by Irene Dunne
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.