Irene Manning was born Inez Harvuot on July 17, 1912 in Cincinnati, Ohio in a family of 5 siblings. Her family loved to go on outdoor picnics where the featured activity was group singing. This family environment helped Irene to develop a keen interest in singing at a very early age. Her sisters later complained that little Irene would sing in her sleep, keeping them awake.
While performing with an all-girl USO show in England, Irene was asked to perform with bandleader Glenn Miller shortly before his death in 1944. Miller was involved in making swing records to be broadcast into Nazi Germany as part of the American Broadcasting System in Europe or ABSIE. Because she had been a light opera star prior to World War II and was fluent in singing in German, she was asked to sing some American pop tunes which had been translated into German vocals. Her sides were some of the last records made by Glenn Miller, prior to being lost on an ill-fated flight to Paris over the English Channel in December 1944.
She is probably best remembered as diva “Fay Templeton” in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942) opposite James Cagney. In this film, Irene has a scene in which she has to simultaneously act, sing the song, “Mary,” and play the piano all in the same take. This coordination of multiple talents takes concentration and is very difficult to complete live. Few Hollywood talents have ever executed these skills as well as Irene Manning, who was also a master sight reading musician.
Also briefly known as Hope Manning during her first films, as she broke into the Republic Studio system in 1936. Her first film placed her as the lead actress in a western, “The Old Corral,” opposite Gene Autry. (A young actor, named Dick Weston, later to be known as Roy Rogers, also appeared as a bad guy in this film.) Irene once said in gest that “she had left light opera for a horse opera.” Of note, “The Old Corral” was the only Gene Autry film that ever received a “three star rating,” and it has been voted the most favorite Autry movie by the Gene Autry Fan Club, partly in response to Irene’s sophistication and vocal talent.
By the early 1940s, Irene was employed in the Warner Bros studio system as a contract actress and singer. She was featured in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942), “The Big Shot” (1942) opposite Humphrey Bogart, “Spy Ship” (1942) with Craig Stevens, the “Desert Song” (1943) with Dennis Morgan, and “Shine On Harvest Moon” (1944), co-starring Jack Carson, in addition to offering added glamour in “The Doughgirls” (1944) with Ann Sheridan and Alexis Smith and “Escape in the Desert” (1945) featuring Philip Dorn.
Her contract was picked up by MGM to place her singing skills as a threat to Jeanette MacDonald, who was giving MGM fits over Jeanette’s difficult demands. In private Irene, claimed that she was a better singer. Singing comparisons between Irene Manning and Jeanette MacDonald clearly indicate that Irene’s assessment of her skills is correct. The problem between Jeannette and MGM subsided, and Irene’s contract was dropped without any appearances in a MGM film.
In all, Irene Manning made a dozen films. Although her film career is short, many of her film appearances are notable. In the “Old Corral” she gets to kiss Gene Autry (a rare event). “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is listed as one of the top 100 films of all time. “The Big Shot” is the second rated gangster movie of all time. In “Spy Ship,” Irene plays the role of a female villain who collaborates with the Japanese military, not exactly a popular role during World War II. Probably the best reason to see the film is Keye Luke’s brief appearance as a Japanese cultural envoy, Hiru. Yes, you guessed it, Hiru also is a spy. Keye Luke is most famous for playing the part of Master Po in the American TV Series “Kung Fu” with David Carradine from 1972-1975.
The musical stage took priority in the second half of the 1940s with “The Day Before Spring” on Broadway and both “DuBarry Was a Lady” and “Serenade” in London. She remained in England and appeared on her own BBC TV show, “An American in England” until 1951, when she returned to the United States for TV and nightclub work.
Eventually she retired to teach acting and voice.
She died aged 91 from congestive heart failure at her home on May 28, 2004 in San Carlos, California.
Toured with her own four-woman USO unit, performing for the Air Force and various hospital throughout England.
Toured with Bob Hope during WWII.
Irene married five times and was survived by her five stepchildren from her fifth (and final) marriage to space engineer and Lockheed executive Maxwell Hunter II, who died in 2001.