Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy 114th Miss Dunne!

   Irene Dunne is one of my favorite actresses and so I thought I would write something on what would have been her 114th birthday, which means she was born in 1898 and would be really old, if she was alive.   One thing I love about Dunne is that she doesn't look old, but she looks so young and natural.  She wasn't really a movie star (although she had worked on the stage) until about forty, which is very unusual.  I think this adds some maturity to her roles.  I like that in Love Affair the leads are both in their mid-forties, but can still find love.
   Another reason I love Irene Dunne is that she seems to have been a genuinely nice person in real life.  She was happily married to a doctor for over thirty-five.  She worked for the United Nations.  She was a devout Catholic, who did a great deal of charity work, but no prude or hypocrite unlike at least one of her Hollywood pals.  She had a great sense of humor* and luckily this translates into her movies.
   I love her performances in Theodora Goes Wild and The Awful Truth.  I like that she goes crazy just half way through, instead of being crazy all the time, like in some screwball comedies.  I love her face while Cary Grant's date sings "Gone With the Wind".  In Theodora I love when she gets back to Lynnfield and all the ladies are scandalized.  "Michael, you idiot."  And of course I love the scene in The Awful Truth at Cary Grant's fiance's house where she pretends to be his sister:

   But of course Dunne was also great at drama.  Penny Serenade, in my opinion, is one of the greatest tear jerkers ever, a fact which is helped by Irene Dunne.  You love her and Grant's characters so much that you desperately want things to work out for them.  I love Dunne's eagerness to please the adoption lady, especially after she is caught dancing the Charleston.  Irene is both heartbreaking and adorable in her desperation to be a good mother, such as when she tries to give the baby a bath with everyone watching.
   Sadly I have only seen a few Irene Dunne movies (Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, Penny Serenade, I Remember Mama, Life With Father, and Love Affair) because of the scarcity of her movies in libraries (even my university library) by me.  However I became a fan after I watched her in the first movie I saw her in and saw her delightful combination of wit, class, and humanity.  Obviously I still am a big fan.
   Oh by the way if you haven't seen this episode of her on What's My Line? you should.  It is hilarious and it is one of the best guest appearances I've ever seen on that show:

*One of my favorite of her stories goes like this: “Years ago the public used to hound me but now I can go shopping in peace.  The picture postcard people printed a card of our house and address years ago for the tourists but they made a mistake and took the next house.  I’d peek out my bathroom window at all the people trampling the lawns next door and feel sorry for the neighbors.” 

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