The new 33-cent commemorative stamp honoring actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the husband-and-wife theatrical team, was dedicated Mar. 2 at the Broadway theatre bearing their names.
Actor Judd Hirsch was master of ceremonies for the 45-minute tribute to the Lunts, as they were known, who performed together for 40 years, but, like so many performers of the stage, are obscure to the public at large. Like Laurette Taylor, Katharine Cornell, Helen Hayes and others, the Lunts live in the memory of only a few people now -- and in reviews and biographies.
Speakers at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre included producer Alexander Cohen and Uta Hagen (who starred as Nina with the Lunts in The Seagull in 1938).
"I'm the oldest person in this room," joked Hagen from the stage. The actress and acting teacher lamented the fact that the Broadway theatres the Lunts worked in over the years are now "called musical comedy houses," and that the breed of dedicated non-musical actor has been "run out" of midtown.
"If we had artists of the caliber, dedication and obsessiveness (of) the Lunts, we could regain these theatres," said Hagen, who completed a run of Collected Stories Off-Broadway Mar 1. "I talk to my students," she continued, "they don't know who the Lunts are. They were certainly one of the great influences in my life."
The general public, ignorant of the Lunts because they only appeared in three films and couple of the golden age TV programs, will have contact with the duo beginning Mar 3 when 40 million stamps begin circulating. (They are available in New York March 2 because it's the "issue city.")
Alma Cuervo and Larry Keith, who appear as Isador and Ida Straus in Titanic at the Lunt-Fontanne, sang "Still," in full costume and makeup (including life jackets). Composer-lyricist Maury Yeston's song about lifelong devotion was particularly fitting for the unveiling of the stamp honoring Lunt and Fontanne's lifelong commitment to the theatre and each other.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne performed together for 40 years, largely in sophisticated and urbane comedies. Lunt was born in Milwaukee in 1892 and performed in vaudeville and tours before he played his first Broadway lead in Clarence in 1919 (although he previously appeared on Broadway in Romance and Arabella in 1917). Fontanne (nee Lillie Louise Fontanne) was born in 1887 in London and performed in England until she emigrated to the United States in 1916.
The pair performed together in a summer stock company and were married in 1922. They joined the Theatre Guild in 1928 with the stipulation that they work together. They were coupled in 26 plays, three films and four television programs, and occasionally performed separately (he in Outward Bound, for example, in 1924, she in Strange Interlude in 1928).
Plays they appeared in include The Guardsman (1924), Design for Living (1933), The Taming of the Shrew (1935, 40), Idiot's Delight (1936), Amphitryon 38 (1937), There Shall Be No Night (1940). They spent the war years performing in England, and returned the U.S., acting in the comedies O Mistress Mine (1946), I Know My Love (1949), Quadrille (1954) and The Great Sebastians (1956). Their final Broadway play was The Visit (1958).
The former Globe Theatre became the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1958, coinciding with The Visit. Fontanne was considered the more subtle of the two performers, according to reviews, and both were thought to be among the finest actors of their generation. The Lunts were given a Special Tony Award in 1970. Hagen recommended the biography, "The Fabulous Lunts," to the audience of perhaps 300 people at the dedication. The crowd included stamp collectors, theatre fans and theatre industry people.
The double-portrait image, by artist Drew Struzan, is based on a 1931 publicity shot from Lullaby, a film that was never made. Struzan also created artwork for the Broadway Songwriters stamps (including Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Hollywood Composers stamps, to be issued later in 1999 as part of the American Songwriters series.
Every year the U.S. Post Office receives 40,000 suggestions for commemorative stamps. Except for U.S. presidents no person will be honored on a stamp or stationery item until 10 years after his or her death, usually on a significant birthday.
-- By Kenneth Jones