The Kennedy Center

Hume Cronyn


Hume Cronyn
(actor, born July 18, 1911, London, Canada; died June 15, 2003)

Jessica Tandy
(actress, born June 7, 1909, London, England; died September 11, 1994)

Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy both had distinguished themselves on stage and film individually and together before the night in 1951 when they opened on Broadway in The Fourposter and became a theatrical couple with whom to be reckoned.

Since then, the names of these two performers, who met in 1940 and married in 1942, have been as surely linked professionally as Lunt and Fontanne, and they were hailed as a premier theater couple.

Among the Broadway plays in which they subsequently starred are Madam Will You Walk and Triple Play, both of which Cronyn also directed, Bedtime Story, Hamlet, for which he received a Tony Award as supporting actor in 1964 for his portrayal of Polonius, Three Sisters and The Physicists.

The Gin Game, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of 1978, which Cronyn co-produced with Mike Nichols, won Tony and Drama Desk awards for Tandy and Tony and Drama Desk award nominations for him.

When the play opened in Hartford prior to its Broadway run, it was hailed as "a well-crafted production, filled with alternating compassion and explosion made larger then it is by. . . uncompromising logic and masterly timing and performed by consummate actors who have worked together for so long that they exhibit the virtues of a well-seasoned company in a slight piece for two players."

Their Foxfire won Tandy another Tony. Both were nominated for Tonys for their Broadway play, The Petition, and both received acclaim for their revival of The Fourposter. They have starred together in thousands of performances on various stages throughout the country.

The first film in which they appeared together was The Seventh Cross, for which he was nominated for an Oscar in 1944. Other motion pictures in which they both performed include The Green Years, Honky Tonk Freeway, The World According to Garp, Cocoon, and Batteries Not Included.

Cronyn made his professional debut at the National Theater, Washington, D.C., in Up Pops the Devil in the spring of 1931 after leaving his native Canada and attending McGill University. He had become a valued member of director George Abbott's personal "Stock Company" by the time he reached his middle 20s. He made his first appearance on Broadway as a janitor and understudy to Burgess Meredith in the role of Jim Hipper in Hipper's Holiday in 1934. Boy Meets Girl, Three Men on A Horse, High Tor, and Room Service followed on Broadway, and the sale of Room Service to Columbia Pictures sent him to Hollywood, although, because he refused to be screen tested for the role he had created on Broadway, he did not appear in the film version. (Ultimately is was made by RKO Pictures with the Marx Brothers.)

"When the rights to Room Service were sold to Columbia, Harry Cohn, who ran the studio, asked to see me," Cronyn recalled. "I was shown into a very large office, and Cohn said, 'Tell me about yourself.' I had noticed a file of the play and me on his desk, so I said, 'Mr. Cohn, you've got it right in front of you.' 'You're a Canadian,' responded Cohn. 'You went to McGill University. I'm not interested in that. Maybe we'll test you.' 'I don't think that should be necessary,' I said and walked out. That was the end of it. It was a hopeless interview. I'd been playing the part on stage for months after all, but I had a decidedly unrealistic approach to the subject of screen tests as a youth!"

Cronyn did appear in the Alfred Hitchcock films Shadow of a Doubt and Lifeboat and wrote the film adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's play Rope and Helen Simpson's novel Under Capricorn for Hitchcock.

The actor's high regard for the late director inspired him to write a letter to The New York Times in protest of Donald Spoto's controversial Hitchcock biography The Dark Side of Genius.

"I knew it probably wouldn't do any good," the actor was quoted as having said, "but I wanted to be on record as stating that the man in the book wasn't the man I'd known and worked with."

Cronyn's numerous additional New York stage credits also include Krapp's Last Tape, an Off Broadway production for which he received an Obie Award in 1973, and Big Fish, Little Fish which won him a Drama League Award in 1961.

On television, his credits are equally long and rage from the series "The Marriage," in which he starred with his wife in the early 1950s, to productions of several of his Broadway hits. He received a Writers Guild Award, a Christopher Award, and an Emmy nomination in 1985 for his screenplay (with co-author Susan Cooper) for the television film The Dollmaker.

Tandy, who joined the Birmingham (England) Repertory Company in 1928, had already played on the British stage when she made her first film, The Indiscretions of Eve, an English musical in which she plays what she described as "a sort of comic Cockney maid." Her first Broadway appearance was as Toni Rakonitz in The Matriarch two years later.

In addition to the subsequent plays and films she did with her husband, the actress has to her credit the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, which won her a Tony Award in 1948. She received a New York Drama League Award for Five Finger Exercise, Drama Desk Awards for the Off Broadway plays Happy Days and Not I, and an Obie for the latter.

Additional films in which she appeared include Forever Amber, Dragonwyck, Desert Fox, The Light in the Forest, Best Friends, The Bostonians, Hitchcock's The Birds, and more recently, Driving Miss Daisy and Fried Green Tomatoes.

"I can only act," Tandy said once, looking back on her career. "Hume can write. He can direct. And he can act--and he can put a project together."

Playwright Brian Clark, author of Petition and also of Whose Life is it Anyway?, sums up the magical theatrical chemistry of the two stars.

"The way they play together is wonderful," he explains. "The understanding, the bantering. Everything that comes with a lifetime of knowledge."

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