Irene Marie Dunne was born on December 20, 1898, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph Dunne, who inspected steamships, and Adelaide Henry, a musician who prompted Irene in the arts. Her first production was in Louisville when she appeared in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the age of five. Her "debut" set the tone for a fabulous career. Following the tragic death of her father when she was 12, she moved with her remaining family to the picturesque and historic town of Madison, Indiana, to live with her maternal grandparents at 916 W. Second St. During the next few years Irene studied voice and took piano lessons in town. She was able to earn money singing in the Christ Episcopal Church choir on Sundays. After graduating from Madison High School in 1916, she studied until 1917 in a music conservatory in Indianapolis. After that she accepted a teaching post as a music and art instructor in East Chicago, Indiana, just a stone's throw from Chicago. She never made it to the school. While on her way to East Chicago, she saw a newspaper ad in the Indianapolis Star and News for an annual scholarship contest run by the Chicago Music College. Irene won the contest, which enabled her to study there for a year. After that she headed for New York City because it was still the entertainment capital of the world. Her first goal in New York was to add her name to the list of luminaries of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Her audition did her little good, as she was rejected for being too young and inexperienced. She did win the leading role in a road theater company, which was in turn followed by numerous plays. During this time she studied at the Chicago Music College, from which she graduated with high honors in 1926. In 1928, Irene met and married a promising young dentist from New York named Francis Dennis Griffin. She remained with Dr. Griffin until his death in 1965.