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Ralph Foody

Ralph Foody


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When playing onstage opposite her husband Alfred Lunt, this slim, willowy and arch performer was one-half of a stage pairing that was among the most noted in the theatrical world from the 1920s through their last pairing in 1965. Stage great Ellen Terry discovered Lynne Fontanne as a child; the young actress came to the US with "Mr. Preedy and the Countess" in 1910, but returned to England for her first real success in "Milestones" (1914). She came back to America in 1916 and began a long string of hits, often in tandem with Lunt whom she had met in 1919 and married in 1922. Solo, she appeared as the dizzy corporate wife in "Dulcy" (1921) and the possessive Nina in Eugene O'Neill's controversial and influential drama "Strange Interlude" (1928). But it was the Lunt-Fontanne combination which brought the couple fame: his Midwestern earnestness and her British charm played off each other in scores of shows, notably "Sweet Nell of Old Drury" (their first pairing, 1923), "The Guardsman" (1924), "Elizabeth the Queen" (1930), in which she was the Virgin Queen to his Earl of Essex, "Design for Living" (1933), cavorting with Noel Coward, the award-winning anti-war drama "Idiot's Delight" (1936), a tour of "O, Mistress Mine" (1946-1949), and their last stage duet, "The Visit" (1958). It was a serendipitous teaming unmatched in theatrical history.

Fontanne made a few sparing appearances in film and TV. She appeared in two silent films, "Second Youth" (1924, with her husband) and "The Man Who Found Himself" (1925). Lunt and Fontanne starred in the stiff, stagy talkie version of "The Guardsman" in 1931, which earned them Oscar nominations as Best Actor and Best Actress, and the two appeared as themselves in the all-star "Stage Door Canteen" (1943). Fontanne made her TV debut narrating the Mary Martin starrer "Peter Pan" (NBC, 1955) and co-starred with her husband in "The Great Sebastians" (NBC, 1957) and "The Magnificent Yankee" (NBC, 1965). Solo, she made her TV swan song as the Dowager Empress opposite Julie Harris in "Anastasia" (NBC, 1967). After Lunt's 1977 death, Fontanne retired to their Wisconsin home. At her death, her age was variously given as 91, 95 and 101, though the middle figure seems to have been accurate.

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