James Dunn (actor)

James Howard Dunn (November 2, 1901 – September 1, 1967)[1][2] was an American actor. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the romantic drama film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1946)[3] and received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Early in his career, he was billed as Jimmy Dunn.[4]

James Dunn
Dunn in 1955.
James Howard Dunn

(1901-11-02)November 2, 1901
DiedSeptember 1, 1967(1967-09-01) (aged 65)
Years active1929–1966
Spouse(s)Edna O'Lier (m. 19??; div. 19??)
Frances Gifford (m. 1937; div. 1942)
Edna Rush (m. 1945; his death 1967)


Born in New York City, 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 shot at Paramount's Astoria studios in Queens, New York during the late 1920s starting as an extra.[5] 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 as a loan-out.[5]

Dunn made a strong first impression with his first role, in director Frank Borzage's Bad Girl.[5] He made 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 Baby Take a Bow, Stand Up and Cheer!, Change of Heart and Bright Eyes (all 1934).[5] The roles that followed did nothing to advance his career, and during the late 1930s, his prospects were diminished by a battle with alcoholism.

His performance in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He portrayed an alcoholic but good-natured Irish-American 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, he 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 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 always was concocting "get-rich-quick" schemes. Dunn also made appearances in many other television programs in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly in guest-starring roles.

Personal life

Dunn was married three times. His first, to Edna O'Lier, ended in divorce.[6] 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, California.


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. Both were dedicated on February 8, 1960.[7]


Year Title Role Notes
1929 In the Nick of Time Short, as Jimmy Dunn
1930 Believe It or Not Reporter Short, Uncredited
Barefoot Days Short
Tom Thumbs Down Short, as Jimmy Dunn
The Varsity Show Short, as Jimmy Dunn
1931 Bad Girl Eddie Collins
Sob Sister Garry Webster
Over the Hill Johnny Shelby as an Adult
1932 Dance Team Jimmy Mulligan
Society Girl Johnny Malone
Handle with Care Bill Gordon
1933 Sailor's Luck Jimmy Fenimore Harrigan
Hello, Sister! Jimmy
Hold Me Tight Chuck
The Girl in 419 Dr. Daniel French
Arizona to Broadway Smiley Wells
Jimmy and Sally Jimmy O'Connor
Take a Chance Duke Stanley
1934 Hold That Girl Barney Sullivan
Stand Up and Cheer! Jimmy Dugan
Change of Heart Mack McGowan
Baby Take a Bow Eddie Ellison
365 Nights in Hollywood James 'Jimmy' Dale
Have a Heart James 'Jimmie' Flaherty
Bright Eyes James 'Loop' Merritt
1935 George White's 1935 Scandals Eddy Taylor
The Daring Young Man Don McLane
Welcome Home Richard Foster
The Payoff Joe McCoy
Bad Boy Eddie Nolan
1936 Don't Get Personal Bob McDonald
Hearts in Bondage Lieutenant Kenneth Reynolds
Two-Fisted Gentleman Mickey
Come Closer, Folks Jim Keene
Mysterious Crossing Addison Francis Murphy
1937 We Have Our Moments John Wade
Venus Makes Trouble Buzz Martin
Living on Love Gary Martin
1938 Shadows Over Shanghai Johnny McGinty
1939 Pride of the Navy Speed Brennan
Mercy Plane Speed Leslie
1940 Son of the Navy Chief Gunners Mate Mike Malone
Hold That Woman! Jimmy Parker, a Skip-Tracer
1942 The Living Ghost Nick Trayne
1943 The Ghost and the Guest Webster Frye
Government Girl Sergeant Joe Blake
1944 Leave It to the Irish Terry Moran, Private Investigator
1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Johnny Nolan aka The Brooklyn Thrush Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
The Caribbean Mystery Mr. Smith
1946 That Brennan Girl Denny Reagan aka Prof. Who's Its
1947 Killer McCoy Brian McCoy
1948 Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven Mike
1950 The Golden Gloves Story Joe Riley
A Wonderful Life Henry Wood Short
1960 The Bramble Bush Stew Schaeffer
1962 Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man Telegrapher
1966 The Oscar Network Executive


  1. "James Dunn, Actor, Dies". The Daytona Beach News-Journal. September 4, 1967. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  2. 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Stamford City Ward 2, Fairfield, CT, enumeration district 113, page 18A. The enumeration indicates that Dunn was 8 years old as of April 1910.
  3. "("James Dunn" search results)". Academy Awards Database. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  4. James Dunn (1901–1967) at IMDb
  5. James Dunn. Allocine.co.uk.
  6. Great Character Actors. Doug Macauley.com.
  7. "James Dunn". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
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