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December 4, 2022

30 Portrait Photos of James Dunn in the 1930s

Born 1901 in Manhattan, New York, American actor and vaudeville performer James Dunn initially worked in his father’s firm but was more interested in theater. He landed jobs as an extra in short films produced by Paramount Pictures in its Long Island studio, and also performed with several stock theater companies, culminating with playing the male lead in the 1929 Broadway musical Sweet Adeline. This performance attracted the attention of film studio executives, and in 1931, Fox Film signed him to a Hollywood contract.

Dunn’s screen debut in the 1931 film Bad Girl made him an overnight box-office star and he was cast as the lead in a succession of romantic drama and comedy films. In 1934, he co-starred with Shirley Temple in her first three films. In 1935, at the height of his popularity, he broke his studio contract two years before it expired and became a free agent.

With musicals on the wane in the late 1930s, Dunn was cast in a series of B movies and struggled with alcoholism in his personal life. In 1945, having not worked for a major studio for five years, he was selected by director Elia Kazan for the role of Johnny Nolan, the dreamy alcoholic father in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), which earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The Oscar did not advance his film career, however, and while Dunn still found roles in Broadway productions, he became a character actor on television. He had a regular role in the hit sitcom It’s a Great Life from 1954 to 1956, and guest-starred in dozens of episodes of popular television series from the 1950s through mid-1960s.

In 1960, his contributions to film and television were recognized with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dunn died in 1967 from complications following stomach surgery at Santa Monica Hospital, aged 65. Take a look at these vintage photos to see portrait of a young James Dunn in the 1930s.

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