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Lunt, Alfred (1892-1977), and Lynn Fontanne (1887-1983)  
 
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Marriage as Shield

Their image as a respectable married couple also permitted them to take on sexually adventurous parts, as they did in Design for Living. Written by their friend Coward, who costarred in the 1933 production, the play deals with a ménage à trois. Although the physical nature of the relationship between the two men was made clear in the play, the censors and most critics somehow decided that the pair were just good friends.

Even the Lunts had their limits, however. When they and Coward were discussing how to stage the play, they considered using a gigantic bed as a set, at least until, as Coward recalled, "Alfred . . . suggested a few stage directions which, if followed faithfully, would undoubtedly have landed all three of us in gaol."

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Other risqué plays in which the Lunts appeared were Point Valaine (1934), which Coward wrote for them, and Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38 (1938). Fontanne also tested boundaries in O'Neill's Strange Interlude (1928), which Lunt called "a six-day bisexual race."

The Climate of Homophobia

In the late 1930s, as New York prepared to host the 1939 World's Fair, public authorities began a campaign to eradicate all visible signs of the city's gay community. The State Liquor Authority targeted gay bars, sending covert agents to look for "disorderly" conduct there. Police raided gay enterprises and arrested patrons, many of whom were sentenced to jail. Newspapers published the names of those who had been detained.

In this climate of , Lunt and Fontanne began taking less controversial roles, although, as they were no longer young, fewer may have been available to them in any event.

Montgomery Clift's Real Parents

In 1940 they appeared in Robert Sherwood's There Shall Be No Night as the middle-aged parents of Montgomery Clift. The Lunts were not known for taking young actors under their wing, but they did so with Clift, inviting him to their home, where they coached him in acting.

Lunt and Fontanne seem to have had a genuine affection for the young Clift (although they broke with him later). They gave him a photograph of themselves, inscribed "From your real mother and father." Clearly, they were engaged in a project of redefining the family.

At the time, Clift was in a gay relationship, and Lunt worried that Clift's career might suffer if that fact became known. The Lunts' "parental" advice to Clift was to marry a young actress, Phyllis Thaxter, and to establish themselves as an acting team, as Lunt and Fontanne had done.

The Ideal Couple

In the early 1940s the Lunts began an aggressive campaign to promote themselves as the picture of the ideal couple--quite literally. They granted interviews to magazines with a domestic slant such as Ladies' Home Journal, and had themselves photographed in homely pursuits at their farm--where they had a lavish house called Ten Chimneys--in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. In several variations of a posed photograph, the two are seen carrying a basket of vegetables, each of them holding one of the handles.

Lunt and Fontanne were able to control the access of journalists and photographers to their home, and thus to control their image. Other people rarely appear in photographs of them taken at this time; the Lunts are generally seen in isolation, a couple complete unto themselves and content.

With their image firmly in place, the Lunts continued their successful stage career. They also did some work in radio and appeared on television in Emmett Lavery's The Magnificent Yankee on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, for which both won Emmy Awards.

Last Years

On July 4, 1964, Lunt and Fontanne were given Presidential Medals of Freedom. Six years later, both received special Tony Awards for lifetime contributions to the theater.

Lunt and Fontanne retired in 1972. Lunt died on August 3, 1977, and Fontanne on July 30, 1983.

The inscription on their tombstone states that they "were universally regarded as the greatest acting team in the history of the English speaking theater" and that "[t]hey were married for 55 years and were inseparable both on and off the stage."

Linda Rapp

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literature >> Van Vechten, Carl

The gay novelist, critic, and photographer Carl Van Vechten was especially interested in African-American culture and was an influential patron to many writers of the Harlem Renaissance.


    Bibliography
   

Abel, Sam. "Staging Heterosexuality: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne's Design for Living." Passing Performances: Queer Readings of Leading Players in American Theater History. Robert A. Schanke and Kim Marra, eds. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1998. 175-196.

Baron, Jared. The Fabulous Lunts. New York: Atheneum, 1986.

Chauncey, George. Gay New York. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

"Lunt, Alfred; Fontanne, Lynn." Current Biography 1941. Maxine Block, ed. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1941. 532-535.

Zolotow, Maurice. Stagestruck: The Romance of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1964.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Lunt, Alfred , and Lynn Fontanne  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 9, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/lunt_fontanne.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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