Lynn Fontanne

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Lillie Louise Fontanne

Birthdate: (95)
Death: July 30, 1983 (95)
Immediate Family:

Wife of Alfred Davis Lunt

Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Lynn Fontanne

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).[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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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Lynn Fontanne's Timeline

December 6, 1887
July 30, 1983
Age 95

<The Times, August 1, 1983>


Miss Lynn Fontanne, the British-born actress who, with her husband,
Alfred Lunt, formed a famous partnership in American theatre, died in
the United States on July 30. She was 90.

It might be said that the United States discovered her and made her a
star, and then by loaning her to the British theatre, allowed us on
many occasions to endorse its judgement of her.

Her talent found its ripe expression in her partnership with Alfred
Lunt in high comedy.

Lynn Fontanne was born at Woodford, Essex. Ellen Terry accepted her as
a pupil, and she walked on in the Drury Lane pantomime of 1905. She
got her first speaking part in London and paid a brief visit to New
York as a member of Weedon Grossmith's company in 1910; and she did
two plays for the management of Vedrenne and Eadie at the old Royalty
Theatre in Soho. Laurette Taylor, who was appearing in London in "Peg
o' My Heart", saw her there, and in 1916 sent for her to join her own
company in the United States.

Lynn Fontanne supported Laurette Taylor in four pieces in New York,
all written by the star's husband, Hartley Manners.

She accompanied Laurette Taylor to London in 1920, having meanwhile
played "Anna Christie" in the first version of O'Neill's drama, and
was called back to tackle the part which established her on Broadway,
the name part in Marc Connelly and George Kaufman's comedy "Dulcy".
The audience at the opening night in 1921 included Alfred Lunt, the
actor from Wisconsin.

She was married to Lunt on May 26, 1922, at the City Hall, New York.

The real starting point of their stage partnership was their
engagement by the Theatre Guild for Molnar's comedy "The Guardsman" in
1924. The Guild presented them jointly in three plays by Shaw and
Copeau's production of "The Brothers Karamazov", and singly in two
plays by O'Neill. The Guild also introduced them as a team to London
in 1929. London found the play, Sil-Vara's "Caprice", uninteresting,
and was somewhat taken aback by the speed and the close "interaction"
of these two players. They came back to the English stage in 1934,
having in the meantime appeared as Elizabeth I and Essex in a play by
Maxwell Anderson and together with Noel Coward in the latter's "Design
for Living". They also brought over to us Robert Sherwood's "Reunion
in Vienna", and Giraudoux's "Amphitryon 38."

At the outbreak of the Second World War they were in the middle of a
Coast-to-coast tour of "Amphitryon 38", "The Seagull", and Sherwood's
"Idiot's Delight". In 1943, deciding that her rightful place was now
in England, she returned in order to appear with her husband in
Sherwood's play about life in an occupied country "There Shall Be No

They played in the West End till the Aldwych Theatre was damaged by
flying bombs, in camps and hospitals, and again the West End during
the last months of the war in Europe in Terence Rattigan's "Love in
Idleness". Later they went on a European tour with this comedy,
playing to audiences of Allied troops before taking it to North

They celebrated the jubilee of their partnership in 1949 and London
did not see them again until 1952, in the third Noel Coward play to be
written for them, "Quadrille". It proved to be an anticlimax for those
who remembered the excitement of the Lunts' war years. Next time they
came over, it was to break altogether fresh ground in an adaptation of
a play by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Their version of it, afterwards
entitled "The Visit", was admittedly not very like the original
spine-chilling comedy, but their performances, regarded simply as
such, added to their reputations.

Lynn Fontanne and her husband were together in one silent film and a
talking film of "The Guardsman". A contract for seven more films was
then offered to them by MGM, but they refused it. In 1943 they
appeared as themselves in Frank Borzage's film "The Stage Door
Canteen", and in 1957 they made their television debut in a production
of the stage play "The Great Sebastians."

Alfred Lunt died in 1977.