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Actor Hume Cronyn dies at 91

June 16, 2003 at 6:56 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, June 16 (UPI) -- Hume Cronyn, one of the most distinguished stage, screen and TV actors of his time, died of cancer Sunday at his home in Fairfield, Conn. He was 91.

Cronyn -- who with his wife, the late Jessica Tandy, won the first Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1994 -- was a two-time Tony-winner, a three-time Emmy-winning actor and writer, and an Oscar nominated star of more than 30 feature films.

In addition to the lifetime achievement award, Cronyn won a Tony for Best Supporting or Featured Actor for his performance as Polonius in Richard Burton's heralded 1964 production of "Hamlet." He was also nominated for Tonys for "Big Fish, Little Fish" (1961), "A Delicate Balance" (1967), "The Gin Game" (1978) and "The Petition" (1986). Cronyn was also nominated twice as a producer -- for "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground" (1965) and "The Gin Game."

He was nominated for seven Emmy Awards -- including one for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special for "The Dollmaker" in 1984. He won three acting Emmys -- for "Age-Old Friends" (1990), "Neil Simon's Broadway Bound" (1992) and "To Dance with the White Dog" (1994).

His most recent Emmy nomination came for the 1998 Showtime movie "12 Angry Men," which also starred acting legends Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott.

When both Cronyn and Tandy were nominated for Tonys for "The Gin Game," Cronyn told the New York Times there was no professional jealousy in their partnership.

"Every triumph that Jessie has I feel in some totally illogical way is my triumph, and I hope she feels that way too."

Cronyn and Tandy received the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Medal in 1986. They also received the Brandeis University Creative Arts Medal for lifetime achievement and the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in the dramatic arts. Cronyn and Tandy were elected to the Theater Hall of Fame in 1979.

The couple was married for more than 51 years. Tandy died of ovarian cancer in September 1994, and shortly thereafter, Cronyn married Susan Cooper -- who co-wrote "The Dollmaker" with Cronyn, and wrote "To Dance with the White Dog" for Cronyn and Tandy. Cooper and Cronyn also collaborated on the play "Foxfire," which Cooper adapted for TV.

In 1991, Cronyn published "A Terrible Liar: A Memoir," in which he described his childhood in Ontario, Canada, and his life in the theater.

Hume Blake Cronyn was born on July 18, 1911, to wealth and privilege. His father, also named Hume Blake Cronyn, was a financier and a member of Canada's House of Commons. His mother was a descendant of the family that operated Canada's Labatt brewery.

Cronyn was educated in private schools, where he learned to box as a matter of self defense and became good enough to earn a nomination to Canada's Olympic boxing team. But he confounded his family -- foregoing the invitation, dropping out of Montreal's McGill University after his sophomore year, and enrolling in the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts.

Following an unremarkable Broadway debut in "Hipper's Holiday" (1934), Cronyn went on to perform in dozens of Broadway and touring productions, before he was noticed by Hollywood in the early '40s.

In "A Terrible Liar," Cronyn provides an account of the meeting with suspense master Alfred Hitchcock that eventually led to Cronyn's Hollywood debut in the 1943 feature "Shadow of a Doubt." Cronyn also joined Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix and John Hodiak in Hitchcock's 1944 World War II drama "Lifeboat." He also co-wrote the screenplays for Hitchcock's "Rope" (1948) and "Under Capricorn" (1949).

Cronyn's book also described his collaborations with such acting legends as James Dean, Laurence Olivier and Jason Robards -- as well as his experience of filming "Cleopatra" (1963), a production that was notorious for the personal scandals of Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Cronyn was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "The Seventh Cross" in 1944, and also appeared in such Hollywood classics as "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946) and "Ziegfeld Follies" (1946).

In the 1950s, Cronyn mainly worked in the theater, frequently teaming with Tandy -- whom he had married in 1942.

They appeared onstage together for the first time in a memorable 1951 Broadway production of "The Four Poster," and went on to share the stage on many more occasions, including a 1978 production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Gin Game."

The couple -- who were frequently compared to an earlier acting team, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne -- appeared frequently in hit movies in the 1980s. They were featured in the Ron Howard fountain-of-youth story "Cocoon" (1985) and the sci-fi drama "*batteries not included" (1987). Cronyn and Tandy also appeared together in "The World According to Garp" (1984).

In the TV movie "Foxfire," Cronyn and Tandy played a couple who lived their lives together in the Blue Ridge Mountains, until the husband's death. In "Dance with the White Dog," the tables were turned, with Cronyn played the grieving survivor of a long-term relationship.

Cronyn's other Hollywood movie credits include "The Parallax View" (1974), "Honky Tonk Freeway" (1981), and "The Pelican Brief" (1993). His last performance came in the 2001 Christmas-themed TV movie "Off Season."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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