Happy 118th Birthday, Irene Dunne!

The lovely Irene Dunne was born Irene Marie Dunn 118 years ago today in Louisville, Kentucky. Here are 10 ID Did-You-Knows:

  • Dunne’s father was a government steamboat inspector and her mother was a concert pianist and music teacher.
  • Her father died with Dunne was six and she moved with her mother and younger brother to her mother’s hometown, Madison, Indiana.
  • Dunne was raised Roman Catholic and remained devout for the rest of her life.
  • She attended Chicago Musical College on a scholarship and had designs on a career as an operatic soprano, but her audition for the Metropolitan Opera Company in NYC was not a success.
  • Having added an “e” to her last name, Dunne then set her sights on musical theatre. She toured in the popular play Irene in the early 1920s and made her Broadway debut in 1922 in The Clinging Vine by Zelda Sears.
  • She earned a role in Showboat after meeting Flo Ziegfeld in an elevator, and it was while touring in that show that she was discovered by Hollywood, signing a contract with RKO in 1929. Her first film role was in Leathernecking (1930), based on the musical Present Arms.
  • Dunne, who had married Francis Griffin, a New York dentist, in 1927, moved to Hollywood with her mother and brother, maintaining a long-distance relationship with Griffin for more than five years. He finally moved west in 1936.
  • Dunne was originally featured in dramas and musicals and is said to be have been hesitant to tackle comedies, but she hit the comic ground running in 1936 in Theodora Goes Wild. She would go on to excel in screwball and romantic comedies, including The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940).
  • Dunne’s last film was It Grows on Trees (1952), though she worked on radio and television after that. “I drifted into acting and drifted out,” she once said. “Acting is not everything. Living is.”
  • Dunne was nominated five times for the Best Actress Oscar—for Cimarron (1931), Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, Love Affair (1939) and I Remember Mama (1948)—but never took home the statuette.

Happy birthday, Irene Dunne, wherever you may be!

Irene Dunne

Times Square Tintypes: Eddie Cantor

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles the popular comic, singer and vaudevillian Eddie Cantor.


EDDIE CANTOR. His name isn’t Eddie and it isn’t Cantor. It’s Izzy Iskowitch.
Caricature of Eddie CantorHe never saw his mother or father.
Although a bundle of nerves and energy on the stage, he is very quiet at home. Likes to sit around in pajamas and rest.
His theatrical career started as a singing usher in a movie house. Also was in Gus Edwards‘s “Kid Kabaret” act. Then he joined Bedini and Arthur, a noted team of jugglers. He brought them articles to juggle. Later he became half of the vaudeville team of “Cantor and Lee.”
When working before a microphone or making a record he feels depressed because an audience can’t see his eyes.
Was once an errand boy for the Isaac Gellis Wurst Works.
His birthday, if you’re interested, is January 31. He was born in 1892 on Eldridge Street, New York. His great hobby in life is maintaining the Surprise Lake Camp for boys of the East Side. Who, like himself when a youth, never get any air or sunshine.
First started his peppy style of racing up stage and down in 1910 singing a song called “The Ragtime Violin” written by a new song-writer named Irving Berlin.
Enjoys boxing with people. Often in his dressing room when a male visitor enters he will spar with him. He would like to be a strong man.
The dream of his life for many years was to build his own home. While the house was being completed he was thinking of selling it.
He is a good business man and quick to sense an opportunity. Wall Street had no sooner crashed than he had written a book called, Caught Short. Even in his dressing room he is business-like, having a secretary, a desk and a telephone.
The first play he ever saw was The Talk Of New York by George M. Cohan, starring Victor Moore, at the Grand Opera House, Twenty-third Street and Eighth Avenue.
He has his clothes made by Mayor Walker‘s tailor.
Is fussy about food. Eats with an eye to calories and vitamines. Every so often, however, he falls off the wagon and goes in for a heavy kosher meal which he loves.
His two favorite games are ping-pong and casino. He is a swell casino player.
The first play he ever appeared in was Canary Cottage, written by Earl Carroll.
Is always running to a doctor for something or other. One day a doctor examined him and said: “There’s something wrong with a gland in your throat. That’s the reason your eyes bulge. But I’m happy to say that I can cure you.” Cantor looked at the doctor and before racing from his office said: “You don’t fix that gland. I should pay you yet to take away my livelihood. No, sir! Good-bye!”
He would like to be the founder of a new religion.
Is a hard worker on the stage. When he was in the last Follies he said to a friend: “Drop around any time. I’m always on.”
In his new home which he calls, “The House That Zeigfeld’s Jack Built,” the bathroom contains every type of a shower. He is able to take a shower standing, sitting, leaning or reclining.
He hates bad wine, bad women and bad songs. Especially bad songs.
Has a passion for hats. His dressing room is generally crowded with special made headgear both for street use and for comedy purposes.
The ambition of his life is to be the father of a boy. He has five daughters. They are Marjorie, Natalie, Edna, Marilyn, and Janet. Marjorie and Natalie were named after relatives. Edna, because it was a pretty name. Marilyn was named after Marilyn Miller. Janet was named after the nurse.
After his fifth daughter was born one wit wisecracked: “Cantor is trying to raise his own Albertina Rasch ballet.”
In his home he has a special room where he keeps copies of My Life Is In Your Hands.
He has only one mark on his body. It is a scar on his forehead, a result of his wild childhood days.
Although he is worth two million dollars, his signature on a check isn’t worth a penny. His checks must be signed by Dan Lipsky who is his proxy for life.
In his book, My Life Is In Your Hands, he remembers the story of his life from two years before he was born.

Goodbye to a pair of glorious gals

Two remarkable women died this week, and we wanted to make sure the Cladrite Clan knew of their passings and, more importantly, the amazing lives they led:

Obituary: Doris Eaton Travis, 106, was a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Doris Eaton Travis, who died May 11 at age 106, traversed one of the longest and more inspiring careers in show business. On stage since childhood, she was the youngest chorus girl ever hired in the Ziegfeld Follies, a popular theatrical spectacle of the early 20th century designed to “glorify the American girl.”

By the time of her death from an aneurysm at a hospital in Commerce, Mich., Mrs. Travis was the last surviving chorus girl from the Follies, according to Ziegfeld archivist Nils Hanson. He said Mrs. Travis’s death “marks the end of the Ziegfeld golden era of Broadway.”

An American counterpart to the Folies Bergre in Paris, the original Ziegfeld Follies ran from 1907 to 1931 and featured some of the top entertainers of the day, including W.C. Fields and Will Rogers. It introduced songs by Irving Berlin and other leading pop composers… Read more

Rosa Rio, 107; organist went from silent films to soap operas and back again
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rosa Rio, the last of the original silent-movie organists, gave her first professional performance in 1912, when she was 10. William Howard Taft was president.

In August, at the age of 107, she was still at the keyboard in Tampa, providing accompaniment for a screening of Buster Keaton’s silent film “One Week.” The movie was made in 1920, when Miss Rio was already a seasoned musician of 18.

Miss Rio’s 97-year career in show business came to an end May 13, when she died at her home in Sun City Center, Fla. She was less than three weeks shy of her 108th birthday. She had broken her hip in March and developed an infection and influenza, but in the past week, she was still practicing at home on her nine-foot concert grand piano.

After moving to Florida in 1993, Miss Rio provided live musical accompaniment to dozens of silent films at the historic Tampa Theatre, reprising what she had done more than 80 years earlier, when the movies were new… Read more