Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1932
Lillie Louise Fontanne
6 December 1887
Woodford, London, England, UK
|Died||30 July 1983 (aged 95)|
Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Other names||Lynn Lunt|
|Spouse(s)||Alfred Lunt (1922–1977; his death)|
Lynn Fontanne (//; 6 December 1887 – 30 July 1983) was a British actress for over 40 years. She teamed with her husband, Alfred Lunt. Lunt and Fontanne were given special Tony Awards in 1970. They both won Emmy Awards in 1965, and Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was named for them. Fontanne is regarded as one of the American theater's great leading ladies of the 20th century.
Born Lillie Louise Fontanne in Woodford, London, of French and Irish descent, her parents were Jules Fontanne and Frances Ellen Thornley. She had two sisters, one of whom later lived in England; the other lived in New Zealand.
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. ...
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 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. Fontanne was nominated for a Tony Award for one of her last stage roles, in The Visit (1959).
Fontanne and Lunt worked together in 27 productions. 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."
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,  Fontanne narrated the 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 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.
On 5 May 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.
Twenty years later, on 5 May 1978, Lynn Fontanne, aged ninety, was honored at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, during a revival performance of Hello, Dolly!, by its star Carol Channing. A reminiscence of that evening, "An Evening with Lynn Fontanne", was published on-line by Martha Rofheart, a former protégée of Fontanne.
Fontanne married Alfred Lunt in 1922. The union was childless. The couple lived for many years at "Ten Chimneys" in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. They were married for 55 years and were inseparable both on and off the stage.
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). She was, in fact, five years older, but continued to deny, long after Lunt's death, that she was born in 1887.
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.
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