, unsophisticated woman like Sabra and watched them mature and mellow with the years, as she did. Also, on the stage I’d played the heroine in Show Boat and I thought I knew Miss Ferber’s heroines well.

But RKO had signed me with musical-comedy roles in mind, and the executives didn’t know what to make of it when I showed up with that book under my arm. Cimarron was to be RKO’s big dramatic production of the year, with Richard Dix set to play the male lead. They seemed to think I was mad, yet they gave me a test along with twelve other leading women. Looking over the results, Richard Dix said he liked my work and suggested that we make another test together. When the exciting day came, I was dismayed to find I didn’t have the right kind of hat to wear. Finally I stationed myself outside the studio gate, watching women walk in, and, when at last a little old lady who made wigs came along wearing just the hat I had in mind, I persuaded her to lend it to me. Presently I had the part.

Well, there’s no experience quite like making your first picture–you have that beautiful flush then. I lost myself completely in being Sabra; I couldn’t have told you where the camera was. The height of the unforgettable experience was the scene where Sabra stands before the townspeople and thanks them for electing her to Congress. I’ve never used a diologue coach, but I wanted so much to make the superb speech effective that with my husband, Dr Frank Griffin, I practiced it over and over in our living room.

If Cimarron had failed, I probably would never have made another picture. One reason it won the Academy Award is that Sabra is one of the greatest roles ever written for a woman.