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Nominated for five Academy Awards, I Remember Mama is the touching tale of a Norwegian-American family holding together despite their hard times. The film was especially poignant for its lead actress Irene Dunne, who said, “I love Mama. She has such sensitiveness. She is such a fine person, and in her own way, a philosopher.”
1. A big star turned it down.
I Remember Mama was a passion project for producer Harriet Parsons. The film was an adaption of the Broadway play based on Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes. Parsons felt the movie needed a star and approached Greta Garbo, who had voluntarily retired after Two-Faced Woman in 1941. While the reclusive star was flirting with the idea of a return, she eventually declined.
2. It reunited Stevens and Dunne.
Irene Dunne was the next approached for the role, and she loved the part. But a director wasn’t attached. She recalled, “[So] I said if I could have George Stevens, I would play Mama.” Stevens and Dunne had previously worked together on Penny Serenade in 1941. Stevens saw the play while it was in New York, but at the time, he was not making Hollywood films because he had joined the Army and was documenting D-Day. Years later, he said, “I have a real affection for that film… some of the movement of the film, of the people is absolutely beautiful.”
3. Dunne went all in.
She purposefully wore unflattering clothing, didn’t wear makeup, and even had on body padding to look bigger. She also worked with a dialect coach to make sure that her Norwegian accent was perfect. Sometimes she even kept talking in her accent while at home! The hard work paid off, and she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance.