Fellow German Irene Dunne fan Janine told me that she visited the S. S. Queen Mary during her stay in Hollywood, and this was the reason why I checked when exactly Irene traveled with this famous luxus liner. After that my interest was piqued and I had a closer look at Irene's schedule in 1936.
In a column from the year 1948 Hedda Hopper remembered that she and Irene shared ship on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary and arrived just in time for Irene to take the bows for the "Show Boat" festive premiere in London. The voyage began on the 5th of June and ended five days later - the "Queen Mary" was one of the fastest liners at that time.
Irene in Europe, with husband and mother in tow, was this the well-known run from "Theodora Goes Wild"? Allegedly Irene and family stayed for a couple of months in Europe that year, because Miss Dunne had the hope that Columbia would find another female lead for this madcap comedy. Well, not a couple of months, La Dunne insisted on only two...
It seems that this "escape" started with a professional obligation - maybe a mixture of ease and ache - and was not a really long one, because on the 8th of July, Irene was safely back on board again. The ship of choice was the S.S. Normandie, another luxus liner and in competition with the S. S. Queen Mary for the Blue Riband.
The Dunne-Griffins arrived in New York on the 13th of July; considering the fact that Irene and Frank attended the premiere of "Anthony Adverse" on the 29th of the same month in Hollywood, and that the production of "Theodora" started on the 10th of August, there was not much time for playing around.
However, Irene was very busy in 1936. Starting with December 1935 she was involved in the production of "Show Boat" till the middle of March. Probably she had to be around for the pre production, but eventually left for New York to visit husband Frank and to attend the premiere of "Show Boat" on May 14th. This was quite an event - including a parade! Followed the trip to Europe, which was not any longer than a month and then back to Hollywood and work. Sometime in between they moved into the new house in Holmby Hills - the family already used this adress on their trip to Europe. Additonally, daughter Mary Frances joined the household in autumn/early winter.
Irene and companions took their time for many things but not for extensive holidays. But Miss Dunne was - naturally - right; she stayed away from Hollywood for about two months that year.
Long talk short, that this trip, which really wasn't much more than Irene's usual vacation after the closure of a production was exaggerated by the press, and Irene partly joined this tale, probably simply reflects that Irene indeed felt uncomfortable with the idea of filming a comedy.
How much this really was a daring change of path for her is hardly understandable for us living in a time in which versatility is make-or- break for an actor. "Our" stars easily switch from leads to small roles, bad or good girls - no problem as long as the part is interesting - and "image" and "typecasting" are swear words. In opposite in old Hollywood those two expressions were the core of stardom, but to elaborate on this could be another post for this blog.
That Irene ultimately decided on this new path for her - and at a time in which she only just started to establish herself as a free lanced actress - was quite a risk. Anyway, "how Irene Dunne tried to avoid comedy" is a nice anecdote to tell especially because this venture turned out such successful, gained her a second Academy Award nomination and opened a lot of doors for Miss Dunne.