The 324-page book is by Margo Peters, who wrote the highly praised biography of Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore, "The House of Barrymore," as well as volumes on Mrs. Patrick Campbell and George Bernard Shaw. She has said that the Lunts volume will be her last. It is the first major treatment of the stage duo since Jared Brown's "The Fabulous Lunts" in 1984, and the first since Ten Chimneys, the couple's famed Wisconsin retreat, opened to the public as a museum and arts center.
From the mid-1920s to the late-1950s, the American Lunt and the English Fontanne dominated the Broadway stage as no other acting team did. After appearing together in Caprice in 1928, they never again appeared apart from one another on stage. Their sophisticated aplomb and various acting innovations (playing with their backs to the audience; carefully overlapping dialogue; seemingly conversational articulation; a romantic physicality) made them a big draw for audiences. For nearly 30 years following their breakthrough hit in The Guardsman, they registered only one or two commercial flops.
Early on, they were associated with the prestigious Theatre Guild, which allowed them to try on the adventuresome plays and roles they hungered for. Soon enough, they became the Guild's top stars, giving them the power to control most aspects of their productions. (They were notorious perfectionists.) Among their Guild successes, often penned by S.N. Behrman and Robert Sherwood, were Amphitryon 38, The Taming of the Shrew, There Shall Be No Night, Elizabeth the Queen and Reunion in Vienna. They were also lifelong colleagues and friends of Noel Coward, who famously wrote Design for Living for them. Their swan song was the Peter Brook Broadway production of Durrenmatt's The Visit.
Dedicated to the road, they often toured their Broadway successes for one to two years across the nation. Their devotion to the stage, while good for the theatre, meant they made only one significant film ("The Guardsman" of 1931) and that their legacy has somewhat faded from the public's memory since their deaths.
"Design for Living" lists at $30.