Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2005/ 2 Mar-Cheshvan,
Young folk who know everything there is to know about all the hot new movie and television stars generally know from nothing about the really giant stars from Hollywood's golden age. A few columns ago I wrote of Joel McCrea, a great leading man of the 30's, 40's and 50's who never really got the attention he deserved neither then nor now. Another wonderful star of that time, and like McCrea no one speaks about anymore, is delightful Irene Dunne.
For her birthday, I gave my wife a DVD of "The Awful Truth," a hilarious romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne what a treat! Too bad the transfer quality on the DVD isn't better. Columbia (Sony) needs to do a total restoration job on this one, it deserves it.
"The Awful Truth" rates right up there with all the best of the classic screwball comedies like "My Man Godfrey," "It Happened One Night," and "The Lady Eve." Grant and Dunne also did another classic romantic comedy a few years later called "My Favorite Wife," which has been remade a few times since but never, ever done as well as the original.
Released in 1937, "The Awful Truth" basically is the story of how a flawed marriage can turn into a romantic success (it sure helps if you happen to be Cary Grant and Irene Dunne and all this can be directed by comedy specialist, Leo McCarey). Rounding out the suburb cast is Ralph Bellamy, doing his typically rich but ridiculous second-string beau role; Alexander D'Arcy; Ceil Cunningham; Marguerite Churchill and Asta (yes, the very same pooch from the Thin Man pictures).
Miss Dunne really could do it all, screwball stuff, drama, musicals, you name it. She had her own very special quality that was truly one-of-a-kind, just as there was only one Gable or Hepburn or Grant or Loy. She sang, she danced, she made you cry, she made you laugh, and always did so with class and dignity.
She was a graduate of the Chicago Musical College but when she failed a singing audition at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1920 she turned her attentions to musical comedy. She quickly established herself as a leading lady in musical theater and made her mark starring as Magnolia in Ziegfeld's hugely successful road-company production of "Show Boat" in 1929. She was signed by RKO and made her screen debut the following year.
Irene Dunne was nominated for best actress Oscars for her roles in "Cimarron" (1931), "Theodora Goes Wild" (1936), "The Awful Truth" (1937), "Love Affair" (1939), and "I Remember Mama" (1948). She also recreated her stage success starring in the movie version of "Show Boat" in 1936. Some of her other pictures included "Back Street," "Ann Vickers," "The Age of Innocence," "Roberta," Magnificent Obsession," "Penny Serenade," "A Guy Named Joe," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "Anna and the King of Siam," "Life with Father," and many more.
She retired from acting in the early fifties and devoted much of her time to political causes and charities. In 1957 she was appointed by President Eisenhower as an alternate delegate to the UN's 12th General Assembly. In 1965 she was elected to the board of directors of Technicolor. In 1985 she was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC for her achievements in the performing arts. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1898, Irene Dunne passed away in 1990. She had, by every measure, a full and successful life.
Thank heavens so many of her performances are available on tape and DVD for us to enjoy and for the younger crowd to discover. If you haven't seen her lately, do yourself a favor a check out one of her films. If you've NEVER seen an Irene Dunne picture, well, you've got a real treat in store. They just don't make 'em like Irene Dunne anymore.
I mentioned how little credit is given to stars Joel McCrea and Irene Dunne. How their names and performances are very rarely spoken of today, as opposed to others such as Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and Bette Davis. It just so happens that both Joel McCrea and Irene Dunne were staunch Republicans, this in an industry which has always been predominately Democrat.
I hope that isn't the reason that these two wonderful stars haven't been given their full due as part of the legacy of classic Hollywood. I don't think it is, I think more likely it is coincidence that two lifelong Republican movie stars have been overlooked by liberal Hollywood. What do you think?
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.