To Dance With the White Dog
“To act you must have a sense of truth and some degree of dedication.” Hume Cronyn
Highly-praised Canadian/American actor of film, television and stage Hume Cronyn, born in 1911, died in 2003, had formed a long and notable career after escaping an early image as a movie baddie. He was nominated for an Oscar for his scene-stealing performance in 1944’s The Seventh Cross, and continued to demonstrate his versatility by having various roles in movies like People Will Talk (1951), Sunrise at Campobello (1960), There Was a Crooked Man (1970) and The Parallax View (1974). He, however, was most undeniably famous for his fruitful collaboration with his second wife, Jessica Tandy. After their debut partnership in the 1944 film, the couple rejoined for the first time in a film after 35 years for 1980’s Honky Tonk Freeway, which was followed by five more movies for the next 13 years, including The World According to Garp (1982), Cocoon (1985) and its 1988 installment, and Camilla (1994). Cronyn also starred with Tandy in the made-for-TV film To Dance With the White Dog (1993), from which he won one of his three Emmy Awards, and acted together in numerous Broadways, most notably “The Fourposter” (1951), “A Delicate Balance” (1966), “The Gin Game” (1977) and “The Petition” (1986). They even jointly received a Special Lifetime Achievement Tony in 1993. On his own, Cronyn won a Tony Award for his bright supporting turn in “Hamlet” (1964).
A three-time Emmy-winning performer, Cronyn collected his other two Emmy awards in HBO’s movie Age-Old Friends (1990), as John Cooper, and Broadway Bound (1992), as Ben. He also gained praise for playing roles in such TV projects as “Foxfire” (1987), 12 Angry Men (1997), Sea People (1999), Off Season (2001) and A Separate Peace (2004). Also a writer, Cronyn enjoyed success with his adaptation for ABC’s The Dollmaker (1984), co-written with future (and last) wife Susan Cooper. They shared a Writers Guild of America Award, a Humanitas Prize Award and an Emmy nomination.
Cronyn had been married three times: Emily Woodruff (1935 -1941), Jessica Tandy (1942 until Tandy’s death in 1994) and Susan Cooper (1996 until his death in 2003). He and Tandy had two children.
Childhood and Family:
Hume Blake Cronyn was born on July 18, 1911, in London, Ontario, Canada, to Hume Blake Cronyn, an entrepreneur and a member of Canadian Parliament, and Frances Amelia Labatt, an heiress of the developing company of the same name. His great-grandfather was Bishop Benjamin Cronyn, who was the first Anglican bishop of Huron bishopric, and originator of Huron College at the University of Western Ontario. Benjamin Jr., his great-uncle, was both a famous resident and early mayor of London, Ontario. Hume was also a cousin of Canadian Tony Award-winning theater producer Robert Whitehead, who married actress Zoe Caldwell. After graduating from Ridley College Cronyn, he studied pre-law at the McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, but later transferred to drama. He went on to hone his crafts at Austria’s Mozarteum and at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Before acting, Hume was an amateur featherweight boxer, and received a nomination at the1932 Canadian Olympic Boxing Team
Hume married Emily Woodruff from 1935 to 1941. After divorcing, he tied the knot with actress Jessica Tandy on September 27, 1942. They had a son, Christopher Cronyn, in 1943 and a daughter, Tandy Cronyn, in 1945. Both Hume and Tandy worked together in many projects until Tandy passed away on September 11, 1994. In July 1996, Hume remarried, to writer Susan Cooper.
On June 15, 2003, at age 92, Hume died of prostate cancer in Fairfield, Connecticut. His wife, Susan, was by his side.
Son of a renowned Canadian politician, Hume Cronyn was hoped by his family to pursue a law career, but chose acting instead. In 1930, while still a student at McGill University, he made his stage acting debut with the Montreal Repertory Theatre by playing the Janitor in “Hipper’s Holiday.” After immigrating to the U.S., the Canadian native got his first professional job with Cochran’s Stock Company at the National Theatre, Washington, DC, in the stage production of “Up Pops the Devil” in 1931, and went on to debut on Broadway with “Hipper’s Holiday” in 1934. His breakthrough role arrived a year later when he was cast as in the lead in the road company of George Abbott’s Broadway hit, “Three Men on a Horse.” Since then, he had amassed numerous Broadway credits, and even made a name for himself for his versatility and later also segueing into producing, directing and playwriting.
In 1939, Cronyn hit the small screen as Ned Farrar on the NBC presentation of “Her Master’s Voice,” an appearance that paved the way for his first feature role in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed film-noir Shadow of a Doubt (1943), portraying a literal-minded, inquiring, armchair detective-neighbor named Herbie Hawkins, and rejoined the director in 1944 for Lifeboat, where he was cast as the ship’s radio operator. The same year, he won acclaim with his portrayal of the dozy buddy who helps Spencer Tracy evade the Gestapo in the Holocaust film The Seventh Cross, based on a novel by Anna Seghers. The bright presentation brought the actor a Best Supporting Oscar nomination. The movie also marked his first onscreen collaboration with wife Jessica Tandy. Despite the honor, Cronyn was often cast as crooks, including as a Nazi collaborator in The Cross of Lorraine (1943) and the dreadfully brutal jail guard captain in Brute Force (1947). That was why he rejected the coveted role of the vicious assassin played by Richard Widmark in 1947’s Kiss of Death. Meanwhile, on the stage, Cronyn made his directing debut on Tennessee Williams’ one-act play “Portrait of a Madonna” (1944), starring wife Tandy.
Cronyn reunited with Alfred Hitchcock when he contributed on the screenplays for the director’s Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949). 1948 also saw him debut as TV series producer-director in the based-on-play “Actors Studio” (initially aired on ABC, later on CBS). After directing his first Broadway, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” (1950), he and wife Tandy for the first time appeared together in a play, Broadway’s “The Fourposter” (1951), and later performances like in Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” (1966), “The Gin Game” (1977) and “The Petition” (1986) cemented their stratus as the successors to Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne as the top married acting couple of the American theater.
The versatile performer started his first of three films collaboration with director Joseph L Mankiewicz in People Will Talk (1951), playing an envious physician, before landing his first series regular role, as Ben Marriott, on the NBC short-lived series “The Marriage” (1954), costarring wife Tandy, and after the show came to an end, he appeared in a string of TV shows in guest spots. Returning to film, he took on the role of Roosevelt’s snippy counselor Louis Howe in Sunrise at Campobello (1960), for director Vincent J. Donehue. Four year later, in 1964, Cronyn’s stage career received boost with his scene-stealing role as Polonius in “Hamlet,” starring Richard Burton in the title role. The role, which he reprised for a big screen film of the same name (also 1964), won him his first Tony.
After loosing an eye to cancer in the late 1960s, Cronyn made only three films during the next decade. He played half of a wrangling old gay couple in 1970’s There Was a Crooked Man (last film with Mankiewicz), was featured opposite Jon Voight and Paul Winfield in the drama Conrack (1974) and costarred as the editor of Warren Beatty in the Alan J Pakula-helmed thriller The Parallax View (1974). After this, he took a break from acting.
Kicking off the 1980s, Cronyn started his affiliation with writer Susan Cooper, co-penning “Foxfire,” the 1980 Broadway play co-starring Tandy and him. He was reunited with Tandy in a film after 35 years in Honky Tonk Freeway, which they followed by playing the parents of Glenn Close in The World According to Garp (1982) and married couple in Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985) and its sequel Cocoon: The Return (1988), from which Cronyn was nominated for two Saturn for Best Actor, and in *batteries not included (1987). In the meantime, his collaboration with Cooper blossomed when they picked up a Writers Guild of America and a Humanitas Prize as well as an Emmy nomination for their outstanding writing in the ABC teleplay The Dollmaker (1984).
When Cronyn and Tandy reprised their stage roles for a CBS “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation of “Foxfire” in 1987, Cronyn earned another Emmy nomination, this time for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special, but he did not take home the statue until 1990, after playing John Cooper in the HBO movie Age-Old Friends. He furthered the recognition by nabbing his second Emmy as well as a Golden Globe nomination for his supporting role as the grandfather in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (1992), opposite Anne Bancroft, and his third Emmy for his starring turn opposite Tandy in the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” CBS TV-movie To Dance With the White Dog (1993). Cronyn and Tandy’s last onscreen appearances were as ex-lovers in 1994’s Camilla (released after Tandy’s death).
After taking some time off following Tandy’s death, Cronyn restarted working by playing the dying patriarch in Marvin’s Room (1996), along side Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep, before appearing in the Showtime films 12 Angry Men (1997), earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for playing Juror #9, and Horton Foote’s Alone (also 1997), and in the CBS miniseries “Seasons of Love” (1999). He netted a 2000 Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Special for his work in Sea People (1999).
Before his death, Cronyn acted in three television films: Yesterday’s Children (2000), Off Season (2001), helmed by Bruce Davison, and A Separate Peace (released after his death in 2004), in which he earned a 2005 Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special.