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Lynn Fontanne


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Lynn Fontanne (pronounced /fɒnˈtæn/; 6 December 1887 — 30 July 1983) was a British actress and major stage star in the United States for over 40 years. She teamed with her husband Alfred Lunt.

She lived in the United States for more than 60 years but never relinquished her British citizenship. Lunt and Fontanne shared a special Tony Award in 1970. They both won Emmy Awards in 1965, and Fontanne was a Kennedy Center honoree in 1980.


Born Lillie Louise Fontanne in Woodford, London, Fontanne first drew popular acclaim in 1921 playing the cliché-spouting title role in the George S. Kaufman-Marc Connelly's farce, Dulcy. Dorothy Parker memorialized her performance in verse:

Dulcy, take our gratitude, / All your words are golden 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 (1935–1936), Idiot's Delight (1936), There Shall Be No Night (1940), and Quadrille (1952). Design for Living, which Noel 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 that it would not survive the censor in London. The Lunts remained highly active on the stage until retiring in 1960. Fontanne was nominated for a Best Actress Tony for one of her last stage roles, in The Visit (1959).

Fontanne made only three movies, 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 movies Second Youth (1924) and The Man Who Found Himself (1925). 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, 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, both rare performances that she did without her husband. The Lunts also starred in several radio dramas in the 1940s, notably on the Theatre Guild program. Many of these broadcasts still survive.

In 1964, Lunt and Fontanne were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson.

Personal life

The Lunts lived for many years at Ten Chimneys, in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, but had no children. Fontanne was among the most duplicitous of actresses regarding her true age. Her husband reportedly died believing she was five years younger than he (as she had told him), and refused to believe anything to the contrary, although several magazine profiles on the stars reported her true age. She was, in fact, five years older, but continued to deny long after Lunt's death that she was born in 1887 (the year now attributed to her birth); she even misreported her year of birth accordingly to the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Asked 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.


Lynn Fontanne died in 1983, aged 95, and was interred next to her husband, Alfred Lunt at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.








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