Irene Dunne at the Theater


"I drifted into acting..."


Irene Dunne's first love was music, and she dreamed about a career as an opera singer. Although she had an extensive musical education starting early in life, that wish was denied her because she had too slight a voice. Irene expressed it like this:

"Then, when I got to New York and got to know some opera stars, I realized I didn't have quite the equipment to withstand  all the rigors of grand opera." (interview with John Kobal 1972), or more directly in an interview with James Bawden in the 70s:

"I'd always wanted a career at The Met but I flunked two auditions. In those days they were looking for girls with far more sizable voices than I possessed." 

Being asked in 1953 what she thought most helpful for climbing to the top, one of Irene's answers was "Be realistic and recognize your limitations. Don't aspire for grand opera if you have a night club voice."  ("Versatility Keeps Irene Dunne Popular Ageless" Feb. 1953).

Recognizing her limitations was exactly what Irene Dunne did, and albeit it was not the stage of grand opera for her, she entered - and successful at that - the stage of musical comedy. The pinnacle of her theater years, the road tour of "Show Boat", turned out to be her catapult for Hollywood, and thus Irene's time at the theater was the pleasant prelude to a beautiful Hollywood career and 41 motion pictures to come.  


Theatre appearences in chronological order

Irene's first "playbill"
Irene's first "playbill"



A Midsummer Night's Dream


by William Shakespeare


Grammar school play played in Madison, Indiana 05.29.1913 and 06.02.13, Madison Grammar School


Irene had the small role of "Mustardseed", one of Titania's fairy attendants.


Not much of a stage debut, but Irene mentioned that "first thrill of footlights" several times later on. "Never-the-less, the inconsequential role of Mustardseed was important to my future. It gave me an early sense of the theatre and a lasting love for it." ("The Story Of Irene Dunne" by Beulah Livingstone, "Table Talk", September 21. 1936) This quote surely garantees "Mustardseed" a place on this list. 


and another early "stage experience":


St. Cecilia


a benefit performance played in Madison,Ind. and because it was so successful residents in Milton, Ken. asked for a performance. In favor of the King's Daughters Hospital in Madison, date unkown. Irene the first time "on the road."



Road tour 1921-22 -"Irene O'Dare"


Musical in three acts

Producer: Vanderbilt Producing Co., Director: Edward Royce, Book by James Montgomery, Music by Harry Tierney, Lyrics by Joe McCarthy, Costume design by Lucille and Finchley


Songs performed as "Irene O'Dare":

Alice Blue Gown - To Be Worthy - Irene - To Love You - Skyrocket

Program from September 5th 1921, Grand Theater, Trenton, N.J. for "Irene" - Irene Dunn as "Irene O'Dare.

Irene Dunne in "Irene"
Irene Dunne and the famous $3000 "Irene" ermine wrap she will wear in the second act of the smart musical comedy on the occasion of its return to the New Joplin Theatre, on Sunday and Monday February 26th and 27th. (New Joplin Globe, 1922)

"Sh-sh! but if you ain't seen little Miss Dunne in 'Irene', you ain't seen nothin' yet."

(Douglas Gordon, The Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch 1921)


As the Hollywood legend will have it, Irene got the lead in "Irene" as a beginner, accompaning a friend to try-outs for the touring company, where the casting director decided on Irene and her friend was left with nothing.

Both main biographers of Irene, Margie Schultz and Wes Gehring, came to the conclusion that Irene probably only made the chorus in "Irene." Schultz correctly argued that Irene was not billed in the first touring production starting at the Garrick Theatre in Chicago, and was not listed when the production moved to Chicago's Studebaker Theatre in March 1921.


We don't know how Irene got started in "Irene", but in 1921 she got the female lead, Irene O'Dare, in one of the road companies. Probably it was like Irene told in an article from the year 1938:

 "Wasn't that marvelous!" Miss Dunne's press agent exclaimed when the story was told. "Imagine a young girl with no experience just stepping into an important part like that!"

 The non-exibitionist Miss Dunne refused to rise to the bait. "That didn't mean anything except that "Irene" was a fool-proof part," she said placidly. "There must have been at least eight road companies of it, and our company played all the tank towns in the south. They wanted to prove that they could take any girl with a fair voice and no stage training and make her a success. Of course, I had such confidence then." (The Lady Who Became A Clown, May 1938).


The available articles on this road tour cover a period from September 1921 till May 1922. The less enthusiastic review was the first one, Trenton in September 1921, which could be a hint that Irene was in the initial stage. Here are some excerpts from those reviews:


Trenton Evening Times, N.J., 09.06.1921:

"Irene Dunne as "Irene O'Dare", was sweet and cute at all times, and gave in her role a certain charm, but her personality was not big enough to bring to the part the distinction which James Montgomery, the author, apparently intended. Miss Dunne has a voice of fair quality, but it lacks power, and therefore, her numbers were not as effective as they might have been..."

Lock Haven Express, Pa., 10.06.1921:

"The charming Irene Dunne in the role of "Irene" was the cynosure of the whole thing. She has beauty, grace, a full, sweet soprano voice, dances gracefully, and played with a sprightliness and demure charm that were always delightfull."

Logansport Pharos Tribune, Ind., 03.24.1922:

"Miss Irene Dunne who took the leading part as "Irene" thoroughly delighted the audience with her fresh, charming appearance while her singing and dancing was most enhancing."

and the closing of the road tour:

Fitchburg Sentinel, Mas., 05.13.1922:

" 'Irene'closed its season tonight, removing the popular play from the stage for the first time since November 1919, when it was first presented in New York. Fitchburg theater-goers had the pleasure of seing Helen Shipman ("Irene" in the Chicago production) and Edith Day ("Irene" in the original Broadway cast) in other plays a few years ago, and while they thoroughly enjoyed their work, they were perfectly satisfied with Irene Dunne in "Irene." Miss Dunne lives in St. Louis and was accompanied by her mother while in this city."


The most enthusiastic about Irene was "The Atlanta Constitution" with a whole article on Irene titled "Little Prima Donna, Miss Irene Dunne, Is Southern Girl" (December, 1921) and an effusive review. Depending from where she was at the moment, Irene was conveniently either a "southern girl" or a "Hoosier". Even the "press tales" started in those days; one newspaper turned Irene into the daughter of General J. Dunn, who participated in World War I, omitting the fact that Irene's father died in 1913.


It may even be, that Irene made her Broadway debut in "Irene." The Internet Broadway Data Base states her as "credited as replacement." This would be fitting to a Modern Screen Article from 1938 which claimed that Irene played several performances in the Broadway company. According to a Madison Daily Herald article from June 1921, Irene made her debut incognito, replacing Patti Harrold in the last week of the run of "Irene" to get some stage experience. Considering the fact that Irene got the lead in one of the road companies this could have been a sort of "tryout" of the theatre novice.


If someone has further information on this production, or Irene's theater time in general, please contact me!

And a little music:

"Alice Blue Gown" is the best known song from "Irene", here sung  by Edith Day, the first Irene O'Dare. 

(btw "Alice Blue" is a pale tint of azure favored by Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice; this color was quite en vogue in those days.)

Alice Blue Gown
from "Irene", London 1920
Edith Day sings Alice Blue Gown; from Ir
MP3 Audio File 4.9 MB

The Clinging Vine

Miss Irene Dunne, youthful American singer, who has a minor role and is Peggy Wood's understudy in Henry W. Savage's production, "The Clinging Vine," at the Knickerbocker Theatre.
Miss Irene Dunne, youthful American singer, who has a minor role and is Peggy Wood's understudy In Henry W. Savage's production, "The Clinging Vine," at the Knickerbocker Theatre. (The Evening Telegram, New York, 02.10.1923)



1922/23 original Broadway cast - "Tessie"/ 1923 February/1924 January replacement - "Antoinette"


Musical in three acts

Producer: Henry W. Savage, Director: Ira Hards, Book by Zelda Sears, Music by Harold A. Levey, Lyrics by Zelda Sears, Musical Director: Harold A. Levey


Complete original Broadway cast 


The Knickerbocker Theatre at 1396 Broadway (West 38th St.) and its auditorium

ad for "The Clinging Vine"
ad for "The Clinging Vine"

"The Clinging Vine" started in Hartford, CT. at the Parson's Theatre on November 30th 1922. The Broadway premiere was on December 25th of the same year at the Knickerbocker Theatre. The production had a total run of 188 performances, closing June 2nd 1923. Irene performed the small role of "Tessie" who is only on the stage for about 4 minutes in the first act. Irene thanked author Zelda Sears for the brevity of her part which allowed her to continue with her studies. This was well-circulated and brought Irene to the attention of important persons of the musical theatre world. Irene's thankyou, depending from the source either a note or a call, induced the article "Little Prima Donna With Small Role" (The Evening Telegram, March 29, 1923). Irene was also the understudy of leading lady Peggy Wood and as such took over in February 1923, when Peggy Wood's father died, and  in January 1924, when Wood came down with larnygitis on tour in Cleveland.


Songs performed as "Tessie":

A Litte Bit of Paint


Songs performed as "Antoinette":

A Litte Bit of Paint - Once Upon a Time - Age of Innocence - The Clinging Vine - Homemade Happiness 

And some music:

A Fox Trot Medley from "The Clinging Vine" played by The Great White Way Orchestra, recording date 01.09.1923

The Clinging Vine - Fox Trot Medley
The Clinging Vine.mp3
MP3 Audio File 2.5 MB

The Left-Over

1923 - role unknown


Producer: Henry W. Savage, Book and lyrics by Zelda Sears, Music by Vincent Youmans


Poll's Majestic theatre in Bridgeport
Poll's Majestic theatre, 1347 Main Street Bridgeport, CT





















In September 1923 Irene was busy with a production titled "The Left-Over." This show is merely mentioned in one artice, and no further information was available. Looking at the plot of "The Left-Over" and considering the fact that the team was the same as for "Lollipop", this was probably the try-out for the latter. No wonder, they renamed the show, anyway, who wants to be a left-over at Broadway?! Full article - "The Left-Over at Majestic"



sheet music
sheet music - showing Ada May the female lead (Laura Lamb) of the original Broadway cast

1924 - "Virginia"


Musical in three acts 

Producer: Henry W. Savage, Director: Ira Hards, Music by Vincent Youmans, Lyrics by Zelda Sears and Walter DeLeon, Musical Director: Russell Tarbox, Choreographed by Bert French, John Tiller and Mary Read, Costume Design by Schneider-Anderson Company, Bergdorf Goodman and Finchley, Scenic Design by Sheldon K. Viele and William


"Lollipop" premiered January 21. 1924 at the Knickerbocker Theatre and had a run till May 31. 1924. According to Margie Schultz,(Irene Dunne A Bio-Bibliography) "A five year agreement signed by the Producing Managers´ Association and the Actors' Equity Association expired on May 31. Several producers, including Henry W. Savage, demanded better term with their actors. When no settlement was reached, "Lollipop" closed."

Irene was not in the original broadway cast but replaced Gloria Dawn as Virginia. 


Complete original Broadway cast


Songs performed as "Virginia":

Love In a Cottage - When We Are Married - Deep In My Heart



In February/March 1924 this photo popped up in several newspapers, and the caption read:

"A short time ago Irene Dunne was an understudy for Peggy Wood in a Broadway show. This season she appears in a current success in the prima donna role especially written for her. Few have that honor at her age."

Unfortunately, the title of the production isn't mentioned, but according to an article titled "Sacrifice" (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03.30.1924) Irene gave up her own Broadway premiere in a prima donna part in "Lollipop" - especially written for her - to keep "The Clinging Vine" on the road. Allegedly, she was rewarded with a three years contract, but none of Irene's further theater engagements was produced by Henry Savage, assumedly the aforementioned contract never came into being.

And a little music:

A Fox Trot Medley from "Lollipop" played by the International Novelty Orchestra, recording date 02.29.1924

Lollipop - Fox Trot Medley
MP3 Audio File 2.6 MB

The Dutch Girl

Naugatuck Daily News, January 3th
Naugatuck Daily News, January 3th

January 1925 - role unknown



Staged by Guy Bragdon, Music by Emmerich Kalman, Book by Leo Stein


Unhappily, only two mentions of this production emerged, both from January 1925. One in the "Naugatuck Daily News" from January 3th 1925 announcing "The Dutch Girl" at the Shubert theatre - probably the one in New Haven - and another ad from January 19th from Boston, where "The Dutch Girl" played at the Majestic. Obviously the "Dutch Girl" and the "little prima donna" Miss Dunne were on tour together! 

Baby Blue

April 27(premiere)/May 1925 - "Millie Davis"


Musical comedy in two acts

Producers: Mulligan and Trebitsch, Book by Roland Olivier and Charles Dickson, Lyrics and music by Harald Christy


"Baby Blue" May 4th 1925, Irene listed as "Millie Davis, a runaway"

The lobby of the Wilbut Theatre in Boston
The lobby of the Wilbur Theatre in Boston

In its salad days, the in 1914 build

"Ye Wilbur Theatre" - so the original name - hosted a lot of pre-Broadway tryouts, and in this function was the place of the worldpremieres of "Our Town" (Thornton Wilder), "A Streetcar Named Desire" (Tennesse Williams) or "Long's Days Journey Into Night" (Eugene O'Neill). Assumedly, the Wilbur saw on the evening of April 27th 1925 another attempt of approaching Broadway, but unfortunately, this time an unsuccessful one; "Baby Blue" with Miss Dunne in the role of "Millie Davis, a runaway." Here is the review from the "Boston Daily Globe", but this probably short-lived musical comedy never made Broadway.


Light Opera Company/ Atlanta

Irene as Arsena in "The Gypsy Baron"
Irene as Arsena in "The Gypsy Baron"

June 15. - July 26.1925


In the year 1925, the Atlanta Light Opera association organized for the first time  a light opera season. During its run of six weeks six productions were staged with daily evening performances at 8:30 p.m. and an additional Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m.; and of course the troupe had to rehearse in-between performances for the next up-coming operetta.  The principal singers were a group of young artists, one of them the "vivacious and alluring Miss Dunn". Irene and some of her colleagues arrived by train on the 31th May for a fortnight of rehearsals. They were highly welcomed by the press -  "Singers Arrive For Light Opera Season In City".    


This was the schedule for this tour de force of a season:


"The Mikado" 

06.15. - 06.21.1925

Operetta by Sir Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W.S. Gilbert

Irene as Pitti-Sing.


"The Prince Of Pilsen"

 06.22. - 06.28.1925

Operetta by Gustav Luders, book by Frank Pixley.

Irene sang Nellie.


"The Spring Maid"

05.29. - 07.05.1925

Operetta by Heinrich Reinhardt, Libretto by Harry B. Smith

Irene was Annamirl, the spring maid.  





Irene as Pitti-Sing and friend and colleague Ethel Louise Wright as Peep-Bo. (Clipping from Ethel Wright's scrap book, courtesy of Louise George Clubb, Ethel Wright's daughter)



As Arsena in "The Gypsy Baron"
as Arsena in "The Gypsy Baron"


"The Gypsy Baron" 

07.06. - 07.12.1925

Operetta by Johann Strauss.

Irene performed Arsena.

"The Gypsy Baron" was a huge production, described in a beforehand article "Artists Have Difficult Roles In Gypsy Baron This Week". In a review of this operetta, especially lauded was the performance of the chorus, with no detailed comments on the work of the principals, but Irene was mentioned with "... Miss Irene Dunne is charming in her brief appearance" (Atlanta Constitution, "Gypsy Baron Proves Immensely Popular", July 9. 1925)


"The Firefly" 

07.13. - 07.19.1925

Operetta by Rudolf Friml, libretto by Otto Harbach.

Irene as Geraldine Van Dare. 

Review of the opening night from The Atlanta Constitution, July 14, 1925.



07.20. - 07.26.1925

Musical by Victor Herbert, Lyrics by Robert B. Smith

Irene portrayed Liane, a milliner.



"Ev'ry Lover Must Meet His Fate" from "Sweethearts"
Irene sung this song in "The Secret Of Madame Blanche"(1933). In "Sweethearts" this is a number of the male lead, Franz.
Ev'ry Love Must Meet His Fate.mp3
MP3 Audio File 1.2 MB
(Thanks to Louise George Clubb for this clipping!)
(Thanks to Louise George Clubb for this clipping!)

The Atlantans were quite pleased with their season and the work of the young singers "Municipal Opera Company At Best In Closing Opera."




July 25,1925 - with Howard Candler, Coca-Cola heir and sponsor of the Light Opera Season, and colleague Anne Yago.

And some more music:

From "The Mikado" the trio "Three Little Maids From School Are we" sung by Yum-Yum, Beep-Bo and Pitti-Sing.

Three Little Maids From School Are We"
unknown performers
The Mikado - Three little maids from sch
MP3 Audio File 2.1 MB

The City Chap

1925 - "Grace Bartlett"


Musical in two acts

Producer: Charles Dillingham, Director: James Reynolds, Music by Jerome Kern, Book by James Montgomery, Lyrics by Anne Caldwell based on the play by Winchell Smith, Musical Director: Victor Baravelle Choreographer: David Bennett, Costumes and scenic design by James Reynolds


ad - New York Times, November 22, 1925
ad - New York Times, November 22, 1925
The Garrick Theatre, Philadelphia
The Garrick Theatre, 130 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

"The City Chap" marks Irene's first association with Jerome Kern. The production started in Philadelphia at the Garrick on September 29th and made a total of 72 performances at Broadway's Liberty Theatre from October 26th till December 26th 1925. 


Songs performed as "Grace Bartlett":

Like The Nymphs Of Spring - The Go-Getter - No One Knows - When I Fell In Love - Walking Home With Josie


Obviously, looking at the rather short run, this wasn't the most successful of Kern's shows but Irene got a pleasant review by "Variety" (09.30.1925):

"Honors for the women must be devided by Cleveland (the female lead) with Irene Dunn as the small-town belle. This girl has a great personaliy, can dance like a streak and knows how to handle her voice. Her duet number with Gallagher, "Walking Home With Josie," looks like the best song bet in the show."  Review from The New York Times (Oct. 27, 1925)

Sweetheart Time

1926 - Original caption: "Footlight Favorite - Recent picture of Irene Dunn one of the youngest of Broadway actresses" (Oakland Tribune, March 27)

1926 - Violet Stevenson (female lead)


Musical in two acts

Producer: Rufus LeMaire, Director: William LeMaire, Music by Walter Donaldson and Joseph Meyer, Book by Harry B. Smith, Lyrics by Ballard McDonald and Irvine Caesar, Based on "Never Say Die", Musical Director: John L. McManus, Choreographer: Larry Ceballos, Costumes: Charles LeMaire


The auditorium of the Imperial Theatre
The auditorium of the Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45 St., NYC


"Sweetheart Time" had its Broadway premiere on January 19th 1926 at the Imperial Theatre listing Mary Milburn as the female lead. About two months later, on March 8th, Miss Dunne took over. "Sweetheart Time" made it till May 22th 1926.


Songs performed as "Violet Stevenson":

Sweeheart Time - Girl In Your Arms - Who Loves You As I Do?

And a little music:

Vainly browsing for a song of this production but nonetheless enjoying some music of Walter Donaldson, I found this one, which I liked very much - and anyway, the chorus "Wha-Wha-What A Gal" is kind of fitting for Miss Dunne!

There's A Wha-Wha Gal In Agua Caliente
music by Walter Donaldson, California Ramblers, Vocalist Arthur Fields, 1930
There´s a wah-wah gal in Agua Caliente C
MP3 Audio File 4.1 MB

St. Louis Municipal Opera

05.31.1926 - 08.22.1926

an evening at the "Muny"
an evening at the "Muny"

The "Muny" is one of America's oldest and largest musical outdoor theatres and hosted through his long history a long list of formidable names, including Cary Grant, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope for instance, and well, last not least Irene Dunne. 

Irene made her debut at the Muny on May 31th 1926 in the production of "Eileen". During the twelve-week season, a small company played the majority of leading roles, depending from the upcoming production enhanced by members of the Metropolitan Opera. 


Irene was for certain involved in the following mise-en-scènes:


"Eileen" 05.31. - 06.06.1926

Opera by Victor Herbert, Libretto by Henry Blossom

Irene as Lady Maude Eastbrook


"The Red Mill" 06.07. - 06.13.1926

Operetta by Victor Herbert, Libretto by Henry Blossom

Irene played Bertha, the Bergamoster's sister


Orchestra selections from "The Red Mill"
Victor Herbert and Orchestra, recorded 1913
39;Selections from 'The Red Mill'39;. Vi
MP3 Audio File 6.5 MB
program listing for "The Red Mill"
Muny 07.06.1926, program listing for "The Red Mill"

"The Spring Maid" 06.21. - 06.27.1926

Operetta by Heinrich Reinhardt, Libretto by Harry B. Smith

Irene was Annamirl, the spring maid.

Gems from "The Spring Maid"
Victor Light Opera Company, recording from 09.17.1914
Victor Light Opera - Gems From The Sprin
MP3 Audio File 5.8 MB

"The Pink Lady" 06.28. - 07.04.1926

Musical by Ivan Caryll, Book by C.M.S. McLellan

Irene played Angele.

Gems from "The Pink Lady"
Victor Light Opera Company, recording from 03.07.1911
The Pink Lady.mp3
MP3 Audio File 3.6 MB

"Sweethearts" 07.12. - 07.18.1926

Musical by Victor Herbert, Lyrics by Robert B. Smith

Irene portrayed Liane, a milliner.

"Iolanthe" 07.19. -07.25.1926

Operetta by Sir Arthur Sullivan, written by W.S. Gilbert

Irene in the title role.

"My Lord A Suppliant At Your Feet" from "Iolanthe"
This is Iolanthe's aria from the second act. Here performed by Nellie Briercliffe
My Lord, A Suppliant At Your Feet.mp3
MP3 Audio File 2.1 MB

"Count Of Luxembourg" 07.26. - 08.01.1926

Operetta by Franz Lehár, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Basil Hood

Irene played Juliette, a model.


"Woodland" 08.02. - 08.08.26

Musical by Gustav Luders, Book and lyrics by Frank S. Pixley

Irene performed Miss Jennie Wren.


Those dates don't cover the whole run of the Muny's season, but Irene was not listed in further productions. Considering the fact that even a group of child players in "The Red Mill" was completely listed  - btw including the 10 year old Betty Grable, who was born in St. Louis - I can't imagine that Irene was around without being named in the program. My assumption is that Miss Dunne's personal Muny season ended on August 8th. 

 That list of performances in such a quick succession really impressed me, no wonder Irene remembered that engagement as "one of the most valuable, and at the same time, one of the hardest experience I've ever had" (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 23., 1930).


Yours Truly

January - May 1927 "Diana"/"Mary Stillwell"


Musical in two acts

Producer: Gene Buck, Director: Paul Dickey, Music by Raymond Hubbell, Lyrics by Anne Caldwell, Choreographers: Ralph Reader, Mary Read, Gene Buck, Costumes: Mabel E. Johnston, Scenic Design: Joseph Urban

sheet music - "Somebody Else"
sheet music - "Somebody Else"


Complete Broadway cast


"Yours Truly" premiered on January 25th 1927 at the Shubert Theatre. Irene started with "Diana" and replaced leading lady Marion Harris as "Mary Stillwell" two months later. "Yours Truly" closed on May 14th 1927 after a total of 127 performances.


Songs performed as "Diana":

Mayfair - I Want A Pal 

Songs perfomed as "Mary Stillwell":

Look At The World And Smile - Somebody Else - Yours Truly

And a little music:

Most of Hubbell's compositions didn't maintain their popularity, but "Poor Butterfly" from "The Big Show" remained a standard. Here is an early version from 1917 performed by the Joseph Smith's Orchestra. And for everyone, who needs a connection to Miss Dunne: "Poor Butterfly" was inspired by Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly" - one of Irene's favorites!

Poor Butterfly
Joseph C. Smith´s Orchestra, recorded 02.19.1917
Joseph C. Smith Orchestra - Poor Butterf
MP3 Audio File 4.5 MB

She's My Baby

Two photos from the production of "She's My Baby"  - at left with Jack Whiting

1928 January - March "Polly"


Musical in two acts 

Producer: Charles Dillingham, Director: Edward Royce, Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart, Book by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Choreographer: Mary Read, Costumes: Francillion Inc. and Raymond Sovey, Scenic Design: Raymond Sovey


Complete Broadway Cast

The Globe Theatre at 205 W. 46th St. NYC, the eventual Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

"She's My Baby" marks Irene's first association with Richard Rodgers. "Leathernecking" (1930) Irene's first Hollywood film was based on "Present Arms" a Rodgers/Hart show from the year 1928. Starting on January 3th 1928 "She's My Baby" closed after 71 performances on March 3th.


Songs performed as "Polly":

You're What I Need - If I Were You


And a little music:

It seems no standard emerged from "Yours Truly" but "Present Arms," which later on played a rule in Irene's career, provided us with one

 - "You Took Advantage Of Me." Here in an early version from the year 1928 performed by Paul Whiteman and Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.

You Took Advantage Of Me
Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys, recorded April 1928
Whiteman Orchestra -- You Took Advantage
MP3 Audio File 4.3 MB

Luckee Girl

Program for a try-out of "Luckee Girl" at the Garden Pier Theatre in Atlantic City, date unknown, assumedly the end of August/early September

Try-out of "Luckee Girl" at the Broad Street Theatre in Newark, N.J., week beginning Monday Sept. 10th. The Broadway premiere of "Luckee Girl" was on Saturday Sept. 15th.

1928 - "Luckee Girl"
1928 - "Luckee Girl" with Irving Fisher


1928 September 15th (Broadway premiere) - November "Arlette"


Musical in a prologue and three acts


Producers: Lee and J.J. Shubert, Director: Lew Morton, Music by Maurice Yvain, Lyrics by Max Lief and Nathaniel Lief, Book adapted by Gertrude Purcell based on a French operetta by Andre Barde, Musical Director: Lew Morton, Choreographer: Harry Puck and Marie Kelley, Costumes: Ernest Schrapps, Scenic Design: Watson Barratt


Complete Broadway cast


This was the first time that Irene premiered in the female lead on Broadway. Unfortunately, "Luckee Girl" wasn't much of a success. "Variety" summed it up like this:"Irene Dunne is worthier of better things." (09.26.1928). After a total of 81 performances, devided between the Casino Theatre and the Sam H. Harris Theatre, "Luckee Girl" closed down.

Flyer - "Luckee Girl"

Songs performed as "Arlette":

A Flat In Montmatre - I Love You So - Chiffon - I Hate You - Magic Melody - Friends And Lovers


The withering criticism of "Time" but The New York Time's critic titled his review "'Luckee Girl' Proves A Tuneful Comedy"

And a little music:

An absolute Yvain evergreen is "My Man" (Mon Homme), a song which made the music charts several times in the most different versions through the ages. Here is a beautiful Orchestra interpretation by Net Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra, recorded in 1928.

My Man
Nat Shilkret 'My Man' (1928).mp3
MP3 Audio File 3.5 MB

Show Boat

National tour from January 1929 - March 1930 "Magnolia"

Cities played: Boston, Newark, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore

Caricature of the main characters in "Show Boat" which accompanied a review in the Pittsburgh Press from 02.18.1930.

Producer: Florenz Ziegfeld, Director: Zeke Colvan, Music by Jerome Kern, Libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II based on the novel by Edna Ferber, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Musical Director: George Hirst, Costumes: John Harkrider, Scenic Design: Joseph Urban

On tour as "Magnolia" photographed by James Hargis Connelly 


Charles Marsh, Charles Winninger and Irene
Charles Marsh, Charles Winninger and Irene (caricature, Feb. 1930)

For a magazine article Irene was once asked which was her high spot in life between twenty and thirty. She answered: "When Flo Ziegfeld sat in the second row of "Show Boat" and sent back a personal note saying I was wonderful!" ("Play Truth and Consequences with Irene Dunne," July 1942) 

Mr. Ziegfeld's appraisal made the feuilleton:


High Praise From "Zieg"

Florenz Ziegfeld has returned from Boston, where he went to see Irene Dunne appear as Magnolia in "Show Boat." He was so pleased that he placed her under a long term contract, stating that if she had been here to play in that role, "Show Boat" would still be running at the Ziegfeld Theater.

The final week of "Show Boat" in Boston totaled $35.000, after a record run there. "Show Boat" closed thus, after two years running with the world's record for the number of people employed and the number of tickets sold. It will reopen in August preceding the Chicago run, which will begin on Labor Day. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 06.19.1929)


Ad from 09.22.1929, Newark Sunday Call
Ad from 09.22.1929, Newark Sunday Call

Maybe because "Show Boat" turned out to be such an important vehicle for Irene, there is a Hollywood legend twined around it that Irene got the part because she happened to be in an elevator with Florenz Ziegfeld and caught his attention. How Irene exactly won this role, is something I don't know, but looking at this page, I do know that Miss Dunne wasn't a dark horse at Broadway.

Anyhow, she was a successfull "Magnolia", earned wonderful reviews and ultimately signed a contract with RKO.  

So, let's be grateful for well-timed elevator trips, going well auditions or whatsoever it needed to bring Irene Dunne to Hollywood!

And a little music:

At last, I found a good reason to add Helen Morgan's touching interpretation of "My Bill" to this site. But of course you shouldn't miss the one and only Miss Dunne with her songs from "Show Boat"!  

My Bill
Helen Morgan
My Bill Helen Morgan.mp3
MP3 Audio File 5.4 MB

Notice: To name all the sources which I used to compile this page would be a bore. But two sources which helped with the "golden threat" shouldn't go unmentioned: Margie Schultz' "Irene Dunne A Bio-Bibliography" and the IBDB (Internet Broadway Data Base).