Friday, June 11, 2010
Been There Dunne That
Dunne was born in Kentucky in 1898, but moved to Madison, Indiana, after her father’s death when she was 12. Dunne’s mother encouraged her young daughter to study piano and voice. As an adult, Dunne won a scholarship to Chicago Musical College, now part of Roosevelt University. After she earned her degree, Dunne was determined to sing Opera at New York’s Metropolitan. While performing as Magnolia in the Chicago company of Show Boat, Dunne was discovered and signed to a movie contract with RKO. The studio wanted to groom her to star in movie musicals. The Metropolitan Opera would have to wait.
In the early days of talking pictures, musicals were all the rage. Dunne’s first film was the forgotten musical comedy Leathernecking (1930). Unfortunately for Dunne and RKO, the popularity of movie musicals was in decline and Leathernecking was a flop. The following year would prove to be a game-changer.
An Epic Performance
Instead of starring in musicals, the career path RKO originally plotted for her, Dunne was cast in a series of successful melodramas. These melodramas included Back Street (1932), This Man is Mine (1934), and Magnificent Obsession (1936). Due to her commercial successes in melodramas, she was dubbed the "Queen of the Weepies," in the trade. Dunne did make two musicals during this period: Roberta (1935) and Show Boat (1936). Both movies were hits, but they didn’t have the world clamoring for more Irene Dunne musicals.
The Reluctant Comedianne
This Place is Full of Aunts
Theodora Goes Wild was an instant hit with film critics and audiences. For her tour de force performance, Dunne received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. As the choir-singing, organ-playing, church soloist, all of Dunne’s talents were on display.
Sources used: Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood, Wes D. Gehring, Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, MD, copyright 2003
Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges, James Harvey, Da Capo Press, New York, NY, copyright 1987