Irene Dunne on TV
The year 1952 marks an end and a beginning for Irene. This year her last feature film "It Grows On Trees" was released, and she made her debut on the "small screen" starting not with an acting part but as hostess for 26 episodes of "Schlitz Playhouse Of The Stars". A decade of work for this new, fast developing media followed, including guest appearances, game shows and of course full-fledged acting roles in TV shows. In 1962 she stood the last time in front of a camera as actress, her swan song being an episode from the serial "Saint And Sinners" with the title "Source Of Information".
Television Appearances in chronological order
Schlitz Playhouse Of Stars
05.30.1952 - 11.21.1952 26 episodes 30 minutes CBS
Irene hosted 26 episodes establishing the mood of each episode in a prologue and bringing it to full circle in an epilogue. There are different voices why this concept wasn't too succesfull after all: critics claimed that only hosting the show, would be a waste of Irene Dunne's talents. Other reports stated that Irene left because her fans didn't like her appearing in a program sponsored by a brewery.
Here is a short article which gives an impression of Irene's part in this production "'Playhouse of Stars' To Present Irene Dunne"
Newspaper ads for "Schlitz Playhouse Of Stars" from May/June 1952
Here is an excerpt from the book "Hollywood Film Stars On 1950s Television" by Christina Becker, adding some other aspects to Irene's first experience with Television:
"In fact, Hal Humphrey cited such hosting roles as "maybe the best way to handle the of "TV-or-not-TV" for hesitant stars, because the could try out the medium without commiting to a full-fleged acting role.
Such was the motivation for Irene Dunne to helm "Schlitz Playhouse". After her thriumphant, Oscar-nominated role in "I Remember Mama" (1948), Dunne struggled to find another part to equal it and retired from the big screen, largely due to lack of interest, in 1952. She viewed television as a possible option, however, and signed on with "Schlitz" for twenty-six episodes. Reflecting her desire to ease slowly into television, she chose not to act in any of the plays, though her hosting duties consisted of a brief playlet performance prior to the episode in order to set forth the theme for the evening. Jack Gould was not the only critic to deride those segments. "Variety" complained they were distracting, and when the playlets were subsequently replaced by Dunne simply previewing the episode in the usual manner, "Variety" observed that she now "had little to do...indicating that the producers hope to capitalize on her name alone." Dunne herself must have perceived this as inadequate, and she left the show when her contract expired. Though she would make a handful of subsequent acting appearances on anthology and variety shows, Dunne saw television as little more than a diversion and chose to put most of her time toward philanthropic efforts."
(Thanks to Thorsten for the info!)
Remark: Irene didn't really "retire from the big screen". As she stated later on she "drifted out of acting" never finding a profound project she really wanted to do.
What's My Line?
02.01.1953 30 minutes CBS
Irene as mystery guest
Colgate Comedy Hour
11.15.1953 60 minutes NBC
Irene as guest in a variety program hosted by Martha Raye. Other guests were Cesar Romero and Rocky Graziano. Irene sang "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and participated in a sketch.
The Jack Benny Show
12.06.1953 30 minutes CBS
Irene, Vincent Price, Gregory Ratoff and Rex Evans guested in this story about Jack Benny wanting to take over Price's role as Irene's leading man, which of course ends in chaos! This was the first time that an episode of Jack Benny's comedy program was filmed, the former broadcasts were performed live.
This episode is on archive.org!
This was the second time that the Academy Award show was nationwide telecasted - a huge, bi-coastal event with host Donald O'Connor at the RKO's Pantage Theatre in Hollywood and host Frederich March at New York's NBC Theatre. Irene presented the Best Director Oscar to Fred Zinneman for "From Here To Eternity".
Easter Parade Of Stars
04.06.1954 30 minutes CBS
Irene was Mistress of Ceremonies for this program which was sponsored by Auto-Lite spark plugs. Orginated from New York, the program showed segments from the "Parade Of Stars Auto Show" from the Waldorf Astoria.
According to the article "Irene Dunne Sparks Exhibit of New Cars" by John Lester, Irene provided "a charming and elegant thread of continuity throughout the show."
Ford Televsion Theatre - "Sister Veronica"
04.15.1954 30 minutes NBC
Cast: Irene Dunne (Sister Veronica), John Hudson (Scott Averill, Jr.), Taylor Holmes (Gerald Fitzgerald), Morris Ankrum (Dr. Clark), Herbert Hayes (Scott Averill Sr.), Frances Robinson (Sister Barbara), Stephanie Griffin (Claire), Alan Dexter, Laurie Mitchell
"Sister Veronica" was Irene's dramatic TV debut.
"Irene Dunne one of the top stars of Hollywood for many years, has never done a dramatic role on TV. She has appeared several times as guest star on panels, been mistress of ceremonies of a few programs, but until tonight at KNBH (4) at 9:30 p.m. she has never had a dramatic role of her own.
In "Sister Veronica" she has the kind or tailor-made role that fits her talents like a glove. She is superintendent of a large hospital and has to solve not only the hospital's problems, but those of patients.
And emergency case of a young woman who suffering from a concussion follwing a fall focuses attention on the plight of the young husband. He is heir to a large fortune and has a father determined to break up the marriage. This situation is resolved with the aid of an irascible played by Taylor Holmes. Others in the cast include John Hudson and the cover-girl model Stephanie Griffin making her TV debut."
(The Long Beach Independent, April 15, 1954)
"Irene Dunne's 'Sister Veronica' for TV Screen Gems is a trial balloon for a whole series about a nun in charge of a big hospital. If her fans like the idea, Irene will make more films..."
('In Hollywood' by Erskine Johnson, The Portsmouth Herald, 05.05.1954)
"Irene Dunne played a nun on the Ford Theatre's "Sister Veronica" just as you would have expected her to, with wit and compassion. I hope we see much more of Miss Dunne on TV. As a matter of fact, "Sister Veronica" would make a splendid filmed series."
('Faye Emerson Writes on Radio and TV', The Alburquerque Tribune, 04.21.1954)
Ford Television Theatre - "Touch Of Spring"
02.03.1955 30 minutes NBC
Cast: Irene Dunne (Marian), Gene Barry (Bill), Frank Wilcox (Paul), Kathryn Grant (Ann)
Irene as "Marian" who temporarily stricken by spring fever lets a young man (Gene Barry) pick her up and spends an afternoon with him. Back home she tells her husband (Frank Wilcox) about this flirtation and that she skipped the young man's invitation to meet him in the evening, but now has the pleasure to think about what could have happened if she would have gone there...The husband reacts with inviting Bill over while he is gone and letting his wife decide on her own. Of course Marian reveals her marriage and stays faithful - but not without presenting her husband Bill as dinner guest for next Sunday!
Academy Award Nominations Special
02.12.1955 90 minutes NBC
Irene, Louella Parsons, Donna Reed, Jack Webb and Humphrey Bogart presented this special announcing of the Oscar nominations for the year 54-55. This live event was broadcasted from NBC's Burbank studio, Ciro's, Romanoff's and the Coconut Grove where the expected nominees were supposed to gather. Even so, only few of the candidates were at hand for the special. This was the first and last time that the Oscar nominations were announced in a primetime program.
Here are two tongue-in-cheek articles on this show
- Television: Stage Wait (The New York Times) and
- A Pointless Exhibition-Where Was Everybody? (Boston Daily Globe)
07.17.1955 90 minutes ABC
In this live episode of the anthology series celebrating the opening day of the Ansheim theme park Irene christened the "Mark Twain", the park's 105-foot sternwheeler. The show was hosted by Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and George Murphy.
The Colgate Variety Hour
08.07.1955 60 minutes
Variety program hosted by Hedda Hopper. Irene as guest; other guests included Ann Blyth, Walt Disney, Robert Cummings, Audie Murphy and Mamie Van Doren.
with Hedda Hopper
The Loretta Young Show - "Slander"
10.30.1955 30 minutes NBC
Irene hosted this episode of the anthology series of friend Loretta Young.
The Loretta Young Show - "Tropical Secretary"
11.06.1955 30 minutes NBC
Irene as substitute for her ailing friend Loretta.
Benefit Show For Retarded Children
11.12.1955 30 minutes CBS
Jack Benny as host for a special which launched National Retarded Children's Week. Irene, Art Linkletter, Bob Crosby, Cathy Crosby, Liberace and others as guests.
Ford Television Theatre
"On The Beach"
04.12.1956 30 minutes NBC
Cast: Irene (Janet), Richard Denning (Davy), Jo Ann Lilliquist (Penny), David Kasday, Elizabeth Patterson and Gordon Howard
Irene as widowed Janet who puts beachcomber Davy (Richard Denning) - lost after a personal tragedy - on the right track again. Helped and assisted by daughter Penny (Jo Ann Lilliquist) looking for a father for herself and a husband for Mom.
Screenshots from "On The Beach"
as Janet in "On The Beach"
Ford Television Theatre - "Sheila"
05.24.1956 30 minutes NBC
Cast: Irene (Sheila), Elinor Donahue (Casey), Stephanie Griffin (Laura), Philip Ober (Kirk), Peter Miller, Howard Right
Irene as "Sheila" the headmistress of an exclusive girls school who has not only to take care of a spoiled student but of the father in tow.
"Irene Back After Long Absence" article by Bob Thomas
The Perry Como Show
09.15.1956 60 minutes NBC
Show with Perry Como, Irene, Sal Mineo, Patience and Prudence, Robert W.Sarnoff, Ray Charles Singers, Frank Gallop and the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra.
with Perry Como performing "The Irene Dunne Hit Revue"
Ike Day Surprise Birthday Party
10.13.1956 60 minutes CBS
In honor of President Dwight Eisenhowers birthday an alleged surprise party was telecast. The performers included Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Eddie Fisher, Nat King Cole, The Voices Of Victory and the Fred Waring Orchestra. Helen Hayes had the task of cutting the birthday cake. The program was hosted by Irene and James Stewart. Irene and Charles H.Percy were credited with organizing the Ike Day's activities.
What's My Line
20.10.1957 30 minutes CBS
Irene as mystery guest.
She took the opportunity to talk about her work for the UN.
Irene and John Wayne presented the Best Actor award to David Niven for "Seperate Tables".
The June Allyson Show - "The Opening Door"
10.05.1959 30 minutes CBS
Cast: Irene , Harry Townes, Virginia Christine, Melinda Plowman, Douglass Dumbrille, Claudia Bryar, Scott Davey
Irene as Dr. Gina Kersten specialist for brain-damaged kids taking care of a boy despite his father's claiming that his son belongs in an institution. After Dr. Kersten gives him therapy and affection the child is able to go back to school for further treatment.
The Big Party
11.05.1959 90 minutes CBS
Irene hosted this show recreating a Hollywood soiree with celebrities dropping by to entertain. Knocking on the door were Jule Styne, Gypsy Rose Lee, Pearl Bailey, Jack Carter, Dorothy Loudon, Cesare Siepi, Ruth Gilbert and Les Charlivels. Irene did her best to keep the party alive singing "Shall We Dance", dueting with Carter on "I Still Get Jealous" and joining the crowd to warble "Together".
Short articles on this event:
Eleanor Roosevelt's Diamond Jubilee Plus One
10.07.1960 60 minutes NBC
Special saluting the former First Lady and raising funds for the Eleanor Roosevelt Cancer foundation. Guests included Eleanor Roosevelt, Irene, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Carol Channing, George Burns, Nat King Cole, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Jimmy Durante, Mahalia Jackson, Mary Martin, Simone Signoret, Lucille Ball, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, the kids from "The Sound Of Music" and Dr. Tom Dooley. Irene performed a five-minute commercial for the Roosevelt Cancer Foundation.
aired during the Esther Williams Special - 07.06.1960
Short excerpt from the article "Esther's Under Water Show All Wet"
NEW YORK - Esther Williams can smile under water.
She performed this rather remarkable feat, and on a sustained basis, last night in an hour-long television extravaganza that left the audience practically nothing to smile about. There was little for the viewer to do but flounder in a sea of beer that was poured during commercials woven so tightly into the plot that when actress Irene Dunne popped up to plug the product it suddenly seemed that Miss Williams must have an unannounced co-star.
But, alas, this was not to be the case. Miss Dunne said her piece, poured her beer, and faded away.
(Santa Fe New Mexican, 08.06.1960 by Claire Cox)
Frontier Circus - "Dr. Sam"
10.26.1961 60 minutes CBS
Cast: Irene, Chill Willis, Ellen Corby, John Derek and Richard Jaeckel
Irene as "Dr. Sam" bringing women's rights to the old west, a circus and last not least its proprietor.
Irene Dunne Back - Will Appear In Television Show article from August 1961
Insight - "Beelzebub and the Bolsheviks"
30 minutes CBS New
"Starring Irene Dunne as Gertrude von Le Forte, German novelist who refused to use her literary talents for propaganda purposes during Hitler's regime."(Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1962)
"Insight - Documentary with dramatized historical incidents. Father Elwood Kieser, host; Pat McGeehan, narrator. Episode: " Beelzebub and the Bolsheviks," starring Irene Dunne." (Independent Star News, Pasadena, January 21, 1962)
General Electric Theater
"Go Fight City Hall"
30 minutes CBS
Irene as widow getting politically active. Despite rumors, Irene denied that the episode would lead to a series about a female politician. Allyn Joslyn co-starred.
with Allyn Joslyn
Article "No Soap For Irene Dunne" about Irene in "Go Fight City Hall" induced by the upcoming broadcast of the GE Theater Show.
"G.E. Theater "Go Fight City Hall", Irene Dunne is charming playing a handsome widow who smiles politely and makes a few digs at an entrenched party hack as she takes a crack at politics.
She also makes a moving speech at the end. There's a lot jammed into this 28 minutes of show, but it turns out rather well."
(The San Antonio Light, 07.15.1962)
Saint And Sinners - "Source Of Information"
10.15.1962 60 minutes NBC
Cast: Irene (Anita Farrell), Dennis Morgan (Chad Hamilton), Scott Marlowe (Frederick Brennen), Nick Adams (Nick), John Larkin (Grainger), Richard Erdman (Klugie) and Hayden Rorke.
Irene as former Hollywood star Anita Farrell who hopes for a comeback in a play written by reporter Nick (Nick Adams) but soon has to learn that she is going to die of cancer...
This TV show marks the end of Irene's acting career.
Saint and Sinners - "Source of Information"
"NBC Saint and Sinners, "Source Of Information." Irene Dunne and Dennis Morgan make this a good choice tonight in a play that is sometimes a bit heavy with tragedy and soggy tears. But for the sensitive emoting of Miss Dunne it might well have evolved in a maudlin mess..."
(Lake Charles American Press, 10.15.1962)
"I've seldom heard a more dissapointed young man than Nick Adams when he called to tell me his "Saint and Sinners" TV show with Irene Dunne has been preempted out of its Los Angeles showing. "What makes me feel so bad is that Miss Dunne is so wonderful as the movie actress with an incurable disease she is sure to be in the running for an Emmy award.
"Of course the rest of the country will view her, as the blackout is only in the Los Angeles area," Nick told me, "But maybe all isn't lost for Miss Dunne. The re-runs start in the spring before academy voting time and the voters then can see how great she is."
("Hollywood" column by Louella Parsons, Anderson Daily Bulletin, 10.20.1962)
"Irene Dunne holds an 'Oscar' during rehearsals. She will present one of the awards during the 39th Academy Awards presentation on Monday 4/10. Miss Dunne, substituting for Elizabeth Taylor who is unable to attend, has be nominated for an award five times but has never received an award." (Press text, dated 04.04.1967)
The thirty-ninth Academy Awards were hosted by Bob Hope. Irene presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to George Bagnall, president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund.