Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (3) | Trade Mark (1) | Trivia (15) | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 2 November 1901New York City, New York, USA
Date of Death 1 September 1967Santa Monica, California, USA  (following abdominal surgery)
Birth NameJames Howard Dunn
Nickname Jimmy
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (2)

James Dunn worked on the stage, in vaudeville and as an extra in silent movies before he was signed by Fox in 1931. His first movie with Fox was 1931's Sob Sister (1931). While at Fox, he appeared with Shirley Temple in her first three features: Baby Take a Bow (1934), Stand Up and Cheer! (1934) and Bright Eyes (1934). Dunn's screen character was usually the boy next door or the nice guy. In 1935 musicals at the new 20th Century-Fox were out and Dunn would move to the "B" list, from which he would never return. In The Payoff (1935) he plays the nice guy newspaper columnist whose wife ruins his career. By the late 1930s he was drinking heavily and became unemployable. He would appear in small roles in films during the early 1940s, but those parts were few and far between. In 1945 he was able to make a comeback and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), but his rejuvenated career would not continue. By 1951 he would again be unemployed and bankrupt. Television would later supply some work and he would be a regular on the series It's a Great Life (1954).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Versatile actor of stage, screen and television, James Howard Dunn was the only child of a prominent New York stockbroker and homemaker. He grew up and attended public schools in New Rochelle, New York. Dunn's interest in pursuing a career in acting became apparent when he started playing hooky from high school, preferring to work as an extra in various studios scattered throughout the city. His father, Ralph, had different ideas for him and took him into his brokerage firm as a security salesman. However, Dunn continued to moonlight as an extra or in small parts whenever he had the opportunity. In 1927, he had a bit part in the Broadway play "Nightstick", so he could always claim his career started on Broadway. For three years he honed his acting skills in stock companies in Englewood, New Jersey and Winnipeg, Manitoba. He had gotten down to one suit and hadn't eaten in three days when he was given the opportunity to make a screen test. As a result he was awarded a long term contract with Fox studio. His big break came when director Frank Borzage chose him to play the young newlywed in "Bad Girl". He received outstanding reviews from the critics and became a star, virtually overnight. In 1934, he helped introduce film audiences to Shirley Temple as he sang and tap danced with her in her first major picture, "Stand Up and Cheer". That same year he also appeared with her in "Baby, Take a Bow" and "Bright Eyes". Between 1931 and 1935, Dunn made over 20 pictures for Fox and a few more on loan out. In 1935, Fox merged with Twentieth Century and bought out Dunn's contract. His career soon began to wane as he was forced to work freelance. At the same time, Dunn was becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol, earning him a reputation as an erratic, irresponsible performer, further diminishing his employment prospects. His decline from top box office draw to B movie actor was almost as startling as his meteoric rise to fame had been. Nevertheless, he usually managed to keep working, whether it be on stage, in radio, or in low-budget "poverty row films." In 1945 Dunn was given a second chance at movie stardom when young director, Elia Kazan chose him for the role of "Johnny Nolan" in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". His sensitive portrayal of the gentle, alcoholic father earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The award, however, failed to reignite his movie career and he made few substantial films after that. One notable exception was 1947's "Killer McCoy", starring Mickey Rooney, in which he again played the role of a ne'er-do-well, but sympathetic alcoholic father. With the advent of television, new opportunities opened up for Dunn, as he appeared in literally scores of productions during the '50s and '60s. He acted in most of the classic anthology series such as "G.E. Theater and "Playhouse 90", and guest starred in many of the most popular series of the era, including "Route 66", "The Fugitive" and "Ben Casey". Between 1954 and 1956, he starred in the sitcom, "It's a Great Life", as the irascible Uncle Earl. The show also featured Frances Bavier, as his long-suffering sister, Amy Morgan. Dunn continued to work in television, almost up to the time of his death in 1967. He is one of the relatively few actors to have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures and one for television.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Rhonda Brown

Spouse (3)

Edna Rush (7 March 1945 - 1 September 1967) (his death)
Frances Gifford (25 December 1937 - 16 January 1942) (divorced)
Edna O'Lier (? - ?) (first wife) (divorced)

Trade Mark (1)

A very engaging smile

Trivia (15)

Son of a stockbroker.
Appeared on a postage stamp (with Anne Revere) commemorating winners of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Stepson named William Pick from marriage to Edna Rush.
After leaving his father's brokerage firm, Dunn worked as a lunch wagon salesman. He earned $10,000.00 within three months, but lost it all in the stock market within four weeks.
He suffered a multiple rib separation injury when caught off guard during a fight scene, during the filming of Society Girl.
During the filming of Hold Me Tight, he offered to take the place of an extra, who had suddenly become ill, thereby assuring the man would receive his day's wages of $7.50.
In 1933, he was engaged to actress Lona Andre. She cancelled the wedding at the last minute, fearing marriage would hurt her career.
In 1937, Dunn, an avid and accomplished pilot who owned his own plane, helped federal agents by flying them and their prisoner to New Orleans. He returned to Los Angeles before the studio executives knew he had even gone.
In 1951, Dunn filed for bankruptcy, which was in part due to the fact that he had invested a large amount of money in a Broadway show that flopped.
Dunn's mother, Jessie, took control of his finances throughout most of his early career, saving his money and investing it in real estate, stocks and bonds. She turned most of his assets over to him when he married Frances Gifford. However, as an extra security measure, she had established a trust fund for him which he would not be able to access until he turned 50. At that time, he would be eligible to receive a substantial monthly income, for the remainder of his life.
In 1936, Dunn participated in the Ruth Chatterton Air Derby; the course of the race spanned from Cleveland to Los Angeles.
Following a traditional funeral service, his remains were cremated and the ashes were scattered at sea.
Although he was very grateful for having won the Oscar, he later believed it to be a jinx, stating that after his wife, Edna had removed it from the mantel and hid it, his employment opportunities began to pick up.
Despite his personal problems, Dunn was well liked by co-workers and others who knew him well. He was invariably described as having a very friendly, modest and good natured personality. Elia Kazan remarked "..he was an awfully sweet, nice man...When I met him I said 'this is it, this is Johnny Nolan, himself'.".
On Christmas in 1935, Dunn fulfilled Shirley Temple's wish that Santa Claus visit her house by airplane, delivering presents to her via parachute.

Personal Quotes (4)

[on hearing his name announced at the Academy Awards]I trampled several people and bumped Ann Revere's head getting to the aisle, and all I could say was "Gee, not me!". I walked backstage into a corner and started to cry.
[after Shirley Temple told cast members of Bright Eyes she was going to marry him when she grew up]That makes it 100%. Up to now Shirley was the only girl in Hollywood to whom at one time or another I hadn't been reported engaged.
[referring to his overnight success in Bad Girl] It was all just a mistake. I had started at the top and couldn't possibly work my way in any other direction than down.
[commenting on his relationship with Shirley Temple] She's a grand baby, sweet, nice, wholesome, never fresh. I think she's swell and one of the things of which I'm most proud is that Shirley thinks I'm all right too.

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