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Irene Dunne, Hollywood Actress

2008 marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Irene Dunne and we feel that’s worthy of an Et Cetera salute to this local native turned Hollywood star.

Irene Marie Dunn was born in Louisville December 20th, 1898. Her father was a steamboat inspector and her mother, a music teacher.

Reportedly, Irene’s stage debut came in the River City at age five.

As a young girl, Irene, her brother and mother moved to her mother’s hometown of Madison, Indiana, following the death of Irene’s father.

Irene graduated from Madison High School after distinguishing herself there with her singing voice.

After more musical study, and attempts to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Irene caught the eye of the film industry.

In her thirty-two year acting career, Irene was nominated five times for an Academy Award.

She excelled in both dramatic and comedic roles, including the Awful Truth in which Dunne starred with Cary Grant. Dunne and Grant teamed in another film, “Penny Serenade” which has aired as part of KET’s Movie Classic Series.

Dunne’s “Life with Father” has also been featured in the series.

Irene Dunne maintained ties with Madison, Indiana throughout her life, even donating funds for various civic projects.

She retired in the early ‘60s but lived until 1990 and is buried in L.A.

Madison honored Dunne’s local connections in 2006 with the dedication of an historic marker on Main Street. It was placed … appropriately … in front of the city’s movie theater.

More on Ms. Dunne, from the Internet Movie Database (IMDB):

  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her an alternate delegate to the U.N. General Assembly in 1959. Dunne had actively campaigned for him in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections.
  • Was discovered for films while appearing in the first national touring company of "Show Boat" in 1929. She played and sang the role of Magnolia, and repeated her performance in Show Boat (1936).
  • Her tombstone mistakenly gives her date of birth as 1901 rather than 1898.
  • After being nominated 5 times for the Best Actress Oscar and never winning, it was hoped by many that she would receive an honorary award after her retirement but the Academy (for reasons best known to itself) failed to present one.
  • role of Aunt Alicia in Vincente Minnelli's Gigi (1958), but she declined, preferring to stay in retirement.
  • Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame in the early 1960s. It is located at 6440 Hollywood Blvd.
Program 311
Louisville Life features a profile of WHAS personality Terry Meiners, the Louisville Skating Academy, actress Irene Dunne, the founder of Youth Alive! and Better Days Records. (#311)