Lynn Fontanne (6 December 1887 – 30 July 1983) was a British actress. She teamed with her husband, Alfred Lunt. Lunt and Fontanne were given special Tony Awards in 1970. They both won Emmy Awards in 1965, and Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was named for them. Fontanne is regarded as one of the American theater's great leading ladies of the 20th century.
Born Lillie Louise Fontanne in Woodford, Essex (now London), of French and Irish descent, Lynn Fontanne's parents were Jules Fontanne and Frances Ellen Thornley and she had two sisters.
She drew acclaim in 1921 playing the title role in the George S. Kaufman-Marc Connelly farce, Dulcy.
She soon became celebrated for her skill as an actress in high comedy, excelling in witty roles written for her by Noël Coward, S.N. Behrman, and Robert Sherwood. However, she enjoyed one of the greatest critical successes of her career as Nina Leeds, the desperate heroine of Eugene O'Neill's controversial nine-act drama Strange Interlude.
n 1922, Lynn Fontanne married American stage actor and later director Alfred Lunt, and from the late 1920s on, Fontanne acted exclusively in vehicles also starring her husband Alfred Lunt.
Fontanne and Lunt worked together in 27 productions. Among their greatest theater triumphs were Design for Living (1933), The Taming of the Shrew (1935–36), Idiot's Delight (1936), There Shall Be No Night (1940), and Quadrille (1952). Design for Living, which Coward wrote expressly for himself and 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 duo remained active onstage until retiring from stage performances in 1958. Fontanne was nominated for a Tony Award for one of her last stage roles, in The Visit (1959).
Fontanne made only four films but nevertheless was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1931 for The Guardsman, She also appeared in the silent films Second Youth (1924) and The Man Who Found Himself (1925). She and husband Alfred also were in Stage Door Canteen (1943) in which they had cameos as themselves
The Lunts also starred in several radio dramas in the 1940s, notably on the Theatre Guild programme. Many of these broadcasts still survive
The Lunts starred in four television productions in the 1950s and 1960s with both Lunt and Fontanne winning Emmy Awards in 1965 for The Magnificent Yankee, Fontanne received a second Emmy nomination for playing Grand Duchess Marie in the Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast of Anastasia in 1967, two of the few productions in which she appeared without her husband.
On 5 May 1958, the former Globe Theatre, at Broadway and 46th Street, originally opened in 1910 and later turned into a motion picture venue after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was reopened after a massive gut renovation and renamed the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. On that day the Lunts opened their new theatre house with, The Visit, by Dürrenmatt. After 189 performances, The Visit would be their last appearance on Broadway.
In 1964, Lunt and Fontanne were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Lyndon Johnson.
On 5 May 1978, Lynn Fontanne, aged ninety, was honored at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, during a revival performance of Hello, Dolly!, by its star Carol Channing.
Fontanne was a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame like her husband Alfred Lunt, who died on 3 August 1977, nine days before his 85th birthday, in Chicago from cancer. At the time of his death, the couple were married for 55 years and were inseparable both on and off the stage.
Lynn Fontanne died in 1983, aged 95, from pneumonia, at "Ten Chimneys" in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, her home with her husband for many years.
Fontanne went to great lengths to avoid divulging her true age. Her husband reportedly died believing she was five years younger than he (as she had told him). She was, in fact, five years older, but continued to deny, long after Lunt's death, that she was born in 1887.
She was interred next to her husband Alfred Lunt at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.