The Dunns (Irene put an e at the end when she entered the cinematic world) were a musical family, and Irene was taught singing and piano at an early age. Bent on being a professional singer (she had a soprano voice) and with a degree from the Chicago Music College, she hoped to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company but was, unfortunately, turned down. Down but not beat, she went into musical theatre instead and became a sensation on Broadway with her biggest success being as Magnolia in Show Boat (replacing Norma Terris during the show's original run). In the late twenties, however, she was discovered by RKO and signed a contract with them.
During The Pre-Code Era, Dunne was put in pedestrian, dramatic fare, but with the advent of a new genre, the Screwball Comedy, Dunne began to shine in comedic vehicles, showing off her impeccable timing and wit. Although unwilling to go the comedy route, Dunne starred in the successful Theodora Goes Wild which was the stepping stone to greater things. The next year she co-starred with Cary Grant (a frequent co-star) in The Awful Truth. She reportedly didnt like comedies much, preferring serious dramas, but she was considered a great comedienne, nevertheless.
Popular throughout The '30s and The '40s, Dunne was considered a great actress by the critics and her peers alike. A decline did come due to Hollywood's tendency to dispose of older actresses; however, Dunne decided to retire in the early fifties, her last film being It Grows on Trees.
She continued working, dedicating herself to charities. Also, she was chosen as the delegate to the United Nations by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
She died on September 4, 1990, having starred in over 50 films.
Irene Dunne films:
- Cimarron (1931)
- Thirteen Women (1932)
- The Silver Cord (1933)
- Roberta (1935)
- Show Boat (1936)
- Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
- The Awful Truth (1937)
- Love Affair (1939)
- My Favorite Wife (1940)
- Penny Serenade (1941)
- A Guy Named Joe (1943)
- Anna And The King Of Siam (1946)
- Life With Father (1947)
- I Remember Mama (1948)
- The Mudlark (1950)
Tropes associated with Irene Dunne's films:
- The Cast Showoff: Whenever the movie would pause to give Dunne a chance to sing to an audience.
- Cat Smile:
- Dunne could sport one◊ if she wanted to. Studio producer William Frye even referred to the look as "her impish smile" in his piece for Vanity Fair. The dimples in her cheeks made the grin more disarming.
- A drunk, partying Maggie in Joy of Living flashes several, most likely attempting to drunkenly flirt with Dan.
- Good Parents: Often starred as a fantastic mother and housewife with nice, selfless children — traits that they probably inherited. In some cases, she was the Team Mom of a group.
- Irony as She Is Cast:
- Dunne (a trained singer) starred in Anna and the King of Siam (a drama) in 1946 which was later remade as The King and I (a musical), which starred Deborah Kerr (whose singing was dubbed).
- Downplayed to an extent and lampshaded by the woman herself when it came to the remake of Show Boat, when she sent a letter to the studio, joking that they should've asked her to be in it if they needed extra singers (only one member of the cast's singing was dubbed: Ava Gardner.)
- Noblewoman's Laugh: Her melodious giggle sounded like this a lot, especially if she was about to avenge or embarrass someone. A great example is in Theodora Goes Wild when she confronts her publisher, chuckling like this when she walks into the office in her feathered coat with her dog on a leash.
- Older Than They Look: Dunne was told to lie about her age (as she was much older than her contemporaries) and even her epitaph has the wrong year of her birth. To put in perspective, she was older than most Hollywood Golden Age, Small Reference Pools actresses that can come to mind, and the only leading men she was younger than were William Powell and Adolphe Menjou.
- Playing Against Type: Audiences that only know her for the popular comedies she did might be surprised to find out about Dunne's weepy beginnings, beginning her film streak in drama and ending in drama. In fact, comedy films were an anomaly in her career.