Irene Manning

Film-star soprano of the Forties

The actress and lyric soprano Irene Manning was a blonde beauty who had a brief spell as a film star in the early Forties.

Inez Harvuot (Irene Manning), actress and singer: born Cincinnati 17 July 1912; married 1940 Het Manheim (marriage dissolved 1944), 1944 Keith Kolhoff (marriage dissolved 1946), 1948 Clinton Green (marriage dissolved 1951), 1964 Maxwell W. Hunter (died 2001); died San Carlos, California 28 May 2004.

The actress and lyric soprano Irene Manning was a blonde beauty who had a brief spell as a film star in the early Forties. Her most notable roles were those of the singer Fay Templeton in the classic musical Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and as Margot, the heroine of The Desert Song (1944). She also played leading lady to Gene Autry and Humphrey Bogart, and had an extensive career on stage including a Broadway musical by Lerner and Loewe and West End roles in plays and musicals.

The youngest of five children, she was born Inez Harvuot in Cincinnati in 1912. Both her parents were singers who appeared in opera choruses, and at the age of two Inez could sing "The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia". Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 10, and after graduating from Los Angeles High School she gained a scholarship to study voice at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Classically trained, she gained considerable stage experience in operetta and musicals prior to 1936, when she was given a film contract by Republic.

The studio's head of publicity Het Manheim, gave her a new name, Hope Manning, and became her first husband:

Het was a good man. Our problem was geographical. Het remained in New York while I was leaping all over the country. As much as we loved each other, we came to realise the marriage wasn't working.

She made her screen début in The Old Corral (1936), a western starring the studio's major star, Gene Autry, with whom she sang a duet. After supporting roles in Two Wise Maids (1937) and Michael O'Halloran (1937), she returned to the stage when offered a leading role in a new musical by Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein and Otto Harbach, Gentlemen Unafraid (1938). A Civil War tale of a West Point cadet torn between fighting for the Union or for his home state, Virginia, it opened in St Louis, where it was so poorly received that it closed after just one week. Manning, as the cadet's sweetheart, introduced "Your Dream is the Same as My Dream", which acquired a measure of popularity when later reused by the composers in the film One Night in the Tropics.

After appearing in New York in two more short-lived musicals, she toured with the famous baritone John Charles Thomas in Lehar's operetta Gypsy Baron (1940) and the pair made several Gilbert and Sullivan recordings together. Warner Brothers, who had made an early talkie of the Sigmund Romberg operetta The Desert Song in 1929, were planning a new version, for which Manning tested. She said,

They spent about five years casting The Desert Song. They auditioned everyone, including Gladys Swarth-

out of the Metropolitan Opera. I was given a very expensive test, in Technicolor, and on the strength of it Warners signed me and changed my name to Irene Manning.

Since the script for The Desert Song wasn't ready, she was first cast in Yankee Doodle Dandy as the legendary stage star Fay Templeton, who is won over by the brash composer George M. Cohan (James Cagney) when he composes a song for her, "Only 45 Minutes from Broadway", in her dressing room while she is performing on stage. Her renditions of "So Long, Mary" and "Mary's a Grand Old Name" were among the film's highlights, and Variety called her performance "plenty socko". Manning later recalled the film as her happiest Hollywood experience.

She was less happy with her next film, a minor thriller, The Big Shot (1942), though she was leading lady to Humphrey Bogart. She described the director, Lewis Seiler, as "not the greatest":

Just before we started, he said to me, "Are you going to sing your lines?" When I had to be shot to death at the end, I asked how he wanted me to go about it. "I have no idea," he said.

After another low-budget movie, Spy Ship (1942), Manning took on her most important screen role, starring opposite Dennis Morgan in The Desert Song, directed by Robert Florey. Morgan played an American bandleader who dons a cape and becomes the mysterious leader of a group of desert tribesmen sabotaging German attempts to build a railroad. Manning said,

The movie had some excellent action sequences and an interesting script. Years later, Gordon MacRae, who starred in the 1953 version, told me he thought ours was the better movie.

The gorgeously photographed film (with Gallup, New Mexico, standing in for the Sahara desert) is generally considered the finest of the operetta's three screen transcriptions, but it is little known today because copyright problems have kept it out of circulation for several decades.

Surprisingly, the studio failed to capitalise on Manning's impressive performance, and, despite announcing earlier that she and Morgan would be teamed in a series of musicals similar to those MGM had made with Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, they instead relegated her to supporting roles. She later said of her boss,

Jack Warner? He wasn't one of my favourite people. Let's just say that there was not a lot of class there.

Miles Kreuger, President of the Institute of the American Musical, said that Manning's "more elegant, more reserved" persona was out of sync during the war years when audiences preferred "young girls who were perky and more accessible" like Betty Grable. "I think that's why she didn't catch on a little bit more."

Manning's subsequent films included the splendid musical Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), again starring Morgan but with Ann Sheridan as leading lady and Manning as "the other woman", and the comedy Make Your Own Bed (1944) with Jane Wyman and Jack Carson. The Doughgirls (1944), based on the hit play about the wartime shortage of hotel accommodation in Washington, was a favourite of the actress, though Eve Arden had the showiest role as a Russian female guerrilla.

After a cameo as herself in Hollywood Canteen (1944), Manning left for England with her own USO unit to entertain servicemen overseas. In England she recorded four songs with Glenn Miller's Army Air Forces Band. Recorded for the Office of War Information just a few days before Miller disappeared in a small aircraft over the English Channel, the songs were broadcast between propaganda announcements to German troops on the BBC's German Wehrmacht Hour.

One of the songs, "Begin the Beguine", was included in the CD set Glenn Miller: The Lost Recordings, and reveals Manning's voice, pitched in a lower register than usual, blending surprisingly well with the Miller band. Manning also featured in a British film, I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945), making a "courtesy appearance" as herself, pictured entertaining American servicemen in a Piccadilly club with a rendition of the wistful 1931 ballad "Home".

Manning returned to the stage to star on Broadway in a musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, The Day Before Spring (1945), playing a woman who with her husband of 10 years (John Archer) attends a college reunion where she is drawn to an old flame (Bill Johnson). Though the cast and score were praised, the libretto came in for heavy criticism in the mixed reviews.

In 1947 Manning moved to England, making her London stage début in Millocker's The DuBarry (1947), and appearing in Alan Melville's hit comedy Castle in the Air (1949) with Jack Buchanan and Coral Browne. She also toured music halls with a variety act, hosted her own BBC television show An American in England, and wrote a weekly show-business column, "Girl About Town". She said,

I had a wonderful time in England and really matured . . . still, when I came back to the US in 1952, nobody remembered me. So I just started all over again.

She did night-club work, sang on radio with the Andre Kostelanetz and Gordon Jenkins orchestras, appeared in television plays, and starred in both musicals and plays in summer theatres, including The King and I (her personal favourite role).

An accomplished abstract painter, she had exhibitions of her work in New York and Washington, and for the last 30 years she taught voice, acting, personal development, speech dynamics and modelling.

Tom Vallance

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Johnny Handle, Northumberland, Ted Relph, President of Lakeland Dialect Society, and Sid Calderbank, Lancashire, founder of the National Dialect Day
newsMeet the enthusiasts determined to stop them dying out
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game