The Widow of Windsor - Irene Dunne
By cable from BILL STRUTTON in London
Imagine walking down Whitehall in the sunshine, past the Cenotaph, in a London now at the height of the tourist season, when around the corner comes Queen Victoria.
This happened recently, and no doubt many visiting Australians saw it.
The Queen was wearing ermine robes, black gloves and carrying a bouquet. She was accompanied by a Queen's Escort of fifty Household Cavalry, white-plumed, their breastplates flashing in the summer sun.
The clue lay over the other side of the Thames, near County Hall, where the streets were lined by men of the Coldstream Guards, in full dress. And there, in the middle of it all, was a film camera and a squad of characters garbed strangely enough to be identified as filmmakers.
The Queen was Irene Dunne. Her transformation, for the purposes of 20th Century Fox's "The Mudlark," into the round-cheeked, ageing Queen Victoria is one of those minor miracles of make-up which the backroom boys in filmdom perform daily.
On this film - because it's a period picture - there are piles of work for the make-up wizards to do.
The director has ordered muttonchop whiskers all round, and the queues of extras waiting to be made-over into Victorian citizens stretch endlessly across the lot of Sound City.
Most of the make-up miracles are worked a little after dawn. The job has to be finished before filming starts.
But if this queue is their steady chore, Irene Dunne is their Magnum Opus. Every morning, earlier than you or I are thinking of getting up, Irene arrives in a Rolls at Sound City for a comprehensive two-hour make-up session.
Irene#s slim figure is then padded. She climbs into a black bustle dress, winds a rope of pearla around her neck, slips on a a cameo on a velvet cord, frowns into the mirror and sees Queen Victoria, or such a likeness as still surprises her, every day.
The make-up lasts just long enough for one day's filming.
This role is perhaps the most exacting of her long career, for the English are jealous of how their history is presented on the screen.
There has been much criticism that an American actress should be chosen to play a British Queen; not all of it has been fair. The actors' trade union here called it "ludicrous." But most of the argument seems a little narrow-minded. Nobody in Hollywood cares very much what English actors arrive there to play which parts in what American pictures; they are concerned more with their ability to act.
Shortly before she sailed for England Irene met the former French Premier Paul Reynaud in New York.
"When I told him I was going over to England to play Queen Victoria, he nearly had a fit," she said. "He asked me, 'How can you? You are not a bit like her.'"
Irene was worried about her accent. Ever since her arrival she has been "talking English"to get into practice. That is, in between swatting up on her historical research - biographies of the Queen, old records, fashion histories, Lytton Strachey's "Albert and Victoria."
She had a slice of luck in her search for detail before leaving Hollywood. "In Hollywood one day a little old lady came to see me who was once in Queen Victoria's household.
"She told me many interesting things about life in the Palace and the way Queen Victoria used to behave," Irene said.
"Although history gives few glimpses of it, she told me the Queen had a sense of humor, but kept it for her children.
"This is an aspect of her character I want to bring out in 'The Mudlark.'"
This makes Irene Dunne, in acting terms Queen Victoria the fourth. In 1936 Jenny Jugo played Queen Victoria in a German film called "Girlhood of a Queen."
In 1937 Pamela Stanley played the Queen on the West End stage. Anna Neagle was Queen Victoria in "Sixty Glorious Years" and "Victoria Regina."
Till she is joined by her husband Dr. Francis Griffin, a dentist, and their daughter, Mary Frances, Irene is a solitary inhabitant of one of the largest and most luxurious apartments in Claridges.
Her husband and her daughter are the strongest critics of her accent, which she practised on them on the way over, and on a tour of the Continent they made before Irene was due to film.
Her technical advisers have told Irene: "You should speak English with a slight German accent to imitate the Queen's speech accurately."
And she says, "After all, it shouldn't be so hard. I achieved a Norwegian accent for a film once, and found afterwards that I just could not stop using it.
"I get carried away with the part I am playing.
"It's a question of concentration - but I know that Queen Victoria would turn in her grave if I portrayed her with an American accent.
"I am fascinated by the character of Queen Victoria as I have come upon it, piece by piece, in my research on the part.
"I'm so glad that the criticsm of my selection has died down. I look upon this part as one of the most important roles of my career."
(The Australian Women's Weekly, Saturday 2 September 1950)