Ten Chimneys is the rural Wisconsin home and estate of the late, great Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, which in recent years has been converted into a museum and arts organization.
The series will feature plays that the Lunts starred in during their four-decade stage career. The first two offerings are There Shall Be No Night, the Robert E. Sherwood anti-war play, on Monday, Sept. 26; and The Guardsman, the Molnar comedy that made the Lunts stars, on Monday, Oct. 24.
This first reading will be presented the night after Ten Chimneys is slated to be featured on the national news magazine "CBS News Sunday Morning." The show airs from 8 AM to 9:30 AM on CBS.
Reservations can be made at (262) 968-4161 ext. 500. There is a $15 suggested donation.
* Ten Chimneys—a fanciful, opulently appointed and eminently theatrical set of buildings nestled in the hilly southeastern Wisconsin hamlet of Genesee Depot—was Lunt and Fontanne's home from the mid-1920s until their deaths. The stage couple filled each room with antiques, collectibles, hand painted murals, paintings and ornaments of every description. The overall decorative flavor was Scandinavian, but the effect was pure theatre. Many of their visitors—which included Alexander Woollcott, Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier and Noel Coward—remarked that every room was a stage set.
Joseph Garton, a tenacious Wisconsin restauranteur and theatre enthusiast, single-handedly saved the estate from destruction. He died Aug. 2, 2003, at his Madison home, 15 days short of his 57th birthday. He had been battling cancer.
When Garton first encountered Ten Chimneys, the place was still intact, if in a state of neglect. Lunt died in 1977 and Fontanne in 1982. The land and buildings had been left to Alfred's brother-in-law George Bugbee. Joseph Garton first met the aged Bugbee in 1994, prior to a private tour of Ten Chimneys.
The estate haunted Garton for months, so he wrote Bugbee asking if he could come back. There was no reply to that or a follow-up letter. Alarmed, Garton asked a friend the Wisconsin Historical Society to look in on Bugbee—immediately. Bugbee had died and his daughter Suzanne Knapp had put Ten Chimneys on the market. Garton was outbid by a local developer who wanted to break up and sell the land, buildings and contents.
Garton didn't give up easily. He launched a one-man campaign to save the Lunts' home, contacting newspapers and politicians. When the developer let his option on the property pass, Garton told Mrs. Knapp, "Give me a week." He took out a million dollar loan and bought the property. Three months later, Ten Chimneys Foundation was formed, which eventually purchased the estate back from Garton. Then began a seven year journey of fundraising and restoration. On May 26, 2003, the Lunts' 81st anniversary, Ten Chimneys opened as a public museum and cultural center.