Irene Dunne was an American film actress and singer of the 1930s and 1940s. Dunne was nominated five times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her performances in Cimarron, Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, Love Affair and I Remember Mama. Born Irene Marie Dunn in Louisville, Kentucky to Joseph Dunn, a steamboat inspector for the United States government, and Adelaide Henry, a concert pianist/music teacher from Newport, Kentucky, Irene Dunn would later write "No triumph of either my stage or screen career has ever rivalled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi on the river boats with my father." She was only eleven when her father died in 1909. She saved all of his letters and often remembered and lived by what he told her the night before he died: "Happiness is never an accident. It is the prize we get when we choose wisely from life's great stores."
After her father's death, she, her mother and younger brother Charles moved to her mother's hometown of Madison, Indiana. Dunn's mother taught her to play the piano as a very small girl. According to Dunn, "Music was as natural as breathing in our house." Dunne was raised as a devout Roman Catholic. Nicknamed "Dunnie," she took piano and voice lessons, sang in local churches and high school plays before her graduation in 1916.
She earned a diploma to teach art, but took a chance on a contest and won a prestigious scholarship to the Chicago Musical College. She had hopes of becoming an opera singer, but did not pass an audition with the Metropolitan Opera Company.