James Dunn (James Howard Dunn)

James Dunn

Born in New York City, James Dunn was the son of a Wall Street stockbroker. He joined his father in his business for three years. Dunn started his entertainment career in vaudeville before progressing to films at Paramount’s Astoria studios in the late 1920s starting as an extra. After a gap where he appeared in stock companies, he returned to films. He was signed by Fox in 1931, making 22 films and several more on loan-out. James Dunn made a strong first impression with his first role, in director Frank Borzage’s Bad Girl. He went on to make several formula films, including Society Girl (1932), in which he played a boxer distracted by his girlfriend (Peggy Shannon) and whose manager, played by Spencer Tracy in a rare supporting role, walks out in frustration; and Hello, Sister! (1933), a butchered recutting and partial reshooting of Erich von Stroheim’s film Walking Down Broadway with Boots Mallory and ZaSu Pitts. Dunn’s early successes included four Shirley Temple films in 1934, Baby Take a Bow, Stand Up and Cheer!, Change of Heart and Bright Eyes. The roles that followed did nothing to further his career, and during the late 1930s his prospects were further diminished by a battle with alcoholism. In 1945 his performance in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He portrayed an alcoholic but good-natured Irish father, a dreamer whose presence brought joy to those around him even though he was never a success in the traditional sense.

His success was short-lived and by the beginning of the 1950s, James Dunn was unemployed, bankrupt, and once again depending on alcohol. After 1950, he appeared in only three feature films, but continued working in television until his death. From 1954 to 1956, he appeared in the NBC sitcom It’s a Great Life as Earl Morgan, the deadbeat brother-in-law of the main character Amy Morgan (played by Frances Bavier) who was always concocting “get-rich-quick” schemes. James Dunn was married three times. His first, to Edna O’Lier, ended in divorce. He was married to the actress Frances Gifford from 1938 until 1942. He married his third wife, Edna Rush in 1945, who survived him at his death in 1967 at the age of 65 from complications following stomach surgery in Santa Monica. James Dunn has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his contributions to motion pictures at 6555 Hollywood Boulevard, and television at 7010 Hollywood Boulevard.

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  • November, 02, 1901
  • USA
  • New York, New York


  • September, 01, 1967
  • USA
  • Santa Monica, California

Cause of Death

  • complications from surgery


  • Cremated

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