Good Night, Irene Dunne; Hollywood Loses An Airy and Elegant Gal from Film's Golden Age
updated 09/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Dunne may have lacked the cachet of her more flamboyant celluloid sisters, but her 41 eclectic films include some of filmland's most entertaining: Cimarron, Back Street, Roberta, The Magnificent Obsession, Show Boat, Theodora Goes Wild, A Guy Named Joe, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife and I Remember Mama. Yet despite Dunne's elegant looks and shining screen presence, her spice rack of life lacked a few essential ingredients for a movie queen, namely temperament and scandal. A devout Catholic, she was married only once, to a dentist named Francis Griffin who died in 1965. (Their adopted daughter, Mary Frances, lives in California and has two children.) "It's very hard to write a good story about Irene," noted the columnist Earl Wilson, "because she was too much of a lady to be good copy."
Trained in music, the Kentucky-born Dunne first played Irene in a touring company of the musical of that name. After several years on Broadway, she switched to movies in 1930. When she retired from films 22 years later, Dunne kept a low profile, preferring her private life in L.A. to be just that.
Friends say Dunne had a wonderful, sometimes saucy, sense of humor, but that wasn't part of her public persona. She didn't drink and was always impeccably turned out, even refusing to wear slacks. A staunch Republican, Dunne was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations under Eisenhower, and she was one of the recipients of a Kennedy Center Honor during the Reagan administration. "Losing her is like losing a member of the family," said Reagan. "She's a special lady who will live in our hearts forever." For everyone who loves movies, that's the unawful truth.