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Jessica Tandy

Jessica Tandy

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Also Known As: Died: September 11, 1994
Born: June 7, 1909 Cause of Death: ovarian cancer
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: Cast ... actor
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BIOGRAPHY

Versatile, commanding stage performer, often opposite husband Hume Cronyn, who acted in occasional features beginning in the early 1930s but was busiest in films while in her seventies and eighties. Tandy began acting onstage in her native England in her teens and by the mid-1930s was enjoying considerable success in the classics, playing Ophelia to John Gielgud's Hamlet in 1934 and playing Viola in Tyrone Guthrie's famous 1937 staging of "Twelfth Night". Separating from first husband, actor Jack Hawkins, in 1940, Tandy moved to America but initially had a thin time of it. Luckily, she met up-and-coming actor Cronyn, whom she married in 1942 and with whom she made several supporting appearances in American films of the 40s. Her Hollywood debut was with Cronyn, in Fred Zinnemann's first-rate thriller "The Seventh Cross" (1944), but within several years she was playing small and undistinguished supporting roles, such as a maid in "Forever Amber" (1947).

Luckily, Tennessee Williams saw Tandy onstage in "Portrait of Madonna", a play directed by Cronyn, and decided she was perfect to play one of his most complex creations, Blanche DuBois, in his landmark work, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947). As she would in so much future work, Tandy combined a seemingly fragile, genteel sensitivity with considerable strength, verve and emotionalism. In the 50s she and Cronyn would prove to be the successors to Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne as the pre-eminent married acting couple of the American theater as in their fine work in the first of several two-character plays, "The Fourposter" (1951). The couple also did much important work in more experimental fare by Samuel Beckett and other writers, and frequently played in regional theater as well. Tandy and Cronyn occasionally committed their dynamic stage work to the TV screen, and both would return to the silver screen as well; one of Tandy's most impressive characterizations at this mid-career stage was her cold and dominating mother in Alfred Hitchcock's masterful "The Birds" (1963).

Later stage triumphs for Tandy included "The Gin Game" (1978), another comedy-drama duet for her and Cronyn, which won her a Tony to keep company with her one for "Streetcar". (She would win yet again for "Foxfire" 1983, a play which would also net her an Emmy for a TV reprisal in 1988.) The 80s saw Tandy reigniting her film career, co-starring in "Cocoon" (1985), "Batteries Not Included" (1987) and "Cocoon: The Return" (1988), and winning her first Oscar as the crusty Southern matron opposite Morgan Freeman in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989).

Sympathetic and gentle, yet proud and resolute, Tandy became something of a fixture in recent Hollywood films aimed at a largely female audience: she was central to the success of both "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991), adapted from Fannie Flagg's novel, and "Used People" (1992). Indeed, nearly half her feature film credits are from the last 12 years of her life, as were some of her most interesting TV assignments, which included "The Story Lady" (1991) and "To Dance with the White Dog" (1993). Until the end, her sensitivity and commitment to her craft and to her scripts and fellow players made her more than a dedicated artisan and delightful colleague--they provided a richly textured portrait of indomitable spirit.

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