Irene Dunne was born Irene Marie Dunn on December 20, 1898 in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph Dunne, a steamship inspector, and Adelaide Henry, a musician.
Irene took an early interest in acting appearing at the age of five in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Louisville, Kentucky.
Irene began her career following in her mothers footsteps in music. In 1917 she studied at a music conservatory in Indianapolis. She also accepted a teaching post as a music and art instructor in East Chicago, Indiana. However, she never made it to the school. While on her way to East Chicago, she saw a newspaper ad in the Indianapolis Star and News for an annual scholarship contest run by the Chicago Music College. Irene won the contest, which enabled her to study there for a year.
She next headed for New York City, at that time it was the entertainment capital of the world. She auditioned at the Metropolitan Opera Company. However, she was rejected for being too young and inexperienced.
Irene next turned her attention to musical theater and Broadway, making her Broadway debut in 1922 in The Clinging Vine.
Her big break in musical theater came by chance. She had a chance meeting with Florenz Ziegfeld in an elevator the day after she returned from her honeymoon. She was cast as Magnolia Hawks in Show Boat.
Her performance in Show Boat caught the attention of Hollywood. In 1930 she signed with RKO Pictures. Her first film was Leathernecking (1930). However, her big Hollywood break came the next year when she appeared in Cimarron (1931) receiving her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
In 1936, she was cast as Magnolia in the movie Show Boat. Due to her comic skits in Show Boat, she was persuaded to star in her first comedy, Theodora Goes Wild (1936), this performance earned her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Irene would earn three more Academy Award nominations for her performances in The Awful Truth (1937), Love Affair (1939) and I Remember Mama (1948).
Some of Irene's other most notable movies include My Favorite Wife (1940), Penny Serenade (1941), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), and Life with Father (1947).
Of all of Irene's films her only color production was Life with Father (1947).
Her last film appearance was in It Grows on Trees (1952).
After retiring from the silver screen, Irene Dunne devoted her time to civic, philanthropic, and Republican political causes.
In 1957 she was appointed as a special US delegate to the United Nations during the 12th General Assembly by President Eisenhower.
In 1965 she was the first woman elected to Technicolor's board of directors.
Irene Dunne once said that her favorite film was Love Affair (1939) with Charles Boyer.
Irene was married only once to a dentist from New York named Francis Dennis Griffin. She remained with Dr. Griffin until his death in 1965. They have one adopted daughter together.
Nominated five times for an Academy Award and having never received a much deserved Honorary Award from the Acadamy, she did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985 at the Kennedy Center Honors for her three decade career covering musical theater, Broadway, radio, television and the silver screen.
Irene Dunne passed away on September 4, 1990 of heart failure