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Thank you, Irene Dunne

The late film star
left and indelible mark

By Amy Tarr
Guest Writer

When I get into a conversation about classic movies among strangers, someone usually jumps in to ask, “Who is your favorite movie star?” I have to tell you that when I say “Irene Dunne,” it never fails to get the response “Irene Who?”
The more I became a devoted fan of Irene Dunne, the more I wanted to “tell the world” why I am grateful and loyal to her. Pleasantly, when I was asked to write this column, I realized my prayers had been answered, and the time had come for me to share a little bit of my story.

Debra Maylum

I have cultivated from Irene Dunne what it means to exceed in whatever you choose to do, and to endure the consequences that may go along with it. For me, with her star-studded glamour, she is all that classic Hollywood signifies. I also acknowledge that she was not just another pretty face manufactured out of Hollywood cinema, for I have learned far more from Irene (Dunne) Griffin, than I ever imagined possible!
To me, the conventional woman who was Irene (Dunne) Griffin was just as glamorous, if not more, on the inside as the enchanting movie star on the outside (with a wonderful flair of humor, I must add!). Mrs. Griffin is my source of inspiration, because of all that she held steadfast in her way of living. I continually admire her marriage to Dr. Francis Griffin, her example of charity, and deep-rooted faith in God and prayer.
Irene Dunne captivated me while watching her 1944 film, “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Subsequently, when I first started collecting old movie magazines, I grabbed every one I could that had articles pertaining to Irene Dunne. I became so fanatical wondering on what life was like behind the Griffin door: Was it just as glamorous as in the movies? Most people nowadays would say “No.”
As for me, I quickly became interested in who she really was, and her family. I found that there was more to “Irene Dunne” than the glittering actress. She was a person just like me! She liked chicken a la king, lemon meringue pie, cookies and milk, shoes, playing golf, perfumes, gardening, etc. These are little informative things from which I read in that 1944 article.
I also treasure reading the article “Pictures of Mother,” written in 1948 by then Mary Frances Griffin. (My collection of articles spans from 1931 to 2006, which includes the March issue of the RoundAbout.)
After reading all that I have about her, it feels as though I have personally known her, in a divine way. I can affirm that I’m quite informed about Irene Dunne the actress. Although, I do learn interesting details all the time thanks to my Irene Dunne Society historian, Joe Schmidt.
Nowadays, my quest is continuing to learn more about Irene (Dunne) Griffin, the human being, for those kinds of articles are few and far between, because within those, she had revealed her faith. Somehow, that stood out to me more than anything, and I became fascinated.
Then I set out thinking, “I could never be like Irene Dunne, and I could never become Catholic!” In fact, the whole time God knew I would admire her immeasurably, and knew that her source of fame would be a way of getting me on the path He chose for me. By the first Mass I attended to “test the waters,” I suddenly began to realize who Irene Dunne Griffin was within. Then I started to become aware of what God was trying to tell me!
Wouldn’t you believe God used her as a divine instrument, with the purpose of getting me where He wants me: Yes, in the Catholic Church! One thing I am sure of, she is a saint – she has to be, or I wouldn’t be doing the things I am today. I only hope there is something more I can do to continue her legacy for future generations.
In addition, I’d like to express my appreciation to the city of Madison and the Irene Dunne committee for the upcoming ceremony on May 19 to dedicate an Indiana Historic Marker in her honor.
I often reflect on how her legacy touches other fans everywhere because they speak of her modesty, dignity, charity and excellence in every aspect of her life. As a result, each facet of her principle seems to awaken that same kind of decency in each person – in a unique way that makes them feel significant. I often convey to myself how uplifting it is, knowing that same legacy is still alive in those hearts of her family and friends.
Lastly, I remember writing my first letter to Irene’s adopted daughter, Mary Francis Griffin Gage. I wrote so many thoughts and questions, but I recall wanting to tell her that if I was ever allowed the chance to meet her mother face to face and could only say one thing, I’d simply say: “Thank you.”
For all that being said, I wish to leave you with these words that go through my mind quite often: “Thank you, Irene Dunne. You are a blessing.”

• Amy Tarr resides in Greenwood, Ind., and will display some of her vast Irene Dunne memorabilia at the Ohio Theatre in Madison on May 19 as part of the 4 p.m. marker dedication ceremony. Tarr wrote this column for the RoundAbout. Tarr also has arranged with Father John Meyer for a 7 a.m. Mass Intention to be said May 19 at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in downtown Madison in honor of the late film star, who spent much of her youth in Madison. For more on the Irene Dunne legacy, visit the archived articles page for March 2006 at our website: www.RoundAboutMadison.com.

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