to get historical marker
to honor film star Dunne
First Lady of Hollywood
spent her youth on First St.
(August 2005) The First Lady of Hollywood will
soon have a historic marker outside the Ohio Theatre. A group of Madison
residents applied earlier this year to the Indiana Historical Bureau
for a sign honoring actress Irene Dunne. The marker has been approved,
but the wording will not be decided until the Bureau convenes again
by Levi King
on the Irene Dunne marker project
are (from left) John Eckert, Harold Lakeman, Laura Ratcliff and
Madison attorney John Eckert said the marker process began
when he and Jim Courter struck up a conversation about Dunne over a
game of golf. Courter, a Madison State Hospital retiree, had become
interested in Dunne after seeing her film, Anna and the King of
Siam, and learning about her Madison connections.
We want to do something to commemorate Irene and ensure that we
dont lose this part of our history, said Eckert. Laura Ratcliff,
co-owner of the Ohio Theatre, and Harold Pee Wee Lakeman,
a fan and collector of Dunne memorabilia, soon joined the marker effort.
Dunne, film star of the 1930s and 40s, was born in Louisville in 1898
to Joseph John and Ade-laide Antoinette Henry Dunn. Irene added the
e early in her career. The couple had a son, Charles, in
1900. Adelaide was an accomplished musician and encouraged Irene to
practice music. Joseph, a steamboat inspector, died unexpectedly in
1909, and Adelaide moved the family to Madison. The Dunns lived at 916
W. Second St., with Adelaides father, Charles Henry, who operated
the boiler works.
Dunnes first dramatic role came in 1913 in a school production
of A Midsummer Nights Dream, in which she played the
minor part of Mustardseed, a fairy. She followed with a role in a benefit
performance of St. Cecilia for Kings Daughters Hospital.
The production was a hit, and the players ferried to Milton, Ky., for
an encore performance. Dunnes vocal talents were so impressive
that she was paid $10 each week to sing in the First Baptist Church
by Levi King
Laura Ratcliff examine
memorabilia about Irene Dunne. The marker will be erected in front
Dunne graduated in 1916 from Madison High School, and
a group called the Madison Current Events Club granted her a scholarship
to the Oliver Willard Pierce Academy of Fine Arts in Indianapolis. She
studied there for a year and then went on to earn a teaching certificate
from Webster College in St. Louis.
In 1918, Dunne was offered a teaching position in Gary, Ind., but won
a scholarship to the Chicago Musical College, and instead continued
her studies. Dunne traveled to New York City in 1920 and auditioned
for the Metropolitan Opera Co. She was rejected but won a role in a
traveling theater company.
Dunne scored a small role in a Broadway musical in 1922. Her hard work
paid off, and in 1928 she received her first lead role. That same year,
Dunne married dentist Dr. Francis Griffin. The two remained together
until his death in 1965.
After seeing her on tour with Show Boat in 1929, executives
from RKO studios offered Dunne a film contract. She accepted and moved
to Hollywood. Her first film, Leathernecking, premiered
in 1930, but her breakthrough came as the leading lady in Cimarron.
Dunne was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the western.
In 1936, Dunne received a second nomination for her work in the screwball
comedy Theodora Goes Wild. The following year, Dunne played
opposite Cary Grant in The Awful Truth, earning a third
nomination. Her fourth nomination came in 1940 for Love Affair,
and Dunnes role as the Norwegian mother in I Remember Mama
garnered her a fifth nomination. In spite of her five nominations, Dunne
never won an Oscar.
Dunnes final film was the 1952 comedy, It Grows on Trees,
but she continued to make television appearances. She made 41 films
in her career.
Dunne went on to become an active philanthropist. She worked closely
with the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and the Boy
Scouts of America, donating generously to each. President Eisenhower
in the late 1950s appointed her an alternate delegate to the United
Nations. In 1985, she was honored at the Kennedy Center with the American
Medal of Freedom for her achievements in the arts.
Although stories suggest she made several stealthy visits
to friends in Madison, Dunne officially returned only once
after she began her film career. That trip, in 1954, involved a visit
to her ailing friend, Michael E. Garber, publisher of the Madison Courier.
In 1976, Dunne donated $10,000 to the Broadway Fountains restoration.
Two years later, Lakeman sent her a birthday card. Dunne wrote him back,
beginning a correspondence that eventually led to a meeting between
Dunne and Lakemans son.
Randy Lakeman traveled to California to see his mother in 1979 and while
there visited Dunne at her home in the exclusive Holmby Hills section
of Beverly Hills. Randy moved to California the following year and arranged
a meeting in 1982 between Madison city officials and the actress. Mayor
Dr. Warren R. Rucker, Clerk-Treasurer Betty Brunton, Eckert, who was
then City Attorney, and their spouses were attending a meeting of the
National Association of Cities and Towns in Los Angeles and met with
Dunne at her home. The group presented her with a photograph of the
Broadway Fountain for her contribution. Dunne died in 1991.
Courter, Eckert, Ratcliff and Lakeman agreed that the Ohio Theatre is
a natural location for the marker. The theaters current
configuration dates back to 1938, when it was remodeled and re-opened,
Eckert added, That was her heyday.
Dunne sent an autographed photo to then theater operator, Herbert Johnson.
The photograph hung in the lobby for decades but disappeared sometime
before Ratcliff purchased the Ohio Theatre.
Courter said he hopes that by reminding people of Dunnes legacy,
the marker could uncover artifacts and anecdotes of her youth in Madison.
Theres a lot out there on her, he said. It would
be nice to gather it all together.
To report any information about Dunnes
life in Madison, call Laura Ratcliff at the Ohio Theatre at (812) 265-4821.
Thanks to Harold Lakeman for his photo of Dunne. Read more on Dunnes
film career at these websites:
(Denny Jacksons website about Dunne)
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