Irene Purcell

Irene Mary Purcell (August 7, 1896 – July 9, 1972) was an American film and stage actress, who appeared mostly in comedies, and later married Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr., the wealthy grandson of the founder of S. C. Johnson & Son.

Irene Purcell
Irene Purcell with doll (1939)
Irene Mary Purcell

(1896-08-07)August 7, 1896
DiedJuly 9, 1972(1972-07-09) (aged 75)
Years active1929-1932
Spouse(s)Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr. (m. 1941-1972) (her death)
ChildrenSamuel Curtis Johnson Jr.
Karen Johnson Boyd


She appeared opposite William Haines in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's romantic comedy film Just a Gigolo (1931), directed by Jack Conway and adapted from the 1930 play Dancing Partner, by David Belasco.[1] The same year, she played the lead role in Sam Wood's romantic comedy The Man in Possession, adapted from H. M. Harwood's play of the same name. She was paired opposite Reginald Owen and Robert Montgomery.[2] Purcell starred alongside Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in the comedy The Passionate Plumber (1932), directed by Edward Sedgwick.[3] A French-language version of the latter film, Le Plombier amoureux, was filmed by MGM at the same time.[4]

In The Passionate Plumber she played a socialite, who enlists a plumber to act as her lover, to make her partner jealous. It was based on the play Dans sa candeur naïve by Jacques Deval. It was the second screen adaptation of the play, following the 1928 silent film The Cardboard Lover. James L. Neibaur wrote in his book The Fall of Buster Keaton that "the entire production seems off-balance".[3] Despite not so favorable reviews, the film was a commercial success.[5] The New York Times wrote that Purcell "fits the mood of the comedy nicely".[6] She was a part of a June 9, 1935 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, based on the 1930 play Candle-Light.[1][7] Her notable Broadway appearances were in Jean Furguson Black's comedy Penny Wise (1937),[8] J. Frank Davis' The Ladder (1926),[9] Elmer Harris' comedy The Great Necker (1928),[10] Dillard Long's comedy A Good Woman, Poor Thing (1933),[11] Lynn Starling's comedy The First Apple (1933),[12] Frederic and Fanny Hatton's comedy Dancing Partner (1930),[13] and Martin Flavin's Cross Roads (1929).[14]

Purcell was a trustee of Ripon College and member of Governor's Council on the Arts (Wisconsin). She also served as an adviser to Johnson Foundation.[15]

Personal life

On October 4, 1941, she married Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr., president of S. C. Johnson & Son, at his apartment in Chicago. The couple had met for the first time in 1938 in Australia. Post-marriage they lived at Wingspread designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.[16] She died in Racine, Wisconsin in 1972.[17]


  1. Taves 2006, p. 40.
  2. Taves 2006, p. 35.
  3. Neibaur 2010, p. 58.
  4. Taves 2006, p. 159.
  5. Neibaur 2010, p. 60.
  6. "Movie Review – The Passionate Plumber (1932) – Her Cardboard Lover". The New York Times. March 12, 1932. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  7. Taves 2006, p. 64.
  8. Hischak 2009, p. 356.
  9. Hischak 2009, p. 244.
  10. Hischak 2009, p. 178.
  11. Hischak 2009, p. 174.
  12. Hischak 2009, p. 143.
  13. Hischak 2009, p. 103–104.
  14. Hischak 2009, p. 98.
  15. "Irene Purcell Dies: An Actress In '30's". The New York Times. July 10, 1972. p. 34. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  16. "Wax Magnate Weds Actress". The Milwaukee Journal. October 7, 1941. p. 8. Retrieved August 16, 2015 via Google News Archive.
  17. Neibaur 2010, p. 61.


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