Return to Castle Frankenstein: Son of Frankenstein at 75

“Well, Hellllll-lo!” ~Peter von Frankenstein (Donnie Dunagan)

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WHAT: Son of Frankenstein (1939) 75th anniversary screening
WHEN: October 30, 2014 at 7:30 PM
WHERE: Pickwick Theatre, Park Ridge, IL
WHO: Donnie Dunagan (“Peter von Frankenstein”) will be our honored guest.
HOW MUCH: General Admission: $7/$5 seniors (60+)/Autographs: $20
WHAT ELSE: We will have a costume contest for children 12 and under. Also, Jay Warren will be performing Halloween “prelude music” on the theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ starting at 7:00 PM.

Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the son of the late doctor, returns home to an inhospitable reception. The village of Frankenstein, it would appear, is haunted, but it doesn’t take a Sherlock to know it’s more than a ghost.  Wolf soon meets the “grave robber” Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and discovers an old terror lying dormant. Consumed by the monster mania of his family’s past, Wolf sets out to restore the comatosed Monster (Boris Karloff) and vindicate his father. Lionel Atwill lends a hand as the suspicious Inspector Krogh. With Josephine Hutchinson and Donnie Dunagan.

Son of Frankenstein (1939) is the last great Frankenstein film from Universal. It’s also the last time Boris Karloff portrayed the Frankenstein monster in the series. It contains what is arguably Bela Lugosi’s finest performance as the broken-necked Ygor. Additionally, the film benefits from the masterful direction of Rowland V. Lee, the bizarre, Expressionistic sets of Jack Otterson, and the atmospheric musical score by Frank Skinner. For all these reasons and more, the film itself is worth coming out for. But our showing will have one added attraction– the presence of the last surviving cast member from the film: Donnie Dunagan.

There are almost no opportunities these days to see a star from Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1930s, but that will change on October 30 when we welcome Donnie Dunagan to our stage. In addition to playing a third generation Frankenstein (and the last surviving Frankenstein from that universe), Donnie worked for Walt Disney and provided the voice of young “Bambi” in the 1942 animated classic. Ten years after his film career ended, Donnie entered the Marine Corps and became a decorated soldier during the Vietnam War. While serving as a career Marine, however, Donnie remained silent about his earlier career in Hollywood.  In 1977, he “retired on wounds,” having attained the rank of Major. In 2004, Donnie reemerged into the public spotlight and has since made numerous personal appearances. Fans everywhere have embraced this once “lost” Hollywood player.

Donnie will be meeting with fans and signing autographs before and after the show. After our costume contest, Donnie will be interviewed onstage by program host Matthew Hoffman. Besides his vivid memories of working on Son of Frankenstein, Donnie has a wealth of knowledge about many stars from Hollywood’s greatest era. This will be a rare opportunity for fans in the Chicagoland area to experience living history from a great storyteller.

As author/historian Tom Weaver introduced him in his excellent Video Watchdog interview from October 2004: “Now meet the real Don Dunagan– career Marine, champion boxer, combat officer, counterintelligence agent, Green Bay Packer, mathematician, physicist and American Mensa Society member…”

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Boris Karloff signed this picture to Donnie…
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And here is one from Basil Rathbone, Donnie’s onscreen dad…
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Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi star in their greatest teaming…
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Son of Frankenstein was originally planned to be shot in Technicolor…

Donnie Dunagan Visits the Pickwick Theatre on October 30!

He’s Still Alive!!!   He’s Still Alive!!!

Donnie Dunagan, Co-Star in Universal’s 1939 movie “Son Of Frankenstein”, is coming to a Theatre near you!

Born in 1934 to Irish parents fleeing for their lives to America, Donnie Dunagan has had a tremendous impact on his adopted country. Arriving in Houston, then San Antonio, after being born at Sea on a tramp steamer, the little child grew to be a fascinating man.

During the Great Depression in our country, a common entertainment was a talent contest in a small town. Entered in such a contest (Donnie was all of 4 years old!) to win a grand prize of $100, Donnie was spotted by a talent scout for RKO Studios, and his movie career began.

Donnie has many films to his credit, and was a popular child star of the Golden Era of Hollywood. Universal’s “Son of Frankenstein,”  “Tower of London”, and Walt Disney’s “Bambi” (Donnie was the face model for Bambi, and the voice actor for the young deer) are some of his films.

Tragedy struck Donnie’s home life, and Donnie was eventually placed in an orphanage for his young life. Truly, from Rags to Riches to Rags!

Academics and Football were his Savior.

Leaving the orphanage at age 14, Donnie worked and supported himself in a boarding house while attending High School. Determined to be a doctor, but with no funds or adults to help him attend college, he became a star athlete in order to hopefully obtain a scholarship. Donnie’s plan worked, and although he was awarded a scholarship, he was too young at 16 to attend college until the following year.

Our country was still involved in the Korean War at that time, and when it was his turn to report for a draft physical, Donnie’s career with the United States Marine Corps began, with a question from a tall Marine recruiter, who asked “…Son, haven’t I seen you play football? You know, the Marines have a football team…..”, and so, 25 years later, from private to Major, Donnie loved the Corps as home. A Medal of Honor Nominee, with the Navy Cross, 3 Purple Hearts, Two Silver Stars, Three Bronze Stars, Navy Commendation Medal, are among his acheivements for Valor.

Other chapters were included in Donnie’s life as well.

OSS trained Cold War Counter Intellligence Agent, DOD, DIA CIA.

Business Owner.

Rancher.

Between these times, Donnie Graduated from Oxford University in England with a PhD in Mathematical Physics.

Today Donnie is retired and travels to share his adventures with Fans Everywhere.

                                                                     — Official Press Release for Donnie Dunagan

Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Donnie Dunagan during the making of Son of Frankenstein.
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Coming Soon: Son of Frankenstein (1939)!

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(Video courtesy of Robert Harrison.)

The Golden Screening

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The line stretched down the block for our showing of Goldfinger!

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A record turnout of 461 patrons came out for our 50th Anniversary screening of Goldfinger on September 18, 2014. (The film had originally premiered in London on September 17, 1964, but was released in the U.K. on September 18.) Colin Clark of The Ian Fleming Foundation was our special guest and provided the memorabilia seen in the lobby. The main attraction was the Jet Star model plane used in the making of Goldfinger. (Special precautions had to be taken given the extreme value of this prop.)

It was wonderful to have a part of film history on display. In an age where everything is done on a computer, it’s interesting for fans to see a tangible piece of movie magic. (The Jet Star was cleverly used in the film. It was painted differently on each side, and with the simple trick of a reverse camera angle, the plane appeared in a second sequence later in the movie.)  In addition to the jet, Colin brought with him one of the gold bricks used in the Fort Knox set. (These were actually made out of lead.) Though hundreds of these were undoutedly made, we like to believe ours was the one thrown at Oddjob in the movie!

After the prize giveaway, which included an Aston Martin collectible car, Colin was introduced on stage and spoke about the history of the jet and how it came into the possession of The Ian Fleming Foundation. The prop originally had been given to an executive of Lockheed Martin after the film’s production, but it surfaced years later in an antique shop where it was acquired. The Foundation, in fact, owns several Bond props and vehicles, many of which are currently stored in a warehouse in Kankakee, IL.

Colin Clark and his wife Kelly representing The Ian Fleming Foundation. With them is the Jet Star model used in the making of Goldfinger.
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From its very first image of the famous gun barrel sequence, it was clearly evident– based on the audience reaction– that Goldfinger holds up as well today as it did fifty years ago. The crowd applauded, cheered, and laughed at all the appropriate moments. It’s a film that fans love and respect. Our screening offered a unique perspective, though; this was perhaps one of the few theatrical screenings in its half-century history where the first shot of the jet itself received applause!

We are extremely grateful to all those who helped us with this event, including Colin Clark, our house organist Jay Warren, and our golden Bond girls: Allison, Shannon, Monica, and Elizabeth.

For more about the work of The Ian Fleming Foundation and their role in preserving the James Bond legacy, Click Here!

Film Historian Matthew Hoffman with movie hostess Allison…
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Colin Clark discusses the Jet Star– and some Bond trivia!
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The lobby afterward…
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Striking a Bond pose after the show with one of our Bond girls, Elizabeth.
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Season 2: Opening Night Preview!

You can see movies anywhere, but there’s only one place where it becomes an event…

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What: 1964’s Goldfinger (DCP digital restoration)
When: September 18, 2014 * 007:30 PM
Where: Pickwick Theatre, 5 S. Prospect Ave. Park Ridge, IL
Who: Ian Fleming Foundation (represented by Colin Clark) will be our guests;
Organist Jay Warren will perform prelude music beginning at 7:00 PM.
Why: We will be honoring this legendary film’s 50th anniversary.
(Originally released in September 1964.)
We’ll also have a prop used in the film on display in our lobby.
How much: Admission is only $7; $5 for seniors.

Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), the greediest of tycoons, plans on cornering the gold market and blowing up the world economy by way of Fort Knox– “Operation Grand Slam,” he calls it. And there’s only one man who can stop him: Bond, James Bond (Sean Connery). But 007 will have to duck Oddjob’s hat trick and talk his way out of a laser castration in order to do it. “The hotter the danger, the cooler he takes it!” Production designer Ken Adams’ ‘cathedral of gold’ within Fort Knox is one of the many highlights in what many regard as the greatest Bond movie ever made. (Director Guy Hamilton even makes golf look interesting!) A gold-plated classic with style, sophistication, and plenty of action, this was the film that kicked off a cultural phenonmenon which is still going strong today. With Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore (the man-hating pilot who gets ‘turned around’ by Bond’s charm), Harold Sakata, Shirley Eaton, and Bernard Lee. Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn and based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Music by John Barry with unforgettable title song performed by Shirley Bassey.

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Shirley Eaton’s golden girl became one of the most iconic images of ’60s cinema.
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A Pickwick Theatre exclusive! The JetStar jet model, used in the making of Goldfinger, will be on display before our show! (photo courtesy of the Ian Fleming Foundation)
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On Thursday night, one lucky theatregoer will win an Aston Martin DB5… well, sort of.
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Goldfinger: 50th Anniversary Screening!

The Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series is back in action! Join us on Sept. 18 when we kick off our second season with a 50th anniversary screening of 1964’s Goldfinger.

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Goldfinger, starring Sean Connery, turns 50!
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Rare Audio Recording Discovered

The following is a video I made a few years ago. I used a rare audio recording of King Kong co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack, which was in my possession. Anything related to the original King Kong is of great interest to me, so I thought I’d share this with you on our website. It’s a wonderful piece of cinema history, and I hope you will enjoy listening to it. (NOTE: For better image quality, please adjust the resolution under Settings.) ~M.H.

“Searching For My Father, Tyrone Power”: A Review of Romina Power’s Biography

“Try for beauty and truth in all you attempt.” ~ Tyrone Power, Sr., to his son, Tyrone Power III

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Searching For My Father, Tyrone Power, written by his elder daughter, Romina Power, is a work of love that his fans will certainly love. Before the publication of Romina’s memoir/biography, there had only been a couple books on Power that did him any justice. The first was The Films of Tyrone Power by Dennis Belafonte and Alvin H. Marill. Released in 1979, this mostly pictorial record was another in the series of “The Films of…” which Citadel Press published. The second book– also released in 1979– was Fred Lawrence Guiles’ exceptional Tyrone Power: The Last Idol. Since the late ’70s, however, the only major work on Power has been Romina Power’s biography which has had two manifestations. It was first published in Italy several years ago. Unfortunately, unless you read Italian, the book was not available to many fans on this side of the ocean.

However, in May of 2014, the English-language version of Searching For My Father finally made its American debut at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, IL. Limited to a 1,000 copies, this was a first edition available only at centennial events honoring Tyrone Power. Considering that Power himself was an avid collector of first edition books, this was a nice homage to him. (The mass market version is expected to be out by the end of 2014.) Though it took years to see the light of day in this country, I can tell you that it’s been worth the wait. This is a beautifully written and compiled book for the global fans of Tyrone Power.

Though I had been fortunate to see excerpts of the book prior to its release, it wasn’t until weeks after the May 1 event at the Pickwick Theatre that I was able to read the entire book. From the very beginning, the reader is pulled in emotionally. Romina writes of hearing her father’s voice for the first time. Since she had grown up in Italy, she had only seen her father’s films with his voice dubbed. But when Romina bought a record album of him reading the poems of Lord Byron, she was struck not only by the sound of his voice, but by the message he seemed to be conveying to her through the expanse of time. The poem was My Daughter. Though it was Byron addressing his own daughter, Allegra, the words seemed to speak to Romina and to her own sense of loss of not having her father in her life. She was only seven when he died. Romina immediately shared this recording with her younger sister, Taryn. This would be the first of many discoveries and revelations for them. The book is Romina’s decades-long search to find out who her father was through the people who knew him best.

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Though Tyrone Power lived only 44 years, his life touched so many others. He was a worldwide movie star, but over the decades, Hollywood has forgotten him; many years have passed since his death in 1958. So many people from that era have since passed on. Fortunately, Romina Power took the initiative to find out what she could before it was too late. Many of the most important characters from her father’s life were interviewed back in the 1970s and 1980s when names like Henry Fonda were still with us. It’s no easy task by any biographer to try and present a total picture of someone, but what Romina has created is a stunning mosaic made up of many pieces. Each has their own value and points to a larger picture.

The book is structured around dozens of interviews with those who knew him– close friends like Watson Webb or Cesar Romero– and family members like Tyrone’s sister, Anne. It is not your typical, linear biography due to Romina’s jumps in time, but the narrative cross-cutting is chronological and follows the arc of her father’s life and career. What unfolds is a fascinating record and oral history that is a piece of invaluable research. Mixed into the biography is family history in which Romina talks about her acting heritage. There are also her own accounts of visiting places like Ireland, the home of her ancestors on her father’s side, and her poignant and difficult trip to Spain. It is here where her father had died so many years earlier while making Solomon and Sheba. These almost poetic impressions and evocations of place are important to the tone of the book; they give it an intimacy other biographies lack. As readers, we never forget that this is a daughter’s search to understand the father she never really knew.

Power served with distinction as a U.S. Marine during World War II.
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There are recurring traits and themes– most notably Tyrone’s humor and generosity. He was a very giving person, and reading this book I couldn’t help but wish I had known him. Tyrone comes across as someone who was genuinely good– by no means perfect as none of us are, but someone who was able to make time for another despite the demands of his profession.  The characteristics that were so attractive onscreen, which had made him a hero to millions, inspired confidence in those around him off-screen. “His smile conveyed that everything would be okay.”

There are many examples of Tyrone making time for others. Whether it was going to a friend’s synagogue in order to read a passage from Scripture or helping a studio security guard pay for his wife’s operation, these are little-known incidents that reveal the quality of his character. There was a fundamental decency about Tyrone Power. There are so many stories of this generosity that I’m sure most people were never aware of until now.

Make-up test for Nightmare Alley (1947), widely considered to be Power’s finest performance.
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Romina Power is an artist who finds expression through many forms, whether it’s singing or painting or writing. This expression manifests throughout the 320+ pages. She never inserts herself into the interviews, instead allowing the subject to unfold their recollections uninterrupted, but her reactions and how she describes them afterward are heartfelt. There are surprises here, both good and bad. It is a story that is sad and haunting, but also uplifting as we feel Tyrone’s presence– not as a distant memory or as shadows on a movie screen– but as a real presence in the lives of those who knew and loved him.

One of the many strengths of Romina’s book is her inclusion of letters her father had written reflecting his concerns and passions. Many are from his war years and contain thoughts of home. An example that stands out to this reader is one he wrote as a U.S. Marine during World War II. His description of Yokohama, Japan, in the aftermath of its defeat is especially vivid. Tyrone’s humanity comes through in all these letters whether they’re about the war or directed towards a loved one. Additionally, Romina includes a fascinating and revealing “novel” that Power had started between flying missions but which he never finished. In the excerpt that she includes, Tyrone takes on a character named “Fred,” perhaps to obscure the autobiographical nature of his own story. (The Fred Guiles biography also recounts this novel while providing commentary on what Tyrone was saying about himself. Here, Romina includes more of the unbroken text.)

The Black Rose (1950)
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Tyrone Power was a seeker not unlike the character he portrayed in The Razor’s Edge (1946)– a seeker of knowledge and of meaning in life. His intelligence is another trait that recurs throughout the book. We see this in the passionate letters he would write. They harken back to those Tyrone Power, Sr., had written to his wife, Patia, which are also included. A form of expression that seems antiquated in this impersonal age of texting and emails, these articulate letters depict a more literate time when people knew how to write and express themselves. With Tyrone, they reveal someone trying to understand the world and his place in it.

Tyrone Power’s interest in philosophy and religion and his own views on life (which he expressed in an article in 1945) are elaborated. But unlike today’s “stars,” Tyrone never tried to foist his views onto others. He never professed to be an expert on anything political and never used his status as a star to get on a soapbox. But quietly, he was continually searching. It’s also noteworthy to see the kinds of books that influenced his outlook. One in particular was Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 book The Prophet.

Mississippi Gambler (1953)
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Tyrone’s life and the choices he made were also shaped by his relationships. There were many women in his life. It was said by one of those interviewed that Tyrone was “in love with the idea of being in love.” He always needed to have someone in his life, going from one relationship immediately into the next. This led to a great deal of personal turmoil when it became apparent that neither was compatible with the other for the long-term. Despite these frustrations and entanglements, Power never became a bitter man. He never directed anger in the direction of others. There was a lot he kept bottled inside.

We gain a sense of who these women were in his life. In fairness to his three wives– as well as to those he knew in-between– we don’t have the full picture of who they were as individuals, although his first wife, Annabella, seemed to be the most open about her years with Tyrone. There are moments in the telling when its easy to make snap judgments on them, such as when something is said that puts one of them in a negative light. But it’s important to understand that there is another side we’re not seeing completely. It’s evident that these women who were closest to him– Annabella, Linda Christian, and Debbie Minardos– all clearly loved him and were important to him during each stage of his life.

Portrait of Tyrone done by Claire Trevor…
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Remote impressions of her childhood seem to be all that is left for Romina. She recalls a home and a garden where she played, but her father was an elusive figure in these recollections. In her adult consciousness, she reached back into pre-memory, but her father was always just out of reach. He was blocked out perhaps by the trauma of losing him and only attainable in dreams, appearing to his daughter as a figure in white. This sense of loss is deeply moving. It’s the underlying theme that brings a soul to the book. Despite this gap in her personal timeline, there is a degree of solace for Romina- of acceptance of what was taken from her. There is a final realization and understanding that Tyrone still lives through her, through her sister Taryn, and through their brother Ty– as well as through all the people he has touched then and now.

Tyrone Power was a complex man who had to reconcile his public self with his private life. Despite this complexity, you feel closer to understanding who Tyrone Power was when you read Searching For My Father. The reader makes these discoveries with Romina. This is her personal journey towards truth, and in this day when other biographers rely on sensationalism to sell copies, truth can be an elusive thing. Romina’s intent is to tell a sincere story and leave as accurate a record as possible of a man who was more than a movie legend.

~M.H.

Linda Christian, Tyrone, and Romina…
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Romina Power, internationally famous singer/actress/writer…
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Remembering Irene Dunne at the Park Ridge Public Library

“I drifted into acting and drifted out. Acting is not everything. Living is.” ~ Irene Dunne

Irene Dunne with “Jake” on the set of Theodora Goes Wild.
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Irene Marie Dunne (1898-1990) was one of the great Hollywood stars from the 1930s and 1940s. She had been a Broadway actress prior to a career in movies. She appeared opposite some of the most famous screen legends of her day including Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Roberta), Cary Grant (My Favorite Wife), and Charles Boyer (Love Affair), among others. Though she began as a star of dramas and musicals, she is best known today for the screwball comedies she appeared in such as Theodora Goes Wild– a role, ironically, she did not want to do. Throughout a career that spanned 42 films, Irene Dunne received five nominations for Best Actress.

This past Thursday night, the Park Ridge Public Library was honored to have Irene Dunne’s granddaughter, Ann-Marie Streibich, as a special guest prior to our screening of Theodora Goes Wild (1936).

Irene’s great screwball comedy in which she plays a small-town girl who secretly writes a scandalous best-seller!
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After the prize drawing and our introductions, Ann-Marie Streibich came to the podium and spoke at length about her grandmother– “Mimi,” as she has called her ever since she was little. She had lived with Irene in her later years and provided us with wonderful insights into the kind of woman Irene Dunne was, both on and off the screen. In the words of Jimmy Stewart, whom she quoted, she was “a woman of patrician beauty poised with regal grace.”

Ann-Marie, and her brother Mark, who also lived with Irene, have been deeply affected by their grandmother’s presence in their lives. “She spoke of having a purpose greater than herself; of living life ‘in a state of grace’ as though she could live as an instrument by which other lives might be improved through a form of divine will combined with the best of human intent.” Irene Dunne had a positive affect on other people’s spirits– “in a wavelength way beyond charisma.” Ann-Marie told us that Irene’s personal integrity has been a guiding light in her own life. Her Mimi is still with her in a very real way.

5/29/14: A capacity crowd lined up past the front door to see Irene Dunne!
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Ann-Marie spoke of her grandmother’s upbringing in the genteel South. Irene’s was influenced by the philosophy and wisdom of her parents. Both of whom shaped the character of the woman she would become. Her father was a steamboat inspector and her mother taught music, which opened a door to the arts. When her father passed away when she was only eleven, the family re-located to Madison, Indiana, which was the hometown of Irene’s mother. (For more about Madison and these early influences, please refer to our entry, “The Irene Dunne Pilgrimage.”)

Ann-Marie said that Irene eventually left Madison to take a job teaching music in East Chicago. There, she lived with a cousin. “One morning she saw the Chicago Tribune on the breakfast table; she saw an ad for a scholarship for singing at the prestigious Chicago Musical College. She took the ad and went to go prepare for the audition. She won! The head of the school was Dr. Ziegfeld of the Ziegfeld Theatre in Chicago, where she would perform to get stage experience.”

Dr. Ziegfeld gave Irene a letter of recommendation to give to his son, the famous Florenz Ziegfeld of New York City. (This connection helped her two years later when she landed her first role in Hollywood.) It was in New York, too, where she would meet her future husband, Dr. Frank Griffin, in 1924. “He was her partner, co-manager and best friend,” said Ann-Marie. “In the early years of marriage, she was in Hollywood crafting her career and he was a successful businessman in New York City. They were a bi-coastal married couple for six years before he moved to Los Angeles, when it became apparent that her career had taken off.”

A movie star with style and charm: Irene Dunne.
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Irene Dunne’s first major role– and the first of her Best Actress nominations– came for her performance in the Western Cimarron (1931). She became a huge star for RKO but negotiated an independent contract that allowed her to work at other studios. Much in demand throughout the 1930s, Irene appeared in many dramas (‘women’s pictures’ like Back Street and Magnificent Obsession) and musicals (Sweet Adeline). She reprised her stage role of Magnolia in the definitive, 1936 version of Show Boat directed by James Whale. In 1937 she teamed up with Cary Grant for Leo McCarey’s screwball comedy The Awful Truth, and in 1939 she was on an ocean voyage with Charles Boyer in the romantic hit Love Affair, also directed by McCarey. In the 1940s, Irene appeared in two of her best-known films: Life With Father (1947) and I Remember Mama (1948).

Irene Dunne retired from films in 1953. In the wake of her movie stardom, she devoted herself to various Republican Party causes and Catholic charities. In 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her as an alternate delegate to the 12th General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1985 she was recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors. According to Ann-Marie, Irene was thrilled when she was given the lifetime achievement award. This was an event in which she was able to accompany her grandmother.

Some of Irene’s closest friends included Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria, Rosalind Russell, Loretta Young, the Bob Hopes, and others. “I used to sit in my closet peering down through a lighting hole at her guests at the dining table. They could include any or all of these people and of course many, many others. I was often invited to come down during the cocktail portion of a dinner party and say my polite hellos. At the end of the night, there would always be my Mimi singing, to the delight of her friends.”

Irene Dunne received the gifts of life her father had wanted her to have. “With her strong sense of self-reliance and independence, her father’s creed governed her actions for her family and herself until the day she died. When she drew her last breath she indeed fulfilled every word of the ethics of life he whispered to her on his dying breath.”

Ann-Marie clearly takes pride in promoting the sterling image Irene Dunne has left behind. Besides presenting us with stories and answering audience questions, she brought a wonderful photo album. Inside were many movie stills from Irene’s early films. Ann-Marie also had a very old scrapbook that featured many brittle newspaper clippings. Despite its delicate condition, it was important to her that this be shared. I know our audience was very grateful to her for bringing her grandmother to us in this way.

Matthew Hoffman with Irene’s granddaughter, Ann-Marie Streibich.
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Irene Dunne is a name young people should remember. Though she’s been gone for nearly twenty-five years, Irene Dunne can still be a role model to today’s generation– especially young women– because of how she lived her life with dignity and intelligence. Her film career, likewise, is a legacy that can inspire younger people. Besides reminding us of the unique qualities that make a star, the films themselves offer viewers such happiness and cheer. Unfortunately, many of her early films are unavailable on dvd while others have been turned into lesser remakes. But these handicaps shouldn’t stop anyone from rediscovering the many talents of Irene Dunne.

And here is the interview with Radio Hall of Famer Chuck Schaden that I referenced on Thursday night…

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For more on Ann-Marie Streibich’s visit to the Park Ridge Public Library:
http://video.suntimes.com/Irene-Dunne-Film-Legacy-Celebrated-in-Park-Ridge-Illinois-26226310

 

The Irene Dunne Pilgrimage

On May 29, 2014, the Park Ridge Public Library will remember actress Irene Dunne with a visit from her granddaughter, Ann-Marie Streibich. Ann-Marie will speak about Irene’s life and career and will answer questions from the audience prior to a screening of Theodora Goes Wild.

The following was originally published in The Rediscovered movie blog:
http://therediscovered.wordpress.com/

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To walk down West Second Street is to travel back into time. It’s a street like many others in Madison: historic and nostalgic. However, there was one thing that separated it from the other streets. My whole reason for driving 300 miles from Chicago into southeastern Indiana was to see one particular house. It’s not that this house is any more spectacular than others in town. It was simply a matter of who had lived there.

“Could you tell me where the Irene Dunne home is?” The question must’ve been asked enough times because the lady behind the desk in the Visitor’s Center made only the slightest pause. She told me to walk up Vine Street (where the Center is located) and continue past West First Street until I got to Second, then make a left and continue on until I got to the 900 block. The home was within walking distance.

So many homes in the rivertown of Madison are of architectural interest. You see this immediately when you drive into the downtown district. Sections of it seem to be isolated in time. Madison was settled back in 1809 when Indiana was still a territory, so there is a lot of history everywhere you turn. In fact, Madison prides itself in having “the largest historic district in Indiana and the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark District in the US.” One hundred and thirty three blocks of it to be exact. Many stately homes lined the avenues. Dense gardens and mossy statuary filled the backyards. These homes were designed in every style– from Colonial and Georgian to the Italianate and Greek Revival. As I walked down West Second Street, it was like being in small-town Victorian America. For many, I suppose, that conjures up musty tradition. For me, I felt a sense of belonging.

Vintage postcard, 1910.
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I heard music that took me back to what it must’ve been like at the turn of the century. I couldn’t tell at first where it was coming from. I know I didn’t imagine it. It was like the music from an ice cream truck that never came around the corner. It just floated there in the air, in one place. The music was different though. That much I could tell. It was like calliope music. I knew it must’ve been coming from somewhere down by the river.

The Ohio River was only a few blocks away from where I was. A couple blocks to the left and you’d be at the riverfront. Though I never found the source, I remembered the lady in the Visitor’s Center had told me a steamboat was visiting. I gathered the music was from that excursion boat, which must’ve been making its stop on a tour of the river. Before the Civil War, Madison boomed in business. It was a main thoroughfare for riverboats.

The Madison-Indianapolis railroad, which had been built during the 1830s and 1840s, passed through what was then a prosperous town. But after the war, as more avenues in commercial trade opened up, the town slowly diminished in relevance and became overlooked by the decades; its glory days of the steamboat passed into history. The railroad itself is gone now, but one can still find the old tracks in a park near the riverfront. Today, there is a railroad museum, and of course, all the popular attractions of the river. It took the tourist trade of the 20th century to bring the town back.

Vintage postcard, 1916. (The same year Irene graduated high school.)
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Irene Dunne’s father, Joseph J. Dunn, had been a steamboat inspector. Her mother, Adelaide, a talented pianist. Both were natives of Kentucky. It was in Louisville, in 1898, where their only daughter was born. A son, Charles, would follow two years later. The family story goes that one of Irene’s four aunts had suggested her name. The riverboat had been especially important in the life of Irene Dunne. She was almost born on one while the family was on their way to Madison, where Adelaide’s family resided. Instead, the Dunns had to disembark in Louisville. One of Irene’s fondest memories as a child was riding on the steamboat with her father, “Captain Dunn,” as he was known from one end of the Mississippi to the other.

“I will never forget a trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans with Father and Mother in one of the old river boats. We had the captain’s suite and because of my father’s position everything imaginable was done to make us feel important. I was so excited. I loved the boat and the lazy river…”

Her father was a positive influence in her life, and he instilled in her a strong sense of morality– something that she would carry with her for the rest of her life. She was that rare breed who exhibited character both on and off screen. There was a reason why she became known as the “First Lady of Hollywood.” There was always a quiet dignity about her. There were no scandals. No divorces. She stayed married to the same man, Frank Griffin, until his death. She never remarried. She knew the value of marriage and what it meant to make a commitment. Her values can be traced back to the example her father had set.

“Happiness is never an accident,” her father had told her. “It is the prize we get when we choose wisely from life’s great stores. Don’t reach out wildly for this and that and the other thing. You’ll end up empty handed if you do. Make up your mind what you want. Go after it. And be prepared to pay well for it. I hope that you’ll go after the rooted things– the self-respect that comes when we accept our share of responsibility. Satisfying work. Marriage. A home. A family. For these are the things that grow better with time, not less. These things are the bulwarks of happiness.”

Irene was only fourteen when her father died. Afterwards, her mother moved the family to Madison, which is situated about 55 miles northeast of Louisville. In those days, according to a 1910 census, the population was nearly 7,000. Here, Irene’s family lived next door to her grandparents and other relatives on her mother’s side. In these years, Adelaide helped develop her daughter’s singing with music lessons.

While in Madison, Irene was still connected to the river life she had known with her father. Those memories they had shared never left her. A hundred years later you can imagine tracing her steps to Vaughn Drive and the banks of the Ohio. In her time, there were show boats with entertainers that passed through. “We used to sit on the hilltops and wait for them to come ’round the bend in the river with the calliope playing the popular tunes.” Her life would be entwined with the lore of the steamboat years later in her professional career.

Allan Jones and Irene Dunne, Show Boat (1936).
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Of course, there were glaring reminders that times had greatly changed. At the corner of one block was an electrical power station. Further along, in the far distance of the valley, one could see the chimneys of the Clifty Creek Power Plant. It was built in the 1950s with two of the tallest chimneys in the world. It’s not a proud distinction since the power plant is also ranked as one of the dirtiest in the country. But by and large, the neighborhood has been preserved. I learned that the Irene Dunne home was recently sold. We hope it will be left as it is. Her birthplace in Louisville, on the other hand, hasn’t been as fortunate. Her first home at 507 East Gray Street is now a parking lot.

I was very happy when I found the house on West Second Street. The emotion was clearly reflected in the number of pictures I took of the home from my vantage point on the sidewalk. I’m sure that had I been anywhere else, this might’ve caused some curiousity from neighbors, like the man sitting on his steps across the street. But I’m sure they’ve seen it before. It’s a testament to a star’s legacy that there are still fans who turn up to sightsee and take pictures. We continue to reach up to those stars of the past. Even if their names are half-forgotten and their films never play on cable, there is still a glow where they had once been. It shines brighter than what has taken their place in the here and now. I don’t think a hundred years from now anyone will have interest in where Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie grew up.

The Irene Dunne home.
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There was a plaque near the doorway that read: “Homeplace Irene Dunn 1898-1990.” That was not an error because her family name is originally spelled Dunn; the “e” was first associated with the name around the time of high school. Besides the house and the street, I also took a photo of the nearby tree that towered overhead. I pictured that aged tree a hundred years younger when it stood before the Dunn household.

One of the few things still living from a century ago…
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“We lived a leisurely life in that small town. There was time for everything. Time for me to dream my dreams under the Heaven Tree that stood in our yard, time for music around the piano in the evenings, time for reading wonderful books, time for friendship.”

When I returned to the Visitor’s Center, I stopped in the adjacent research library where the custodians provided me with a file on Irene Dunne. There were many press clippings and articles, including a copy of an article in Modern Screen (December 1938) called: “Irene Dunne’s True Life Story With Her Exclusive Childhood Pictures.” In the folder I saw the business card of Wes Gehring, author of the most recent biography on Irene called Irene Dunne: The First Lady of Hollywood (2006). When I was finished, the archivist asked if I was from out of town. I mentioned that I was from Park Ridge, Illinois, and then he told me he had lived in Norwood Park in Chicago. After I left I realized that this gentleman must’ve been Ron Grimes, co-author of one of the books in the “Images of America” series. He had written a book called Madison, and I remember reading that he now worked in Madison’s research library. Ron had suggested I talk to the owner of the Ohio Theatre, who himself was an avid collector and admirer of Irene Dunne.

The Ohio Theatre
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The Ohio Theatre can be found at 105 E. Main Street in the heart of the historic downtown district. It was originally built in 1938. Irene Dunne had returned to Madison that year for the grand opening of the theatre. But its days of premieres were now in danger. The theatre is in need of a renovation. In fact, there is a current “Save the Ohio” campaign with the goal of upgrading the theatre. They hope to gather enough funds to convert the film projection to digital. I spoke to the owner, Tony, who, like the other townspeople I had met, was very friendly and helpful. He mentioned the support the town had received from Irene’s grandson, Mark Shinnick, who had donated some of the items to the historical society. I mentioned to Tony that I was planning to have Irene’s granddaughter– Mark’s sister, Ann-Marie– as a special guest in Park Ridge in 2014.

I asked him whether he currently had any Irene Dunne items on display in the lobby, but he did not. He does have a large collection of Irene Dunne memorabilia, but in my eyes his greatest contribution to the memory of Irene Dunne is not a prop or personal item. It’s the marker in front of his theatre. It was installed in 2006 by the Indiana Historical Bureau and the Friends of Irene Dunne. The text reads:

IRENE DUNNE

Born in Louisville, Kentucky 1898; after father’s death, moved with family to Madison. Graduated from Madison High School 1916. After voice training in Indianapolis and Chicago, began singing professionally. Won lead in road show of Florenz Ziegfeld’s Show Boat 1929. Began Hollywood career 1930; in 42 films; nominated for five Academy Awards…

Dunne maintained ties with Madison, which has honored her; she helped with restoration of Broadway Fountain 1976. She received Laetare Medal from University of Notre Dame 1949. President Dwight Eisenhower named her an alternate delegate to United Nations General Assembly 1957; was Kennedy Center Honors Awardee 1985. Died 1990 in Los Angeles.

Some of those 42 films include The Awful Truth (1937), My Favorite Wife (1940), and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). When she was acknowledged in 1985 at the Kennedy Center Honors, James Stewart told the audience that Irene was the only actress to be nominated three times for three different genres. Unlike some of her equally talented contemporaries, Irene could shine in period melodramas, screwball comedies, or modern musicals. My personal favorite is the 1936 version of Show Boat. I had played this musical on film when I operated the LaSalle Bank Theatre revival house in Chicago. For the film, Irene Dunne recreated the role of Magnolia Hawks, which she had played in the first road tour of Show Boat in 1929. The tour proved to be her catapult for Hollywood. Those who are familiar with the film will always think of her when they hear “You are Love.”

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Downtown Madison is a place of carriage rides, street performers, confectioners, and ice cream parlors. It reminded me of Galena, Illinois, near the Iowa border. There is much to see here– so much that I almost didn’t notice what was directly under my feet. Outside the theatre box office was a Hollywood Walk of Fame-style star on the sidewalk. It commemorated the filming of Some Came Running. This 1950s melodrama starred Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and was directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli. The film had been shot in Madison, but it was only an afterthought to me. Perhaps if I had more time, I would’ve visited the locations seen in that film.

Looking for movie locations is one thing, but I was more interested in the things that made Irene Dunne the person she became. Throughout her lifetime, she reflected those tenets of her Christian faith with kindness, generosity, and charity to others. This is a woman who was awarded the Laetare Medal by Notre Dame, which is the highest honor given to a Catholic lay person. Practically no one in the entertainment world is given such an honor.

And so I visited St. Michael the Archangel Church where she had attended Mass with her family. Like the theatre, it was in need of a renovation. It’s no longer active as a place of worship. I thought back to the days when people like Irene made up the congregation that filed through its open doors. Founded in 1837, St. Michael’s is one of many churches in town. In Irene’s time, the church was a respected institution– providing a framework intended to uplift society. She was strongly influenced by its moral guidance and by the spiritual comfort it provided. A hundred years later, we’ve become a more secularized society with modern definitions of family and God, so it’s harder for some to appreciate the value of religion as it was then in small-town America.

St. Michael’s
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Another church I visited was the First Baptist Church, which was established in 1807. Built in the style of the Greek Revival, it was located at the corner of Vine and West Third Street– kitty-corner from John Paul Park (named after the founder of Madison). Like St. Michael’s, the doors of the church were locked, but there were still services here every Sunday. The well-maintained garden and the fresh flowers that hung on the door attested to the fact that it still flourished. It was here where for the first time Irene earned some money for her singing.

First Baptist Church
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Intersecting with Main Street is Broadway. In the middle of it, you will find one of the town’s most striking monuments: The Broadway Fountain. The fountain dates back to 1876 when it made its debut during the Philadelphia Centennial. It was later presented to Madison in 1886. I sat on a bench in front of it for a time with my mother in the late afternoon. Like the town itself, one felt a sense of comfort being there. The Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church was across the street from us on our left. Though it was quiet when we were there, the fountain is often the center of activity, whether it’s a farmer’s market or a Dixieland concert. In the 1970s Irene Dunne helped restore the fountain with a $10,000 donation. It is through her generosity as well as through the contributions of others that the statue still spouts water. And visitors such as myself can still make wishes with lucky pennies.

The Broadway Fountain
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We stayed at the Hillside Inn, which overlooks the downtown section. It was a wonderful view from the third floor balcony. Off in the distance you could see the general area where her home is situated, surrounded by other homes that have changed little. Steeples and spires could clearly be seen. Closer to the inn, down the steep hill below, were the old frame buildings. Pick-up trucks and motorcycles were always riding through. Around the bend from the inn was Telegraph Hill where, through the years, children have gone sledding in the winter. At one end of the panoramic view before me I could see the Ohio Bridge stretching across the river into Milton, Kentucky. On the other end, in the direction of West Main Street, there was the smoke stack which, like an active volcano, continuously released a slow-moving cloud.

Main Street in Madison
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At dusk, a haze settled over the valley. It was the kind of active view you could watch for hours while reflecting on the history. As the night slowly descended on the rivertown, the old buildings of Madison stood in silent silhouette like black ghosts. The hum of cicadas, which seemed to blanket the residential section, took on a different sound when heard from above; it seemed more like a roaring mass with the individual call drowned out. The atmosphere of the environment soaked in. I became more attuned to the world as it once was a century ago.

You feel a presence in that town. Irene Dunne’s been gone for twenty-three years, and her final resting place is on the other side of the country in California, yet part of her is still there. When she died in 1990, she took with her all those happy experiences she had as a child and as a teenager: riverfront walks, 4th of July celebrations, social dances, high school drama performances, moonlit evenings under the Heaven Tree… and so many other memories lost now in time.

Something had compelled me to come here, to drive five hours through Indiana into the Ohio River Valley. By doing so, I gained a better understanding of a time and place that shaped Irene Dunne. She is still remembered and loved by people generations removed. I don’t think anything is greater than being remebered like that. It’s a special kind of legacy to leave behind.

Irene Dunne, Sweet Adeline (1934)
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There are only two books on Irene Dunne, but both are insufficient as biographies. One is a bio-bibliography that is rather short in length, and the other is not very well written. (Dunne merits a Scott Eyman-type of author who can write the kind of narrative she deserves.) Instead, we encourage you to visit the ultimate Internet source on all things Irene Dunne: http://www.irenedunnesite.com/