Penny Serenade (1941): George Stevens Directs Cary Grant in his First Oscar Nominated Performance

“Our thanks to Cary Grant, who keeps winning these things for other people,” said Peter Stone upon winning the Screenplay Oscar for Father Goose. It had been the talk of the movie industry for years: Why hadn’t Grant ever received a legit competitive Oscar. It seems absurd that the roles for which Grant did receive nominations deviated from his specialized image.

The first nomination was for Penny Serenade, a soap opera, and the second for None But the Lonely Heart, a proletarian melodrama.

George Stevens’ melodrama, “Penny Serenade,” reteamed Cary Grant with one of his favorite screen ladies, Irene Dunne.

While listening to a recording of “Penny Serenade,” Julie Gardiner Adams (Irene Dunne) begins reflecting on her past.

She recalls her impulsive marriage to newspaper reporter Roger Adams (Cary Grant), which begins on a happy note but later on is fraught with tragedy.

While honeymooning in Japan, Julie and Roger are victims in the 1923 earthquake, which results in her miscarriage and incapability to bear children.

Upon their return to the U.S., Roger becomes editor of a small-town newspaper, just scraping by financially. Despite their economic status, Julie and Roger want to adopt a child.

It takes a long time—until the kindly adoption agency head Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi) offers help. But their happiness is short-lived, when their daughter Trina (Eva Lee Kuney) succumbs to a sudden illness at the age of six.

Depressed and hopeless, Julie and Roger decide to dissolve their marriage, but Miss Oliver once more comes to the rescue.

Though shamelessly sentimental, “Penny Serenade” is touching, balancing pathos with laughter.

Expert actors’ director Stevens handles well a crucial scene, in which Cary Grant is shown weeping like a boy.


Running time:117 Minutes.
Directed by George Stevens
Written by Martha Cheavens
Released: January 1, 1941.
DVD: July 14, 1998

It’s no coincidence that Grant’s nominations were during WWII, when most of Hollywood A-list actors were mobilized into the military. Grant lost on both occasions. In 1941, the Oscar went to Gary Cooper for the patriotic Sergeant York, and in 1944, Bing Crosby took the prize for portraying a sympathetic priest in Going My Way.

Grant knew that he would never win an Academy Award, as he said: “Light comedy has little chance for an Oscar.” He was right. As I showed in my book, All About Oscar, comedy as a genre and comedic performances are the most overlooked in Oscar’s annals. None of the great comedians, Chaplin included, had won a legit Oscar, and Jack Lemmon won his Oscar for a soupy melodrama, Save the Tiger, rather than Some Like It Hot or another Billy Wilder comedy.

At the 42nd Oscar ceremonies, on April 7, 1970, Grant was given a special Oscar, meant to cover three decades of continuous achievement. Presented by Frank Sinatra, the inscription read: “To Cary Grant for his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues.” Sinatra later explained: “No one has brought more pleasure to more people for many years than Cary Grant has, and nobody has done so many things so well.” The honorary Oscar was the show’s highlight and Grant’s only TV appearance.