Dialect coach and actress on Broadway and in film, best known for her performance as the Elderly Southern Lady on the bench with Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994), Dunfee began her professional career at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 1939 where she was discovered by Sinclair Lewis, author of the American classic ‘Main Street’, and cast in his production of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’. She subsequently played the Nurse in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Diana Barrymore and appeared with her husband, actor David Clarke and daughter K.C. Ligon in ‘The Visit’ with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Dunfee taught privately in New York and California and coached numerous prominent performers for Broadway and film, including Mel Gibson, Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek Barbara Hershey, Susan Sarandon, and James Earl Jones who had been her student at the American Theatre Wing in New York, and continued to work with her throughout his career. Dunfee was Master Teacher of Speech and Text of the Graduate Acting Program, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, for twenty-eight years, where her students included Billy Crudup and Marcia Gay Harden.
She was a master teacher of speech at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she taught for 28 years.
Dunfee studied Speech and Dialects with Margaret Prendergast McLean, famed teacher of Charles Laughton and other Hollywood luminaries. McLean herself had been the student of Prof. William Tilly of Columbia University, and Tilly had been the prize pupil of Henry Sweet, George Bernard Shaw’s model for the character of Prof. Henry Higgins. While assisting McLean in her classes at the legendary Actor’s Lab in Hollywood in the ’40s, Dunfee met and married actor David Clarke.
On the Special Collectors Edition DVD of Forrest Gump (1994), producer Wendy Finerman says in her Commentary: "Nora Dunfee was a wonderful actress whom Ellen Lewis found for us in New York. She was a very famous acting teacher, and she was just spectacular."