Irene Manning was a major musical theater star in the 1940s, constantly in the papers. Her cover for Yank the Army Weekly is one of the best of all the covers (so sexy and slinky!). Thus, you can imagine by surprise when I couldn’t find any more substantial information about her. She is truly an example of an unjustly forgotten Golden Age Star. She was beautiful, talented and very determined – unfortunately, she was not star material, as she lacked that certain onscreen charisma that would have pushed her into cinematic immortality. So, let’s find out more about Irene…
Inez Odella Harvout was born on July 12, 1912, Cincinnati, Ohio, to Ohio natives Shirley Everet Harvout and Inez Odella Dunham, who married in 1900. She was the youngest of five children – her siblings were Alice (born on February 21, 1902), Richard (born on 1904), Lois (born on 1907) and George Lloyd (born on August 17, 1908). Inez later adopted the name of her maternal grandmother, Anna Manning.
her father worked in real estate and the family was well of. Music was a large part of Inez’s upbringing. Both of her parents (Shirley and Inez) were singers, her sister Alice played piano. Her two brothers played the violin and Lois played the cello and a clarinet.
After graduating from high school in Cincinatti, Inez moved to Rochester, New York to attend the Eastman School of Music. Her teacher was the renown opera diva Adel Fermin. After she graduated from the school, Inez started her singing career in the Rochester Opera Company, playing on both operas and operettas.
She gained some recognition when she toured with the Great Waltz road show. Then, she was asked to perform with the St. Louis Municipial Opera Company for a season. This led her to radio engagements, most notably with John Charles Thomas. Impresario Phil Baker heard her, saw her, liked what he saw and asked her to play the lead in his Broadway show, All in Lights. Thus started a long and successful collaboration between Irene and Phil. This in turn bought her to the attention of movie talent scouts, and she signed with Republic Studios in 1937.
Irene started her career quite the unsuitable way, in The Old Corral, a Gene Autry western. What more can I say? No comments necessary. Under her contract, Irene, (then known as Hope Manning), appeared in two more movies: Two Wise Maids, a minor comedy with Alison Skipworth and Polly Moran playing spinsters meddling in everybody’s lives, and Michael O’Halloran, a soapy drama about the growth of a once spoiled woman onto a responsible, mature woman (Wynne Gibson plays the lead). Neither of the three movies did anything for Irene’s career, and she gave up movies in 1938, after getting married and decided to focus herself of other venues.
She appeared in the St. Louis Municipial Opera staging of Gentlemen Unafraid in 1938, then Victoria and Her Hussar in August. Showed off her voice to good effect on Broadway in Susanna, Don’t You Cry (1939) and All in Fun (1940). At the same time she took leading roles with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera in HMS Pinaforte and Savoy Serenade.
Hope was at the top of her game, and was noticed by MGM, who didn’t even cast a glance at her when she visited Hollywood for the first time. She was allegedly groomed to replace the 1930s Opera Queen of Hollywood, Jeannette MacDonald. However, the plans fell through, and Irene was back again on the Municipal Opera stage, playing in a production of Rosalie.
Irene continued her career in 1942, with her biggest and best known role, Yankee Doodle Dandy. She played Fay Templeton, a real life songstress who worked with George Cohan, the hero of the piece. What to say about a movie like Yankee Doodle? It’s corny and over the top, but superbly made, with a great cast and good music. James Cagney is one of the best actors ever to grace the screen, period. I haven’t seen a bad performance by Cagney anywhere yet (yea, give him time 😛 ).
After the boom that was Yankee Doodle, Irene never managed to live up to her promise. She had a solid career for a few years more, but she never touched true fame. She appeared in Spy Ship, where she plays an heiress who hides secret information for the Germans in her lectures against war. It’s a well made but ultimately generic WW2 spy movie, made just as US joined the war. Irene is paired with Craig Stevens, a fine looking but mediocre actor, and the work well together. Like most other spy movies, we have a mumbo jumbo of Nazi spy ships, the US Army Marines Coast Guard, FBI and the Japanese. Well, good luck with solving all of that!
The Big Shot is a Humphrey Bogart movie, and for this reason alone it enjoys a status few old movies enjoy. However, it’s one of Bogart’s less known efforts, and for no good reason. While not a A class masterpiece, Big Shot is a masterfully directed, cliche-free film noir in the true sense of the word, without the sappy elements that can ruin even the best laid noirs. Bogie plays a three time convict who know his next foray in jail will be his last and final one (yep, he’s going for life!). Yet, he can’t shake the life of crime, and gets mixed up with all the wrong people planning a armored car robbery. Irene plays Bogart’s ex mistress who still has the hots for him (and is married to one of the robbers). Irene and Bogie disliked each other on and off the film set, but their chemistry is more than decent and she plays a femme fatale admirably. Too bad this was her last true film noir.
Irene was back to basics – musicals, with The Desert Song, only a lose remake of the operetta with the same name. Dennis Morgan, the handsome singing star of the Warner Bros stable, plays Paul Hudson, who leads a group of desert bandits against some Nazis, who want to use them as cheap labor for their railroad. Irene’s soft soprano voice was used to it’s best advantage in this movie, and it remains a true staple of her filmography. Unfortunately, due to some copyright laws it’s not easily accessible even today, 70 years after it was made.
Shine on Harvest Moon was another okay quality Dennis Morgan musical, this time with Ann Sheridan in the lead and Irene as the main female support. After appearing in two short war propaganda movies, The Shining Future and The Road to Victory, Irene entered the last part of her Hollywood career. Make Your Own Bed is a screwball comedy of the lower tier, frenetic, without an ounce of style and sophistication. Not, it’s not all that bad – Irene, firmly in the supporting cast, Alan Hale and Ricardo Cortez make it at least a worthwhile experience. And the leads, Jack Carson and Jane Wyman, ain’t that bad. It’s just a stupid story with zillion plots going nowhere that makes it such a shmuck effort.
The Doughgirls is another frenetic comedy (a bit outdated – it’s about the housing shortage in Washington DC during the war), with a great female cast (Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, Irene, Eve Arden). Nothing to drool about, but a good one.
Irene did her bit in Hollywood Canteen (like almost everyone in Hollywood), and made her last movie for Warner Bros – Escape in the Desert. It’s a B grade remake of the Petrified Forrest, but with an incredible cast of lesser known bravados – Helmut Dantine and Phillip Dorn, European Continental Actors Extraordinaire! Too bad about the lackluster story and director!
She also had her own BBC television show, An American in England, but on returning to America in 1952 found that she was largely forgotten. She did some bits and pieces on TV (The Passing Show, Schlitz Playhouse, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Ponds Theater and Producers’ Showcase).
Irene continued her career in the theater until 1964, when she married and retired. Afterwards she occasionally gave singing lessons.
Irene was in the papers much of the time in the 1930s and 1940s, but not for her private life, but rather for her artistic achievements. She was one of the few opera songstresses who had both the looks and the voice, and thus she was very popular. However, she was also a demanding, diva-like personality who had strong moments of ego-centric behavior. Yes, she was a complicated, often difficult woman. Despite this, she was generous and kind to people she deemed talented.
Irene married her first husband, Harold Mannheim, in 1940. Manheim was born on February 12, 1906, in New York to Levi and Rachel Manheim. He came to Hollywood in the early 1930s. On September 22, 1931, he married Wyktorya Ryta Michalczewska. They divorced later. He started working for Republic Studios as an actor’s agent/publicity man. There he met Irene in 1937, while she was making a movie with Gene Autry.
Mannheim became the mastermind of Irene’s new career. He changed her name to Irene Manning (she was known as Hope Manning back then), and pushed her to up her publicity and engagements until she was noticed by MGM and then signed by Warner Bros. While the information about the marriage is scarce, I get the feeling that Irene was in part a major investment for Mannheim and that she grew bored by this.
During her marriage to Mannheim, Irene met Keith Kolhoff, a young police officer working at the Los Angeles Traffic Division. Kolhoff was a businessman at heart and had major plans for his future, opting not to remain a simple cop but to expand his horizons. Irene was supportive of his plans and the two fell in love. She left Mannheim to be with Kolhoff, and got a Mexican divorce in April 1944.
Keith and Irene married on June 20, 1944, in a afternoon service led by Reverend William Platt at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. It was the second marriage for both. Many of her friends found it a hasty decision, so soon after her divorce from Mannheim, but she stuck her guns.
Keith Robert Kolhoff was born on December 31, 1912, in Minnesota, to Karl and Lillie Kolhoff. He moved to California in the 1930s and became a police officer. He married Marie Kosier, who was an Arizona resident, in 1940. They divorced between 1942 and 1944.
Keith and Irene’s marriage started badly when her father died the same day they married. As Shirley was ailing for a long time (five years) He gave strict instructions not to tell anything to Irene until the day after the wedding, so she could go through the ceremony without a heavy heart. She was told the next day by her brother Richard and her husband. That certainly couldn’t have been a nice thing to hear on the second day of your new marriage.
The couple honeymooned in Colorado for two weeks, and returned to Los Angeles in July 1944. The marriage was of short duration, however, and they separated in September 1944. Irene went to England in October 1944 (her farewell party, on October 5, 1944, was noteworthy because Mario Lanza, then an unknown baritone, sang and was noted by few producers – that night helped launched her very successful career!). For the next six months, Irene was overseas, and kept sparse contact with Keith. Most of the information he knew about his wife came from the papers. She finally returned to the US in March 1945, and instead of flying to Los Angeles to try for a reconciliation, she flew to Florida. Kolhoff called her, push and pull, and they finally reconciled in May 1945. It lasted for two months straight, and by July 15, 1945, Kolhoff announced he would divorce Irene. he was then drafted into maritime service in Catalina, and Irene went to visit him and try and iron out their differences in August 1945. It didn’t yell and the divorced in 1946.
After the divorce, Kolhoff left the police force and took up a publicity and newspaper publishing business under the name of Keith King. I could not find his date of death nor did he remarry.
Irene moved to London, and made her career there. Irene allegedly married Jack T. Kenney in London after the divorce was made final. Except on IMDB, I never found anything to prove this claim – anyway, she allegedly divorced Kenney in 1947. She continued her career, as her obituary notes:
In 1944, Irene Manning set off for Britain where she recorded, for the BBC’s Wehrmacht Hour, a German version of Begin the Beguine with Glenn Miller just before he was killed, as well as touring with a four-woman USO unit. She appeared in Herbert Wilcox’s I Lived on Grosvenor Square, and was later in the West End revival of The Dubarry; but the critics were not overly impressed by her conventional performance. There was more enthusiasm for her partnership with the musical comedy star Jack Buchanan in Castle in the Air.
While in London, Irene fell in love with Clinton Green, a member of New York Times’ London Branch, and married him on July 31, 1948, in Marylebone Registry Office. Green was born on September 15, 1912, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was a noted reported during WW2, covering both the Pacific and European theaters. The marriage did not last long and ended in 1951.
In 1952, she dated Everett Warren, who owned Tony’s Caprice restaurant. In 1954, she was very serious with the Earl of Warwick, the only english peer that ever made a movie in Hollywood (under the name of Michael Brooke). He even proposed to her at some point, but they never got married (that might as well could have been a recipe for disaster, since he was married twice up until then and Irene a whooping four times…).
Irene marred for the last time to aeronautical engineer Maxwell White Hunter in 1964. She completely shunned showbiz and moved to Washington, DC, with her husband. Irene became the stepmother of five children: three sons, David, Matthew and Max and two daughters, Peggy and Sally.
Here is his background from Wikipedia: Maxwell Hunter was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania and graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in that state with a degree in physics and mathematics. In 1944, he earned a Master’s Degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His obituary in LA Times sheds some more light on his career:
A pioneer rocket scientist whose career spanned five decades, Hunter joined Douglas Aircraft in 1944.
As chief missile design engineer, he was responsible for the design of the Thor, Nike-Zeus and other missiles. And as chief engineer of space systems, he was responsible for all Douglas space efforts, including the Delta launch vehicle and the Saturn S-IV stage of the Apollo moon rocket program.
In 1962, Hunter joined the staff of the National Aeronautics and Space Council in Washington, D.C., which was created at the same time as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration four years earlier to coordinate interagency air and space activities.
As an advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he offered insight into future space programs and the creation of the National Space Policy.
Returning to designing in 1965, Hunter began his 22-year association with Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, Calif., where he worked in several areas, including the astronautics (rocket) division and the advanced development section.
At Lockheed, he was responsible for the design of the Advanced Space Transportation Vehicles StarClipper and Shuttle, and he originated the concept of using large expendable tanks in shuttle designs.
Hunter was in the forefront as an advocate of advanced space systems, such as the space-based laser defense program and a nuclear-powered spacecraft.
The Hunters moved to California to enjoy their retirement in the 1980s. Hunter died on November 10, 2001. Irene lived the rest of her life quietly in California.
Irene Manning Hunter died on May 28, 2004, in San Carlos, California.