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.
His mother, Mary Estelle Dempsey (though she would be known by many names), an eccentric character worthy of inclusion in one of Sturges’ films, was close friends with dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan; in fact, it was a scarf Dempsey gave to Duncan that led to the dancer’s infamous death.
Sturges’ mother was married several times, but it was her third husband, a wealthy Chicago stockbroker named Solomon Sturges, who was a true father to Preston. He adopted him when Sturges was 4 years old and provided guidance and support to him throughout his life.
Prior to launching his writing career, Sturges was employed as a runner on Wall Street and worked for his mother’s cosmetics company, even inventing a kiss-proof lipstick.
In 1917, Sturges enlisted in the Army Air Service, serving at Camp Dick in Texas without ever seeing action. Three Hundred Words of Humor, a humorous essay he wrote for the camp newspaper, was his first published work.
Sturges claimed to have introduced the club sandwich to Germany.
His first success came on Broadway with a play he wrote called Strictly Dishonorable. He wrote the play in just six days, it ran for 16 months (a very lengthy run in 1929), and he was working for Paramount Pictures soon thereafter.
He worked for a decade as a studio screenwriter, and though he wrote some terrific movies during that time, he was often frustated by the final product.
So eager was Sturges to direct his own scripts that he sold the rights to The Great McGinty to Paramount for just one dollar (some reports say the fee was $10), with the stipulation that he would be allowed to direct it. He would go on to win the very first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for that script.
Sturges amassed a troupe of actors that he used repeatedly in his films, and when the studio objected, fearing the actors’ faces would become too familiar to the audience, Sturges responded, “These little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures.”
In the 1940s and ’50s, he owned and operated a nightclub called The Players on the Sunset Strip.
Happy birthday, Preston Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs!
Edward Everett Horton, born 130 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York, was one of a small cadre of character actors—we’d include Roland Young and Charles Ruggles in that select group—who could be counted upon to provide a boost to any movie comedy of the 1930s and ’40s in which they appeared, and happily, he seems to turn up in about every third film from that era.