Irene Dunne (December 20, 1898 - September 4, 1990) was a five-time Academy Award-nominated American film actress and singer of the 1930s and 1940s.
She was born Irene Marie Dunne in Louisville, Kentucky to Joseph Dunn, a steamboat inspector for the United States government, and Adelaide Henry, a concert pianist/music teacher from Newport, Kentucky. After her father's death in 1909, she, her mother and younger brother Charles moved to her mother's hometown of Madison, Indiana. Dunne's mother taught her to play the piano as a very small girl. Nicknamed "Dunnie," she took piano and voice lessons, sang in local churches and high school plays before her graduation in 1916.
She earned a diploma to teach art, but took a chance on a contest and won a prestigious scholarship to the Chicago Musical College. She had hopes of becoming an opera singer, but did not pass an audition with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Dunne turned to musical theatre, making her Broadway debut in 1922 in Zelda Sear's The Clinging Vine. The following year, Dunne played a season of light opera in Atlanta, Georgia. Though, in her own words, Dunne created "no great furore," and by 1929 she was playing leading roles in a successful Broadway career, grateful that she was never in the chorus line.
Dunne met her future husband, Francis Griffin, a New York dentist, at a supper dance in New York. Despite differing opinions and battles that raged furiously, Dunne eventually agreed to marry him and leave the theatre. They were wed on July 16, 1928 until his death 15 October 1965. They had adopted a daughter Mary Frances Griffen in 1936.
Irene came to the attention of Hollywood when she performed in "Show Boat" on the East Coast. By 1930 she was under contract to RKO Pictures. Her first film was Leathernecking (1930), which went almost unnoticed. In 1931 she appeared in Cimarron (1931), for which she received the first of five Academy Award nominations. No Other Woman (1933) and Ann Vickers (1933) the same year followed. She sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in the 1935 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film version of the musical Roberta.
In 1936 (due to her comic skits in Show Boat (1936) she was "persuaded" to star in a comedy, up to that time a medium for which she had small affection. However, Theodora Goes Wild (1936) was an instant hit, almost as popular as the more famous It Happened One Night (1934) from two years before. From this she earned her second Academy Award nomination. Later, in 1937, she was teamed with Cary Grant in The Awful Truth (1937). This helped her garner a third Academy Award nomination. She starred with Grant later in My Favourite Wife (1940) and Penny Serenade (1941).
A studio recording Irene made in 1941 accompanied by the Victor Young Orchestra. Among others this album features the title "Smoke Get's In Your Eyes" which she sung first in the film Roberta
Her favourite film was Love Affair (1939) with Charles Boyer, a huge hit in a year with so many great films, and a role for which she was again nominated for an Academy Award. However, it was the tear-jerker I Remember Mama (1948) for which she will be best remembered in the role of the loving, self-sacrificing Norwegian mother. She got another nomination for that but again lost. This was the picture in which she should have won the Oscar.
She began to wean herself away from films toward the many charities and public works she championed. Her last major movie was as Polly Baxter in 1952's It Grows on Trees (1952). After that she only appeared as a guest on television. Irene knew enough to quit while she was ahead of the game and this helped keep her legacy intact.
In 1957 she was appointed as a special US delegate to the United Nations during the 12th General Assembly by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, such was her widespread appeal. The remainder of her life was spent on civic causes. One of her last public appearances was in April 1985, when she attended the dedication of a bust in her honour at St. John's (Roman Catholic) Hospital in Santa Monica, California, for which her foundation, The Irene Dunne Guild, had raised more than $20 million.
She even donated $10,000 to the restoration of the town fountain in her girlhood home of Madison, Indiana, in 1976, even though she had not been there since 1938 when she came home for a visit. She died of heart failure on September 4, 1990, in Los Angeles, California.
(Info edited from Wikipedia & IMDb bio by Denny Jackson)