Irene Dunne (1898-1990)
- Ann Harding, The Animal Kingdom, 1931. Years later in Gone With The Wind, Vivien Leigh was caught between two men - Clark Gable and Leslie Howard. Here, it is Howard stuck between two women: Harding and Myrna Loy. They were nearly Katharine Hepburn (or Karen Morley) and Dunne
- Katharine Hepburn, A Bill of Divorcement, 1931. Dunne preferred “less risky” roles. Besides, her $15,000 salary was too steep for the $300,000 budget. Producer David O Selznick hated Hepburn’s test: “Godammit, that’s the worst fucking scarecrow I’ve ever seen... A cross between a horse and a monkey.” Director George Cukor tested many hopefuls including the British Jill Esmond (Mrs Laurence Olivier at the time) and Anita Louise. In from Broadway, Hepburn managed to see their tests and immediately understood why they were all rejected. It was a lousy scene! She chose another for her test. Bingo! Plus an RKO contract and first of her 52 screen roles… when John Barrymore became available for a short (dry) spell.
- Colleen Moore, The Power and the Glory, 1932. “The minute I read the script,” Dunne cried, “I couldn’t wait...” Tracy said much the same in his diary: “Great script, great part. Sounds like a winner... I hope so.” It made him! But not with Dunne or Mary Astor as his wife. Fox borrowed Moore from MGM for the Preston Sturges (not Graham Greene) scenario - which critic Pauline Kael mistakenly called the model for Citizen Kane. And Fox called Sturgess’ innovative narration: narratage. (Owch!).
- Margaret Sullavan, Only Yesterday, 1933. Sullavan's start (after Dunne and Claudette Colbert demurred). Margaret's rushes led to a Universal contract on her terms: three years, non-exclusive and at $1,200 per week.Unheard of for a newcomer of 22 with two years' stage experience.
- Ann Harding, Peter Ibbetson, 1935. Irene preferred the weepier Magnificent Obsession.
- Harriet Hilliard, Follow The Fleet, 1936. Dunne was otherwise scheduled, allowing Hilliard’s screen debut. She was one of US TV’s best loved mothers - marrying Ozzie Nelson in 1935, led to radio then TV Adventures of Ozzie and Harrietwiththeir sons, David and Ricky, 1944-1966
- Carole Lombard, Swing High, Swing Low, 1937. On paper it was Gary Cooper-Dunne. On screen it became Fred MacMurray- Lombard.
- Katharine Hepburn, Holiday, 1938. Months after being named among manybox-office “poisonalities,”the awful truth was that Hepburn was Columbia czar Harry Cohn’s second choice! He had wanted to re-team Dunne and Cary Grantfrom the other Awful Truth, 1937. Kate’s pal, director George Cukor, fought with Cohn for Kate.The film flopped and Cohn never hired Hepburn again. The failuren killed her hopes of playing Scarlett O’Hara and Irene found Cary again in My Favourite Wife, 1940.
- Barbara Stanwyck The Man Miss Manton, 1938. Katharine Hepburn also refused...on hearing it hadfirst been offered toIrene. Stanwyck wasalmost buried by the gigantic flop.
- Bette Davis, The Sisters, 1937. Myron Brinig’s novel was bought by head brother Jack Warner for Kay Francis to play Louise... and nearly made with Dunne or Ginger Rogers. Finally, Davis became available… and saved the hilarious billing of: Errol Flynn in The Sisters!
- Jean Arthur, Only Angels Have Wings, 1939. "I'm hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me."
- Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday, 1939. After musing on Cary Grant, director Howard Hawks turned The Front Page reporter Hildy Johnson into a woman. Not difficult channging Hildebrand to Hildegarde. Dunne, still Columbia chief HarryCohn'sfirst choice for anything, joinedJean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers in... completely missing the point. And Grant played Hildy’s editor Walter Burns.
- Loretta Young, The Doctor Takes A Wife, 1940. Written for Cary Grant-Dunne,played by Young-Ray Milland.Not the same chemistry at all.
- Rita Hayworth, Tales of Manhattan, 1941. Or Tails, at first, as the anthology tales were - flimsily - linked by a tail coat passed from one to another. Dunne was first listed for Thomas Mitchell’s wife, chased by Charles Boyer in the opening stanza and then…
- Ginger Rogers, Tales of Manhattan, 1941. …opposite Joel McCrea in the second - taken over by Rogers and Henry Fonda.
- Jean Arthur, Talk of the Town, 1942. Third time she refused a Cary Grant film after their consistent box office winners (The Awful Truth, 1937, My Favorite Wife, 1940, Penny Serenade, 1941) "Heavy, dramatic roles are essential for an actress of my type."
- Bette Davis, Now Voyager, 1941. Production chief Hal Wallis sent the book to at least three other stars.Furious on reading Louella Parsons' story about Columbia's Dunne being loaned to Warners, Davis reminded Jack Warner who was under contract. where. Oh, Jack, don't let's ask for the Dunne - we have the stars...
- Barbara Stanwyck, The Gay Sisters, 1941. Fretting that she’d have to look older than Mary, who already “photographed old,” Bette Davis told head Brother Jack Warner to shove it… to someone else. He called up Dunne, Katharine Hepburn and tried to borrow Norma Shearer, MGM’s First Lady. The problem was solved when Astor split for The Maltese Falcon. Except by then, La Barb was signed
- Bette Davis, Watch on the Rhine, 1942. Davis was keen but making another film. Dunne, Edna Best, Rosemary DeCamp, Helen Hayes, Margaret Sullavan were not tempted by a mere support role. Proving there are no small roles, only small players, Davis wrapped Now Voyager while scenarist Dashiell Hammett was laid up with a bad back. (Excellent, er, timing). She had no objection to be supporting Paul Lukas when the writing (Hammett adapting his lover Lillian Hellman’s play) was so good and the message important. Wake up to barbary, world! And fight it!
- Bette Davis, Old Acquaintance, 1942. The Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library says Dunne and Rosalind Russell were also lined up for the best-selling novelist Kit Marlowe - the first name suggested by Columbia for Marilyn (later Kim) Novak
- Greer Garson, Madame Curie, 1943. "I know definitely that the statusI have achieved through tears. So for my career, I cry."
- Bette Davis, Mr Skeffington, 1943. Dunne, Norma Shearer and Gloria Swanson were closer to Mrs S’s 50 years than Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Hedy Lamarr or Merle Oberon. But then Bette Davis was Bette Davis! When head brother Jack Warner asked the Epstein twin scenarists why the film was behind schedule, they replied: “Bette Davis is a slow director.”
- Claudette Colbert, Since You Went Away, 1943. For the wife missing hubby at WWII, producer David O Selznick dutifully looked at Dunne, Ann Harding, Rosalind Russell and successive First Ladies of the American Theatre, Katharine Cornell and Helen Hayes. He wanted Colbert, At 40, she didn’t want to be the US Mrs Miniver, a 40ish mother of two teen siblings (Selznick’s future second wife, Jennifer Jones, and Shirley Temple in a comeback at 15). DOS won by saying the picture would help morale - and paying $150,000. Ultimately Colbert ruled the “story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home... ” Helped by four directors, DOS included!
- Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight, 1943. In MGM’s re-make of the 1939 UK thriller, the poor wife being driven insane by her husband (Charles Boyer) went from Dunne to Hedy Lamarr to June Duprez to Ingrid Bergman… picking up her first Oscar on March 15 1945. Debuting as Boyer’s flirty maid: Angela Lansbury, “an English refugee girl of 17 [with] great promise as an actress,” reported Hedda Hopper. She wuz right! By chance, I am writing this a few days after Lansbury won her first Olivier Award in London as Best Supporting Actress of 2014… at age 89. (While Bergman was The Face on 68th Cannes festival poster).
- Joan Fontaine, Frenchman’s Creek, 1943. English lady. French pirate. Love at eight bells. Also up for Dona St Columb (opposite Mexican star Arturo de Córdova) were Dunne, Vivien Leigh, Merle Oberon, Katina Paxinou and Rosalind Russell.
- Myrna Loy, The Thin Man Goes Home, 1944. Due before camera in June 1942, everything was frozen when William Powell’s (constant) screen wife wed car rental heir John Hertz, Jr., and started working for the Red Cross war relief. By November, Dunne was announced as the new Nora Charles. Didn’t work - not a word from Loy! Nor from MGM, until declaring Loy was back in March 1944. Sadly, One Take Woody Van Dyke, who directed the first four chapters, died in ’43. And the magic had gone…. Loy loathed the sixth and last film (her MGM finale), Song of the Thin Man - “a lacklustre finish to a great series.” In all, Loy and Powell - #1 rivals to Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn as the greatest screen couple - made 14 films together.
- Claudette Colbert, The Secret Heart, 1945. Destiny! When Dunne’s rôle of s suicide’s widow went to Colbert, she became such good friends with co-star June Allyson that she agreed to godmother June and Dick Powell’s daughter, Pamela.
- Ingrid Bergman, The Bells of St. Mary's, 1945. Bergman never knew she was beingconsidered. Would been perfect casting for Dunne, a devout Catholic. "Too much of lady," complained columnist Earl Wilson, "to be good copy.
- Ethel Barrymore, The Red Danube, 1947. Change of age for the nun caught up in the the Cold War At the start of the year, the selected stars were Spencer Tracy, Dunne, Robert Taylor, Audrey Totter and Charisse. By the time the title had changed five times (from Vespers in Vienna) and George Sidney started shooting the anti-Communist thriller, they became: Walter Pidgeon, Ethel Barrymore (as the Reverend Mother), Peter Lawford, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh.
- Claudette Colbert, Tomorrow Is Forever, 1945. For the war widow whose husband comes back from the war, director Irving Pichel was caught between Colbert and Dunne. Colbert won - and lost. As this was, said New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, “a straight piece of Hollywood taffy, slightly saline and gooey clear through.” He was no kinder towards Orson Welles as the husband who wouldn’t stay dead: “a studied display of overacting calculated to disguise an empty script.” “I did it for the money,” admitted Orson. No, really?
- Loretta Young, Come To The Stable, 1948. Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck was as blunt as usual. About Dunne, he memoed: “She wants to do it but I’m afraid she is not at all right for it.” And why ? “I keep seeing Loretta Young in this role [Sister Margaret] more than anyone else. As you know, she is a great Catholic, she was in a big hit picture last year and won the Academy Award.”
- Myrna Loy, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, 1948. the success of The Awful Truth, 1937, My Favourite Wife, 1940 and Penny Serenade, 1941, RKO wanted more of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant - for his 50th movie. However, she was into another RKO film, I Remember Mama (or refused second billing, for the first time, to Grant) and Mama Blandings became his partner from The Bachleor and The Bobby Soxer, 1947.
Margaret Sullavan, No Sad Songs For Me, 1950. Columbia first planned it for Irene or Olivia De Havilland.
- Joan Bennett, We’re No Angels, 1954. New wife for Leo G Carroll in the originally French comedy about three cons escaping Devil’s Island: Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray. Most critics appeared astonished by Bogie’s comedic talent. Hadn’t they seen his other work?
- Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
- Isabel Jeans, Gigi, 1957. The most difficult role to cast was not Gigi, Gaston or Honore, but Aunt Alicia… Ina Claire refused to step out of retirement, Glady Cooper passed and Dunne preferred her new role as a special US delegate. Fortunately, production designer Cecil Beaton knew all the old ladies - and suggested Jeans. The MGMusical won all nine of its Oscar nominations!