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Lynn Fontanne

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Title: Lynn Fontanne  
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Subject: Alfred Lunt, The Guardsman, Quadrille (play), Design for Living, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
Collection: 1887 Births, 1983 Deaths, 20Th-Century English Actresses, Actresses from London, Age Controversies, American Theater Hall of Fame Inductees, British Expatriate Actresses in the United States, Deaths from Pneumonia, Delia Austrian Medal Recipients, English Film Actresses, English Radio Actresses, English Silent Film Actresses, English Stage Actresses, English Television Actresses, Infectious Disease Deaths in Wisconsin, Kennedy Center Honorees, Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Primetime Emmy Award Winners, People from Woodford, London
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Lynn Fontanne

Lynn Fontanne
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1932
Born Lillie Louise Fontanne
(1887-12-06)6 December 1887
Woodford, London, England, UK
Died 30 July 1983(1983-07-30) (aged 95)
Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, U.S.
Other names Lynn Lunt
Occupation Actress
Years active 1921–83
Spouse(s) Alfred Lunt (1922-1977; his death)
Fontanne in Quadrille in 1952

Lynn Fontanne (;[1] 6 December 1887 – 30 July 1983) was a British-born American-based actress and major stage star in the United States for over 40 years. She teamed with her husband, Alfred Lunt. Lunt and Fontanne shared a special Tony Award in 1970. They both won Emmy Awards in 1965, and Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was named for them. She is considered to be one of the greatest leading stage actresses of the 20th century.[2]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Pronunciation of surname 4
  • Death 5
  • Selected Broadway appearances 6
  • Radio performances 7
  • Sources 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Born Lillie Louise Fontanne in Woodford, London, of French and Irish descent, her parents were Jules Fontanne, a Frenchman, and Frances Ellen Thornley. She had two sisters, one of whom later lived in England; the other lived in New Zealand.[3]


She drew acclaim in 1921 playing the title role in the Marc Connelly farce, Dulcy. Dorothy Parker memorialized her performance in verse:

Dulcy, take our gratitude,
All your words are gold ones.
Mistress of the platitude,
Queen of all the old ones.
You, at last, are something new
'Neath the theatre's dome. I'd
Mention to the cosmos, you
Swing a wicked bromide. ...[4]

She soon became celebrated for her skill as an actress in high comedy, excelling in witty roles written for her by Noël Coward, S.N. Behrman, and Robert Sherwood. However, she enjoyed one of the greatest critical successes of her career as Nina Leeds, the desperate heroine of Eugene O'Neill's controversial nine-act drama, Strange Interlude. From the late 1920s on, Fontanne acted exclusively in vehicles also starring her husband. Among their greatest theater triumphs were Design for Living (1933), The Taming of the Shrew (1935–36), Idiot's Delight (1936), There Shall Be No Night (1940) and Quadrille (1952). Design for Living, which Noël Coward wrote expressly for himself and the Lunts, was so risqué, with its theme of bisexuality and a ménage à trois, that Coward premiered it in New York, knowing it would not survive the censor in London. The duo remained active onstage until retiring from stage performances in 1958.[5] Fontanne was nominated for a Best Actress Tony for one of her last stage roles, in The Visit (1959).[6]

Fontanne and Lunt worked together in 27 productions.[7] Of her acting style with Lunt, British broadcasting personality Arthur Marshall - having seen her in Caprice St James's Theatre (1929) - observed: "in the plays of the period actors waited to speak until somebody else had finished, the Lunts turned all that upside down. They threw away lines, they trod on each others words, they gabbled, they spoke at the same time. They spoke in fact, as people do in ordinary life."[8]

Fontanne made only four films, but nevertheless was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1931 for The Guardsman, losing to Helen Hayes. She also appeared in the silent films Second Youth (1924) and The Man Who Found Himself (1925). She and husband Alfred also were in Hollywood Canteen (1944) in which they had cameos as themselves. The Lunts starred in four television productions in the 1950s and 1960s with both Lunt and Fontanne winning Emmy Awards in 1965 for The Magnificent Yankee,[7] becoming the first married couple to win the award for playing a married couple. Fontanne narrated the classic 1960 television production of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin and received a second Emmy nomination for playing Grand Duchess Marie in the Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast of Anastasia in 1967, two of the few rare productions in which she appeared without her husband. The Lunts also starred in several radio dramas in the 1940s, notably on the Theatre Guild programme. Many of these broadcasts still survive.[9]

On May 5, 1958 the former Globe Theatre, at Broadway and 46th Street, originally opened in 1910 and later turned into a motion picture venue after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was reopened after a massive gut renovation and renamed the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. On that day the Lunts opened their new house with, The Visit, by Dürrenmatt. After 189 performances, The Visit would be their last appearance on Broadway.[10]

Twenty years later on May 5, 1978, Lynn Fontanne, aged ninety, was honored at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, during a revival performance of Hello Dolly, by its star Carol Channing.[11] A reminiscence of that evening was published on-line by Martha Rofheart a former protégée of Miss Fontanne. "An Evening with Lynn Fontanne"

In 1964, Lunt and Fontanne were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by United States President Lyndon Johnson.[7]

Like Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne is a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[12] Fontanne was also a Kennedy Center honoree in 1980.

Some of her costumes are curated in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Mount Mary University (formerly known as Mount Mary College) Historic Costume Collection.[13]

Personal life

Fontanne married Alfred Lunt in 1922. The union was childless.[14] The couple lived for many years at "Ten Chimneys" in Genesee Depot, Waukesha County, Wisconsin. They were married for 55 years and were inseparable both on and off the stage.

Lunt and Fontanne in 1950.

Fontanne went to great lengths to avoid divulging her true age. Her husband reportedly died believing she was five years younger than he (as she had told him).[15] She was, in fact, five years older, but continued to deny, long after Lunt's death, that she was born in 1887.[15] The Social Security Death Index reports her birth as 6 December 1893.[16]

Pronunciation of surname

Asked once how to pronounce her surname, she told the Literary Digest she preferred the French way, but "If the French is too difficult for American consumption, both syllables should be equally accented, and the a should be more or less broad": fon-tahn.[17]


Lynn Fontanne died in 1983, aged 95, from pneumonia, at "Ten Chimneys" in Genesee Depot and was interred next to her husband at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[7]

Selected Broadway appearances

Radio performances

Lunt and Fontanne made multiple performances on the 1940s and '50s radio anthology series Theater Guild on the Air (also known as "United States Steel Hour"). These programmes are hour-long adaptations of famous plays. The couple performed together eight times on the programme, and each appeared three times without the other. Recordings of most of these episodes still exist unless noted.


  • Artwork Originals
  • Ten Chimneys Foundation; timeline


  1. ^ [3]
  2. ^ [4]
  3. ^ Great Stars of the American Stage Profile #94 c.1954 2nd. Edition by Daniel Blum
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Lunt and Fontanne," Encyclopaedia Britannica""". 
  6. ^ Grange, William (2009). Historical Dictionary of Postwar German Literature. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 62.  
  7. ^ a b c d "Lynn Fontanne is Dead at 95; A Star with Lunt for 37 Years", The New York Times, July 31, 1983. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  8. ^ Marshall, Arthur. Life's Rich Pageant, BBC Radio Collection, 1988.
  9. ^ Lynn Fontanne at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "The Lunt-Fontanne Theater". Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  11. ^ Klemesrud, Judy (24 April 1978). "Lynn Fontanne, at 90, Talks of Love".  (subscription required)
  12. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame members". 
  13. ^ "Lynn Fontanne 'look' lives on." Milwaukee Sentinel. October 10, 1983. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  14. ^ Harbin, Billy J. (ed.) (2007). "LUNT, Alfred". The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. pp. 260–264.  
  15. ^ a b Ware, Susan and Stacy Braukman (2005). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 5: Completing the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 217.  
  16. ^ Social Security Death Index entry for Lynn Lunt
  17. ^ Charles Earle Funk. What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.

External links

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