Oscar Actors: Lunt, Alfred–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage)

November 25, 2020
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Alfred Davis Lunt Jr. (August 12, 1892 – August 3, 1977) was an American stage director and actor who had a long-time professional partnership with his wife, actress Lynn Fontanne. Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was named for them. Lunt was one of 20th century Broadway’s leading male stars.

Lunt received two Tony Awards, an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for 1931’s The Guardsman and an Emmy Award for the Hallmark Hall of Fame’s production of The Magnificent Yankee.

He became a star in 1919 as the buffoonish lead in Booth Tarkington’s play, Clarence, but soon distinguished himself in a variety of roles. The roles ranged from the Earl of Essex in Maxwell Anderson’s Elizabeth the Queen, to a song-and-dance man touring the Balkans in Robert E. Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight, a megalomaniacal tycoon in S. N. Behrman’s Meteor and Jupiter himself in Jean Giraudoux’s Amphitryon 38. His appearances in classical drama were infrequent, but he scored successes in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Chekhov’s The Seagull (in which Lunt played Trigorin, his wife played Arkadina, and Uta Hagen made her Broadway debut in the role of Nina). He was described by director and critic Harold Clurman as “universally acclaimed the finest American actor in the generation which followed John Barrymore; the Lunts are absolute angels.”

Lunt was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1892 to Alfred D. Lunt and Harriet Washburn Briggs. With the exception of his paternal grandmother, who was of Scottish descent, his ancestors were of colonial Maine and Massachusetts stock. His father was descendant of Henry Lunt, an early settler of Newbury, Massachusetts.

His mother had several New England ancestors, including Mayflower arrivals. After his father, who was in the lumber business, died in 1893, Alfred’s mother remarried a Finnish-born physician, Dr. Karl Sederholm, and had another son and two daughters. The Sederholms eventually moved to Genesee Depot, in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Lunt later attended Carroll College in nearby Waukesha, Wisconsin.

He and his wife, Lynn Fontanne, whom he married on May 26, 1922, in New York City, were the pre-eminent Broadway acting couple of American history. Secure in their public image as a happily married couple, they could play adulterers, as in Robert Sherwood’s Reunion in Vienna, or as part of a menage a trois in Noël Coward’s Design for Living. (The latter, written for the Lunts, was so risqué, with its theme of bisexuality and a ménage à trois, that Coward premiered it in New York, knowing it would not survive the censor in London.) The Lunts appeared together in more than twenty plays. They also were featured, posthumously, on an American postage stamp.

The couple made three films together, Second Youth (1924), The Guardsman (1931), in which they starred, and Stage Door Canteen (1943) in which they had cameos as themselves. In 1958 they retired from the stage.[4] They starred in several radio dramas for the Theatre Guild in the 1940s, and starred in a few television productions in the 1950s and 1960s.

Summers, during their days of performing on stage and their subsequent retirement years, were spent at their home “Ten Chimneys” at Genesee Depot in Lunt’s home state of Wisconsin.

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

Like Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt is represented in the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Lunt as he appears at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Alfred Lunt died August 3, 1977, nine days before his 85th birthday, in Chicago from cancer. He is buried next to his wife at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee.

He was the third person for whom the house lights were dimmed in all Broadway theaters after his death.

Ten Chimneys, Lunt and Fontanne’s estate in Genesee Depot, located in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, is now a house museum and resource center for theater. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York was named in honor of Lunt and his wife.

Lunt and Fontanne’s on-stage-off-stage battling was the inspiration for the 1948 smash hit Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Selected Broadway stage work

Clarence (1919)
The Guardsman (1924)
Ned McCobb’s Daughter (1926)
The Second Man (1927)
Caprice (1928)
Elizabeth the Queen (1930)
Meteor (1930)
Design for Living (1933)
The Taming of the Shrew (1935)
Idiot’s Delight (1936)
Amphitryon 38 (1937)
The Seagull (1938)
There Shall Be No Night (1940)
Candle in the Wind (1941)
The Pirate (1942)
O Mistress Mine (1946)
I Know My Love (1949)
Ondine (1954)
Quadrille (1954)
The Great Sebastians (1956)
First Love (1961)
Selected film and TV appearances
As actor
Backbone (1923) as John Thorne / Andre de Mersay
The Ragged Edge (1923) as Howard Spurlock
Second Youth (1924) as Roland Farwell Francis
Sally of the Sawdust (1925) as Peyton Lennox
Lovers in Quarantine (1925) as MackIntosh Josephs
The Guardsman (1931) as The Actor
Producers’ Showcase (1957, TV anthology series) as Rudi Sebastian
The Magnificent Yankee (1965, a presentation of TV’s
Hallmark Hall of Fame) as Oliver Wendell Holmes (final film role)