Hume Cronyn Biography

Born July 18, 1911, in London, Ontario, Canada; died of prostate cancer, Fairfield, CT, on June 15, 2003. Actor, writer, and director. Hume Cronyn's long and varied career spanned seven decades and encompassed roles in theater, film, and television. In addition to acting, Cronyn was a talented director and writer. His marriage to Jessica Tandy lasted for 52 years and the two actors created many memorable roles starring opposite each other.

Cronyn came from a privileged Canadian family; his mother was a member of the Labatt's brewery family and his father, also named Hume, was a prominent Canadian banker as well as a politician. Cronyn's interest in theater was encouraged while he was growing up. His parents took him to London, England, to see performances when he was 15 years old. Despite his love of theater, Cronyn followed his father's wishes by studying law at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Short and compact, Cronyn was a talented athlete and a star on the McGill University boxing team. He was even nominated for a spot on the 1932 Canadian Olympic boxing team. By 1932, though, Cronyn—who had been spending summers in the United States studying acting—had made a decision about his future. He chose to quit college, move to New York City, and take a chance on being an actor.

Cronyn had made his theater debut in 1931 in the play Up Pops the Devil, playing a paperboy. From 1932 to 1934, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts as well as under the Austrian drama coach Max Reinhardt. He appeared in as many plays as possible where he could find work and made his Broadway debut in 1934 in Hippers' Holiday, playing a janitor. In 1939, he made a critically acclaimed appearance in Anton Chekov's Three Sisters as the brother, Andrea Prozoroff.

In 1940, Cronyn met the British actress Jessica Tandy and sparked a relationship that would last more than 50 years. Together Tandy and Cronyn established a reputation for performing the classics as well as a successful run of more experimental stage works. In 1946, Cronyn directed Tandy in a Los Angeles, California, production of Tennessee Williams' Portrait of a Madonna. The role earned her critical acclaim and helped further her Broadway career. They starred in their first Broadway production together in 1951 in the comedy The Fourposter. For their performances in The Gin Game they were both nominated for Tony Awards.

The couple went on to co–star in film and television as well. In 1954 they appeared in The Marriage, a short–lived NBC series—the first ever to be telecast in color. In the 1980s they appeared in several films including The World According to Garp, Batteries Not Included, Cocoon, and Cocoon: The Return. In 1991, they made the CBS movie To Dance With the White Dog and were both nominated for Emmy Awards. Tandy died three years later, in 1994, from cancer. The two actors earned membership in the Theater Hall of Fame as well as lifetime achievement awards from the Kennedy Center and the Tony Awards.

In 1943, Cronyn made his film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. The next year he appeared in another Hitchcock film called Lifeboat and was also nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award for his role in The Seventh Cross. Other notable films that Cronyn appeared in include 1943's Phantom of the Opera, 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice, and 1963's Cleopatra. Cronyn's television appearances in the 1950s included starring in two episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. He also appeared in several dramas including The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Moon and Sixpence, and Juno and the Paycock.

By the 1960s, Cronyn was beginning to earn awards for his work in theater. In 1961, he was awarded the Barter Theater Award for outstanding contribution to the theater. He also won the New York Drama League Medal for his role in Big Fish, Little Fish playing a homosexual art instructor. In 1964, Cronyn won a Tony Award playing Polonious in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Cronyn was a tireless worker and was not slowed when in 1969 his left eye had to be removed due to cancer. He meticulously prepared for each of his roles, trying to pin down the smallest nuances of his characters. In between acting jobs he kept himself busy writing or directing. reported that he said, "I fill my life with a lot of 'busyness' in between jobs. Then I work very hard. Some of it is quite unhealthy. It's compulsive.… I'm a little old to change."

Cronyn was also an experienced writer and worked with Hitchcock on the scripts for two of his films, Rope and Under Capricorn. He also wrote the play Foxfire in which he and Tandy starred on stage and in a television adaptation. He also co–wrote The Dollmaker, a television movie starring Jane Fonda. In 1991, he published his memoir, A Terrible Liar.

Cronyn died on June 15, 2003, of prostate cancer. He was 91 years old. Cronyn's first marriage, to Emily Woodruff in 1935, ended in divorce. Cronyn is survived by his third wife, author Susan Cooper (whom he married in 1996), three children, two step-children, eight grandchildren, and five great–grandchildren. His attention to detail and his energetic dedication to all aspects of performance earned him a permanent and acclaimed spot in entertainment history.

Sources: , (March 12, 2004); E! Online,,1,11992,00.html?eol.tkr (March 12, 2004); Independent (London, England), June 18, 2003, p. 16; Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2003, p. B12; New York Times, June 17, 2003, p. A1; Washington Post, June 17, 2003, p. B7.

Eve M. B. Hermann

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