Golden Age Actress Irene Dunne Discusses How Faith in God Brought ‘Joy and Peace of Mind, Beyond the Power of Words’
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Irene Dunne rose to fame in the Golden Age of Hollywood through a wide range of classic movies such as AWFUL TRUTH and MY FAVORITE WIFE.
Dunne was best known for her comedic roles, and her career in Hollywood spanned over 30 years.
However, Dunne’s joy on-screen was not a shallow front, but motivated by her faith in God.
“At an evening party in my home several months ago, a fascinated group gathered around former Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce, who held her audience, not by brilliant discourse on politics or the theatre, but by her eloquent statements on her personal religious convictions,” Dunne wrote in 1951. “An elderly gentleman smoked his cigar and listened quietly. When the party broke up, he turned to me and, shaking his head admiringly, he said, ‘You see, she’s just too smart not to be on the safe side!’
“I was amused, but later on, as I went about ashtrays and putting out lights, I thought again about my guest’s remark. What he doubtless meant to say was, ‘She’s too smart not to be on God’s side,'” she added. “How hard it is for most of us to talk about our religious feelings, I mused. But to tell others about them, to share your treasure, is so important, for surely the best way to keep your religion is to give it away freely.”
Dunne admits that she struggled with how to best share the truth that she held so dearly.
“Now I am no theologian, no scholar, not even a writer. I ask myself, ‘How can I find a simple, uncomplicated, sincere way of telling others about the richness, satisfaction, and joy that my religion brings to my life, so that they, too, may desire to open the door and let God in?'” she asked.
“Then it occurred to me it was something like seeing your friends for the first time since your return from a wonderful trip—let’s call this a heavenly trip. You had such a glorious time, you’ve already sent post cards, saying, ‘Wish you were here.’ If you have the gift of words, your description of the place will make them want to go,” she added. “Even if you have not the gift, they will note that your trip has refreshed and restored you; your step is buoyant, your heart is light. The place where you have been, and still reside in secret, has done so much for you that all who come in contact with you will yearn to go there too. They want their cup filled to overflowing as is yours.”
However humble, Dunne noted that her testimony still contains the power to transform those who hear how God changed her life.
“The wonderful part of this heavenly trip is that everyone can go. Of course, the trip will entail sacrifices. Pleasures nearer home may have to be foregone; perhaps what may seem like valuable time will be taken away from the office or from social engagements. And the journey may take a long time. It all depends upon the person and the way he chooses to go about it,” Dunne said. “For my own part, I can recount for you no dramatic stories en route. I did not, like Saul of Tarsus, suddenly awaken to find myself already in the Heavenly Place. Nor did tragedy or affliction force me to be towed in, or sirened in by ambulance, as has happened to so many. Neither did I have to search long and hard for the right road as did Thomas Merton who tells about it in ‘The Seven Storey Mountain.’
“No, I was placed on the road at an early age, and it was straight and narrow and pleasant, though I suppose I made a few detours here and there and from time to time I took more rest than was necessary,” Dunne continued.
Although Dunne grew up with the Catholic faith all around her, she said that her realization of the Bible’s true power came about more gradually.
“The process by which I began to be happily aware of its enormous benefits to myself and others and to consciously try to practice it in my daily living, has come about very slowly, but I hope, just as surely,” Dunne said. “Folks often ask me wonderingly how I have managed to keep my balance in the tinsel world in which I have lived. It is no wonder that those who are suddenly smothered in unaccustomed luxury and adulation are sometimes inclined to lose their sense of values and are tempted to play God themselves. Bishop Fulton Sheen says: ‘Twentieth Century man who thinks he is a God has to be psychoanalyzed to find out why he feels like the devil.'”
Dunne also noted that God not only taught her to rely on Him in the tragedies of life but also in the day-to-day experiences.
“It is not alone in the crises of life that God has sustained and strengthened me, but also in day-to-day living problems, the unending decisions and petty annoyances. Most of us have grave responsibilities to our marriage and our children,” Dunne said. “I, for one, wouldn’t have the nerve to attempt to bring up my daughter without God’s help. To do so would seem to be the most incredible egotism!”
“Out of my heart and my own experience, I know that God has infinite treasure to bestow. The joy and peace of mind that accompany love of God and faith in Him are beyond the power of words. Because of my religion, I know that I have lived a richer, fuller, more satisfying life than would have been possible without it,” she added. “With all its hardships, the journey is worthwhile. Faith is a wonderful resort. How I wish you were here—if you’ve missed it!”