Few performers could match the versatility of actress Irene Dunne, who moved effortlessly from tear-stained melodramas to madcap comedies in a career that spanned more than forty films. A classically trained soprano, Dunne failed in her quest to join New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1920 but found steady work on the Broadway stage before winning the part of Magnolia in the touring company of the musical Show Boat (1929). Her success in that production led to a contract with RKO Pictures and starring roles in a string of romantic tearjerkers. Dunne returned to musicals with featured roles in the film versions of Roberta (1935) and Show Boat (1936), before venturing into screwball comedy with her sparkling, Oscar-nominated performances in Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and The Awful Truth (1937). Also nominated for her work in Love Affair (1939) and I Remember Mama (1948), Dunne never took home an Oscar but remained a Hollywood favorite.
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National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Elsie M. Warnecke