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Irene Dunne, Star of ‘I Remember Mama,’ Dies at 88

September 5, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Irene Dunne, the alluring star of Hollywood tear-jerkers, musicals and screwball comedies in the 1930s and ’40s such as ″Showboat″ and ″I Remember Mama,″ has died. She was 88.

Miss Dunne, who died of heart failure at her home Tuesday, was among the most sought after and highest paid stars during her Hollywood heyday, appearing opposite such leading men as William Powell, Cary Grant and Charles Boyer.

She used her fine comic timing in such comedies as ″The Awful Truth″ and ″My Favorite Wife.″ She sang in such musicals as ″Roberta″ and ″Show Boat″ and acted in the tear-jerkers ″Magnificent Obsession″ and ″Back Street.″

Miss Dunne was nominated for Oscars five times, for ″Cimarron,″ 1930, ″Theodora Goes Wild,″ 1936, ″The Awful Truth,″ 1937, ″Love Affair,″ 1939, and ″I Remember Mama,″ 1948.

″I Remember Mama,″ in which Miss Dune played the mother of a Swedish immigrant family in San Francisco, was her favorite. She generally favored her more dramatic roles.

″Comedy was easy for me but it wasn’t rewarding in the same way,″ she said in a 1985 interview. ″But Cary (Grant) paid me one of the loveliest compliments of my life. He said I had the best timing of anyone he ever worked with.

″It must be something that comes naturally to you. My father had a keen sense of humor, which I think is different from having a sense of humor.″

Ginger Rogers, who appeared in ″Roberta″ with Miss Dunne, described her as ″a fine and loving lady,″ but one who was difficult to get to know well.

″She had a very excellent singing voice,″ Miss Rogers said.

Irene Marie Dunn - she added the ″e″ later - was raised in Louisville, Ky. She trained her lyrical soprano voice at the Chicago College of Music, intending an operatic career. But when she failed an audition at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1920, she turned to musical comedy.

The actress was appearing in ″Show Boat″ when she was signed to a contract by RKO Pictures in 1929. Except for ″Cimarron″ and ″Roberta,″ in which she sang ″Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,″ her RKO films were undistinguishe d.

Only when she became a free-lance star in 1936 did her career soar.

Her other films included: ″Joy of Living,″ 1938, ″Penny Serenade,″ 1941, ″A Guy Named Joe,″ 1943, ″The White Cliffs of Dover,″ 1944, ″Over 21,″ 1941, ″Anna and the King of Siam,″ 1946, ″Life with Father,″ 1947, ″The Mudlark,″ 1950.

Her last film was a mild comedy, ″It Grows on Trees,″ in 1952. She made occasional TV appearances afterward.

She was too ill to attend in 1985 when she was scheduled to accept Kennedy Center Honors in Washington along with Bob Hope, Allan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Beverly Sills and Merce Cunningham.

Miss Dunne was active in Roman Catholic causes and also worked for the Republican party. President Eisenhower appointed her an alternate delegate to the U.N. 12th General Assembly. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were close friends.

Miss Dunne married a dentist, Francis Griffin, in 1920, and remarked after his death in 1965, ″I had the most marvelous husband and it was a great surprise to me to learn that he had kept every letter I had written to him.″

Along with her daughter, Mary Frances Griffin Gage, she is survived by two grandchildren and a niece.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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