Alfred Davis Lunt Jr.
August 12, 1892
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||August 3, 1977 (aged 84)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Education||Carroll College, Le Cordon Bleu|
Alfred Davis Lunt Jr. (August 12, 1892 – August 3, 1977) was an American stage director and actor who had a long-time professional partnership with his wife, actress Lynn Fontanne. Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was named for them. Lunt was one of 20th century Broadway's leading male stars.
He became a star in 1919 as the buffoonish lead in Booth Tarkington's play Clarence, but soon distinguished himself in a variety of roles. The roles included the Earl of Essex in Maxwell Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen, a song-and-dance man touring the Balkans in Robert E. Sherwood's Idiot's Delight, a megalomaniacal tycoon in S.N. Behrman's Meteor, and Jupiter in Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38. His appearances in classical drama were infrequent, but he scored successes in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and Chekhov's The Seagull (in which Lunt played Trigorin, his wife played Arkadina, and Uta Hagen made her Broadway debut in the role of Nina). He was described by director and critic Harold Clurman as "universally acclaimed the finest American actor in the generation which followed John Barrymore; the Lunts are absolute angels."
Lunt was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1892 to Alfred D. Lunt and Harriet Washburn Briggs. With the exception of his paternal grandmother, who was of Scottish descent, his ancestors were of colonial Maine and Massachusetts stock. His father was descendant of Henry Lunt, an early settler of Newbury, Massachusetts.
His mother had several New England ancestors, including Mayflower arrivals. After his father, who was in the lumber business, died in 1893, Alfred's mother remarried Finnish-born physician Dr. Karl Sederholm and had another son and two daughters. The Sederholms moved to Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. Lunt later attended Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
He and his wife Lynn Fontanne, whom he married on May 26, 1922, in New York City, were the pre-eminent Broadway acting couple of American history. Secure in their public image as a happily married couple, they could play adulterers, as in Robert Sherwood's Reunion in Vienna, or as part of a ménage à trois in Noël Coward's Design for Living. (The latter, written for the Lunts, was so risqué, with its theme of bisexuality and a ménage à trois, that Coward premiered it in New York, knowing it would not survive the censor in London.) The Lunts appeared together in more than 20 plays. They also were featured posthumously on an American postage stamp.
The couple made three films together: Second Youth (1924), The Guardsman (1931), in which they starred, and Stage Door Canteen (1943) in which they had cameos as themselves. In 1958, they retired from the stage. They starred in several radio dramas for the Theatre Guild in the 1940s and starred in a few television productions in the 1950s and 1960s.
Summers, during their days of performing on stage and their retirement years, were spent at their home Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin.
Alfred Lunt died August 3, 1977, nine days before his 85th birthday, in Chicago from cancer. He is buried next to his wife at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the third person for whom the house lights were dimmed in all Broadway theaters following his death.
Ten Chimneys, Lunt and Fontanne's estate in Genesee Depot, currently is a house museum and resource center for theater. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City was named in honor of Lunt and his wife.
Selected Broadway stage work
- A Clean Slate (1903)
- Clarence (1919)
- The Guardsman (1924)
- Ned McCobb's Daughter (1926)
- The Second Man (1927)
- Caprice (1928)
- Elizabeth the Queen (1930)
- Meteor (1930)
- Design for Living (1933)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1935)
- Idiot's Delight (1936)
- Amphitryon 38 (1937)
- The Seagull (1938)
- There Shall Be No Night (1940)
- Candle in the Wind (1941)
- The Pirate (1942)
- O Mistress Mine (1946)
- I Know My Love (1949)
- Ondine (1954)
- Quadrille (1954)
- The Great Sebastians (1956)
- First Love (1961)
Selected film and TV appearances
The Lunts made multiple appearances on the radio series Theater Guild on the Air (also known as United States Steel Hour). These programs are hour-long adaptations of famous plays. The couple performed together eight times on the program, and each appeared three times without the other. Recordings of most of these episodes still exist unless noted presumed lost.
- The Guardsman, 09/30/1945, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne
- Elizabeth the Queen, 12/02/1945, Lunt, Fontanne
- Neb Cobb's Daughter, 12/09/45, Alfred Lunt, Shirley Booth
- The Second Man, 02/03/1946, Lunt, Peggy Conklin, Jessie Royce Landis
- The Show-Off, 03/03/1946, Lunt, Betty Garde, Helen Shields
- Call it a Day, 06/02/1946, Lunt, Fontanne
- The Great Adventure. A Play of Fancy in Four Acts, 01/05/1947, Lunt, Fontanne
- O Mistress Mine, 01/09/1949, Lunt, Fontanne (presumed lost)
- The Great Adventure (second performance), 11/20/1949, Lunt, Fontanne (presumed lost)
- There Shall Be No Night, 09/24/1950, Lunt, Fontanne (presumed lost)
- Pygmalion, 10/21/1951, Lunt, Fontanne
- Harold Clurman. The Collected Works. Ed. Marjory Loggia and Glenn Young. (New York: Applause Books, 1994): p. 890.
- "Birth Record Details". Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-07-23.
- Lunt, T.S.  Lunt: a history of the Lunt family in America Salem Press Co. (via Internet Archive) pg. 90, Alfred #1036
- ""Lunt and Fontanne," Encyclopædia Britannica".
- "Program for The American Academy of Arts and Letters and The National Institute of Arts and Letters for their Annual Ceremonial on May 22, 1947". American Foundation for the Blind Helen Keller Archive. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind. 22 May 1947. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
- "Theater Hall of Fame members".
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 28984). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Pollak, Michael (October 17, 2014). "A Brief History of Dimming the Lights on Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
- Every, Carolyn N. ""Home life of the Lunts". Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 66, no. 3 (Spring, 1983): 192-204.
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