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Lynn Fontanne

Lynn Fontanne

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Also Known As: Lillie Louise Fontanne Died: July 30, 1983
Born: December 6, 1887 Cause of Death: pneumonia
Birth Place: Essex, England, GB Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

When playing onstage opposite her husband Alfred Lunt, this slim, willowy and arch performer was one-half of a stage pairing that was among the most noted in the theatrical world from the 1920s through their last pairing in 1965. Stage great Ellen Terry discovered Lynne Fontanne as a child; the young actress came to the US with "Mr. Preedy and the Countess" in 1910, but returned to England for her first real success in "Milestones" (1914). She came back to America in 1916 and began a long string of hits, often in tandem with Lunt whom she had met in 1919 and married in 1922. Solo, she appeared as the dizzy corporate wife in "Dulcy" (1921) and the possessive Nina in Eugene O'Neill's controversial and influential drama "Strange Interlude" (1928). But it was the Lunt-Fontanne combination which brought the couple fame: his Midwestern earnestness and her British charm played off each other in scores of shows, notably "Sweet Nell of Old Drury" (their first pairing, 1923), "The Guardsman" (1924), "Elizabeth the Queen" (1930), in which she was the Virgin Queen to his Earl of Essex, "Design for Living" (1933), cavorting with Noel Coward, the award-winning anti-war drama "Idiot's Delight" (1936), a tour of "O,...

When playing onstage opposite her husband Alfred Lunt, this slim, willowy and arch performer was one-half of a stage pairing that was among the most noted in the theatrical world from the 1920s through their last pairing in 1965. Stage great Ellen Terry discovered Lynne Fontanne as a child; the young actress came to the US with "Mr. Preedy and the Countess" in 1910, but returned to England for her first real success in "Milestones" (1914). She came back to America in 1916 and began a long string of hits, often in tandem with Lunt whom she had met in 1919 and married in 1922. Solo, she appeared as the dizzy corporate wife in "Dulcy" (1921) and the possessive Nina in Eugene O'Neill's controversial and influential drama "Strange Interlude" (1928). But it was the Lunt-Fontanne combination which brought the couple fame: his Midwestern earnestness and her British charm played off each other in scores of shows, notably "Sweet Nell of Old Drury" (their first pairing, 1923), "The Guardsman" (1924), "Elizabeth the Queen" (1930), in which she was the Virgin Queen to his Earl of Essex, "Design for Living" (1933), cavorting with Noel Coward, the award-winning anti-war drama "Idiot's Delight" (1936), a tour of "O, Mistress Mine" (1946-1949), and their last stage duet, "The Visit" (1958). It was a serendipitous teaming unmatched in theatrical history.

Fontanne made a few sparing appearances in film and TV. She appeared in two silent films, "Second Youth" (1924, with her husband) and "The Man Who Found Himself" (1925). Lunt and Fontanne starred in the stiff, stagy talkie version of "The Guardsman" in 1931, which earned them Oscar nominations as Best Actor and Best Actress, and the two appeared as themselves in the all-star "Stage Door Canteen" (1943). Fontanne made her TV debut narrating the Mary Martin starrer "Peter Pan" (NBC, 1955) and co-starred with her husband in "The Great Sebastians" (NBC, 1957) and "The Magnificent Yankee" (NBC, 1965). Solo, she made her TV swan song as the Dowager Empress opposite Julie Harris in "Anastasia" (NBC, 1967). After Lunt's 1977 death, Fontanne retired to their Wisconsin home. At her death, her age was variously given as 91, 95 and 101, though the middle figure seems to have been accurate.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 The Guardsman (1931) The actress
3.
 Magnificent Yankee, The (1965) Fanny Dixwell Holmes
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1905:
Stage debut in chorus of "Cinderella"
1910:
New York debut in "Mr. Preedy and the Countess"
1919:
First met Alfred Lunt, backstage at New Amsterdam Theater
1921:
First starring hit as "Dulcy"
1923:
First show with Lunt, "Sweet Nell of Old Drury"
1924:
Film debut, in "Second Youth"
1931:
Talking film debut, in "The Guardsman"
1955:
TV debut, narrating "Peter Pan" (NBC)
1958:
Lunt-Fontanne Theater opened in New York
1958:
Last stage appearance with Lunt, "The Visit"
1965:
Last appearance with Lunt, "The Magnificent Yankee" (NBC)
1967:
Last TV appearance, "Anastasia" (NBC)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"I am picturesque in a gauche and angular way. With lots of trouble, with infinite care in the choice of clothes, I contrive to look smart."--Lynn Fontanne quoted in "Great Stars of the American Theater" by Daniel Blum

"Direct the Lunts? My dear boy, when you do a play with the Lunts, nobody directs them. Oh, they have a delusion that they listen to a director, but they don't, y'know. 'Quadrille,' it was said, was directed by Noel Coward. Noel Coward refused this honor. I insisted the posters must read, 'directed by the author with the grateful assistance of the Lunts.' It was the truth."--Noel Coward to Maurice Zolotow, quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 31, 1983

"Miss Fontanne and I rehearse all the time. Even after we leave the theater, we rehearse. We sleep in the same bed. We have a script on our hands when we go to bed. You can't come and tell us to stop rehearsing after eight hours."--Alfred Lunt quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 31, 1983

Lunt and Fontanne were often parodied on "The Carol Burnett Show" as Funt and Mundane in the 1970s.

A theater in NYC was named in their honor.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Alfred Lunt. Actor. Born in Milwaukee, WI, August 19, 1893; married May 24, 1922 until his death on August 3, 1977.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Jules Fontanne. Type-founder. Born in France.
mother:
Frances Ellen Thornley. Irish-born.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Fabulous Lunts"

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