Wednesday 20 December 2017

Irene Dunne: A Healthy Perspective

'No triumph of either my stage or screen career has ever rivalled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi on the riverboats with my father.'
 So recalled the wonderful Irene Dunne, who was born on this day in 1898, the daughter of a steamboat inspector and a concert pianist/teacher. Her beloved father died when she was 14, which no doubt made her memories of those steamboat trips all the more precious. But Irene Dunne, who was a devout Catholic, maintained a healthy perspective on acting throughout her life, summing up her career thus: 'I drifted into acting and I drifted out. Acting is not everything. Living is.'
 In those days, such a realistic perspective was not unusual among film stars, who knew they were lucky and that fame was a bubble. Many of them, of course, had had experience of the seriousness of real life in the depression years and the subsequent world war. And others were simply fun lovers who would never dream of taking themselves of their career seriously. How very different from so many of the actors of today, who seem to regard their profession as some kind of holy calling, an elemental struggle in which they must engage for the good of humanity, all the while offering their (entirely predictable) slant on world events to the slavishly adoring media. Get over yourselves – acting's a job, if you're good at it, that's great, there's really nothing more to be usefully said.
 But back to Irene Dunne. She was a versatile actress who was already making a good career in dramas and musicals when she discovered, having been all but forced into it, that she had a rare gift for comedy. Her pairing with Cary Grant in The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife (inspired, believe it or not, by Tennyson's Enoch Arden) created one of cinema's great double acts – and it worked just as well in the weepie Penny Serenade. It's a great shame they didn't make more films together.
 Here's a taste of the Grant-Dunne chemistry at work in The Awful Truth (also featuring Ralph Bellamy and Skippy the dog as 'Mr Smith')...


  1. One of my favorites. She always exudes a sort of 'class' that seems long gone nowadays.

    It doesn't bother me though, when performers speak out about issues. I figure they don't know any less than our elected officials and are probably more sincere.

  2. They are achingly 'sincere' Knobgobbler and probably know a lot less.