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Amanda Duff Dunne, 92; Former Actress Whose Malibu Home Was Hollywood Salon

April 21, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Amanda Duff Dunne, a former actress and the widow of distinguished screenwriter and film director Philip Dunne, whose bluff-top house in Malibu was a social and political gathering spot for the elite of Hollywood for many years, has died. She was 92.

Dunne died of cancer April 6 at her home in an assisted-living residence in San Francisco, said her daughter, Miranda Dunne Parry.

Born Amanda Duff in Fresno on March 6, 1914, and raised in Santa Barbara, Dunne studied music at Mills College in Oakland before moving to New York City to study piano. While appearing in an amateur play, she was spotted by playwright Robert E. Sherwood, who cast her as the young lead in the comedy "Tovarich" on Broadway in 1936.

The play was a hit, and Dunne was offered a contract with 20th Century Fox.

As Amanda Duff, she appeared in half a dozen films between 1938 and 1941, including "Just Around the Corner" with Shirley Temple, "Mr. Moto in Danger Island" with Peter Lorre and "The Devil Commands" with Boris Karloff.

While working on the Fox lot, she met Philip Dunne, one of Hollywood's top writers, whose later credits included "How Green Was My Valley," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," "Pinky" and "The Robe."

The Dunnes were married in 1939 and had three daughters.

After World War II, they built their Malibu home on nine acres overlooking the ocean -- around the same time that Philip Dunne, along with directors William Wyler and John Huston, formed the Committee for the First Amendment to protest the procedures of the House Un-American Activities Committee and "to head off blacklisting and censorship" in Hollywood.

"Their house was kind of an ad hoc center for liberal Hollywood," said screenwriter and novelist David Freeman, a longtime friend. "Political meetings were held there for both local issues and big national issues -- the war in Vietnam, for instance. It's a way of Hollywood life that we just don't have now, and I don't think it will come again.

"Whenever their names come up now among Hollywood people old enough to remember, it's the house and the life in that house that come to mind."

And, Freeman said, "it was a great romance that Phil and Amanda lived."

Most mornings, Freeman said, "they would play the recorder together. Sometimes they'd go out on the bluff looking out to the sea and just play old ballads to one another.

"It felt like one was watching a first date that was going really well. They'd been married 40 years at that point. They were wonderfully suited together."

Amanda Duff Dunne, who was known for her sense of humor, winning laugh and adventurous spirit, learned to fly in the late 1930s. She also was active in local Democratic politics, the League of Women Voters and the Audubon Society.

After she quit acting in the early 1940s, she turned to photography. Her photographs of American children were part of designers Charles and Ray Eames' multiscreen presentation, "Glimpses of the USA," shown at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959.

Philip Dunne died in 1992.

In addition to her daughter Miranda, Dunne is survived by her other daughters, Philippa Dunne and Jessica Dunne; her brother, George T. Duff; and two grandchildren.

A private memorial service will be held.

The family suggests that donations be made to Amnesty International.

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