In 1985, Irene Dunne was one of the 5 honorees at the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. Unfortunately, although she had travelled to Washington for the event, Irene, aged 86,was unable to attend and was in fact hospitalized. Her daughter and grandchildren were there.
With clips shown from Penny Serenade,The Awful Truth,Show Boat,I Remember Mama, a touching tribute to Irene was paid by James Stewart:
“…..She pulled off a hit musical one year,starred in a drama the next year, and a comedy the year after that – and being Oscar nominated all 3 times. Irene did that and no one has ever matched her..”
“…..that’s where she belongs, on the honor role of America’s finest artists.”
“Flo Ziegfeld spotted her and cast her in the lead of his road company of Show Boat. Hollywood was quick to claim her – she arrived expecting to sing. Instead she gained stardom as queen of the weepies.
My status, she said,has been achieved through tears,so for my career, I cry.
Rising above sentimentality,her regal grace became her trademark.
Then she got to do what she loved best – in Show Boat,her exuberance was irresistable.
The studio said, try comedy. She was unsure at first but revealed a deft comedy touch. When she teamed up with Cary Grant,here was sophisticated comedy at its best.
The sum of her gifts came together in a role – the immigrant wife in I Remember Mama, which brought her her 5th Oscar nomination.
Through it all,the singing, the wisecracks,the laughter and the tears,Irene Dunne always brought a special grace. It came from her heart to ours.”
To end the tribute,Frederica von Stade sang “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” beautifully, but much better to simply have screened Irene singing the song in Roberta.