Historic Madison Gives World Celebrities of Modern Screen
BY MACYLN JOURNEE
MADISON, Ind., Oct. 17.
SOME ONE once remarked that there is a peculiar sort of charm and culture coming out of those southern Indiana towns bordering the Ohio river that is absolutely different from anything found in other parts of the state.
Be that as it may, Madison with her wealth of beautiful scenery and the haven of the antique collector - with every old home holding within its walls some secret and interesting story only awaiting an author - has arrived via strictly modern route - the cinema - and presents to the world a star of first magnitude.
Miss Irene Dunne and the author fo "Susan Lennox - Her Fall and Rise," the famous novel used for Great Garbo's latest picture - David Graham Phillips. Madison was the home of both these celebrities.
Movie critics agree that when the best pictures of 1931 are selected "Cimarron" will be prominently placed. In this Irene Dunne made her sensational overnight rise to fame as Sabra Cravat. Many felt she had even snatched honors from Richard Dix, her costar, with years of experience in both silence and talking pictures.
Of Old Family
Miss Dunne comes from an old Madison family. While not actually born in Madison, that event being recorded among vital statistics in Louisville, where her mother went as a bride from Madison and spent several years of her early married life. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Dunne returned to Madison and Irene grew up in this town of charm and refinement. Here she graduated from High School with tremendous ambition concentrating on well-laid plans for the future - but not along the road to Hollywood. She enjoyed movies but was in no sense a "fan."
Irene always sang. Like Galli Curci she started without lessons but listened to methods, diction and technique of famous prima donnas on records. She was always in demand for concerts and amateur theatricals. It was never any trouble to get lines.
Being such quick study she was infinite help to others in the cast and Madison now recalls with a real thrill the several plays in which she acted. Her first road experience took her to Milton, Ky., a mere ferry trip across the Ohio from Madison. An evening of short plays, including one of Bernard Shaw's and one of Belasco's presented in Madison for the benefit of King's Daughters hospital was so successful that Milton made a bid for the same entertainment. The troupe skylarked across the Ohio on the good ship Trimble and presented Irene Dunne in "St. Cecilia."
Out of a clear sky the Madison Current Events Club, then just making a feeble beginning, was offered a scholarship for a musical course in the long since vanished Oliver Willard Pierce Academy of Fine Arts of Indianapolis. The club quickly bestowed this on Miss Dunne and so here it was she had really her first music lessons. During her student days here she sang for awhile in the First Baptist Church with Percival Owen, director.
Then followed the winning of a scholarship in Chicago Musical college - two years in succession - where she studied with the renowned Sacerdote and was awarded a diamond medal. All the while Irene Dunne was steering her ship toward the Metropolitan Opera house, working hard on coloratura roles such as Gilda in "Rigoletto" and Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet."
During her first year in Chicago she interviewed various managers. The casting director of "Chu Chin Chow" offered her something at once but was honest enough to advise that as long as she was having such splendid vocal and dramatic training she scholarship afforded not to abandon this but continue as long as possible then come to him being assured of a role in some production.
In the second summer she sang before a convention of railroad men assembled at Atlantic City, then drifted to New York. Here she was with Rosemary Pfaff of Indianapolis, who was establishing herself in the musical firmament. This was just at the time the musical comedy "Irene" was such a hit and several road companies were being organized. Mrs. Pfaff and Rosemary went to interview the business manager of these companies expecting Rosemary to qualify for the lead. Miss Pfaff sang for the manager. He complimented her highly but said she was not tall enough for the role Irene.
Mrs. Pfaff, in leaving remarked: "I have a girl in my home who may just suit you and her name is Irene." "Trot her down," said Mr. Manager.
Bright and early next morning Irene Dunne set forth to meet the "Irene" manager. In a cold casual way he heard her sing. Giving her the script of the musical comedy he asked her to report next morning to read over lines of the first act to him. In that first act are exactly forty-five minutes of actual dialogue spoken by the character Irene.
Promply at the hour appointed she appeared before the manager - letter perfect - every line of the entire act memorized over night. He was charmed and said the part was hers provided the man who passed on dancing approved her ability long that line. Then she went into another part of the theater only to have the dancing director tell her she could sing but she could not dance. They could not use her!
Tears washed the dream of hope and success from her eyes as she left the building. Forgetting her bag in the hasty retreat - truly, a lucky gesture and returning she found manager and dancing director in conference.
"Miss Dunne, we have been discussing you since you left. If you would be willing to work awhile under our ballett mistress when she returns from England in a few days, perhaps we can use you in 'Irene.'"
Nobody ever awaited incoming ship more eagerly than did Irene Dunn. So - after some dancing work she was given the leading role and toured the country in "Irene" without any previous experience on the professional stage.
"Irene" was followed by several musical comedies which kept her playing in New York. There was a brief exodus to Chicago for "Castles In The Air." The leading lady having become suddenly indisposed, Miss Dunne was summoned in haste, being handed he score just before leaving New York and having memorized it all on route to Chicago.
Season in "Show Boat."
Next cause a season with the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company, in which she played many roles and gained vast experience. When Ziegfeld's famous musical comedy made from Edna Ferber's novel, "Show Boat" opened in Chicago in September, 1929, she had the role of Magnolia, daughter of Marthy Ann Hawks, played by Edna May Oliver, herself now a famous movie star. A director from RKO studios saw her performance, offered her a contract, and Irene was Hollywood bound. The role of Sabra Cravat in "Cimarron" because it required a heroine from youth to old age and Magnolia in "Show Boat" had demonstrated just what she could do. It was a great surprise to Hollywood when she won. They found that besides beauty she had brains, dramatic ability of a rare sort and a superior refinement.
Quickly followed "Bachelor Apartment" with Lowell Sherman, then "The Great Lover" with Menjou, in which she demonstrated the beauty of her singing voice. She has just finished "Consolation Marriage," to be released in October, and has been resting at Pebble Beach, Cal., enjoying golf before starting work with Richard Dix on "Marcheta," a picture with music.
Miss Dunne was married in New York during the summer of 1928 to Dr. F. D. Griffin, a physician of that city. Dr. Griffin encourages and delights in his wife's career and spends every moment in California with her that he can be away from his profession. She has told the world that he is her inspiration.
... (The rest of the article is about David Graham Phillips)
(The Indianapolis Star, Sunday Oct. 18, 1931)
Thanks to Walter Hamilton!