The Fabulous Lunts

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Wisconsin-born Alfred Lunt and British-born Lynn Fontanne both started from humble beginnings but became phenomenally successful in the United States and Britain. They were famous for their performances together in light comedy, in which they perfected their timing and their technique of “overlapping dialogue.” They felt a professional obligation, however, to attempt controversial and financially risky productions as well. They knew everyone of importance in the British and American theater, and THE FABULOUS LUNTS is spiced with numerous miniature portraits of such interesting personalities as Helen Hayes, Robert E. Sherwood, Montgomery Clift, Alexander Woollcott, and their lifelong friend, actor/playwright Noel Coward.

The love the Lunts shared for the theater was the foundation of their love for each other. One envious actress complained: “How can any other actors expect to play together as well as Alfred and Lynn? They rehearse in bed!” They were happily married from 1922 until Lunt’s death in 1977. When Fontanne died in 1983, she left an estate valued at nearly two million dollars, in spite of the fact that the couple had always lived on a lavish scale and were notably generous with their time and money.

Jared Brown, a professor of theater at Western Illinois University, writes with ease and authority. Most of the sixteen chapters of his book are devoted to detailed accounts of how the Lunts became interested in specific plays, how they helped the authors to improve them, and how they rehearsed and performed and continued to perfect their interpretations. They imposed their own high standards on everyone with whom they worked, and Brown suggests that their influence on stage and screen acting was far greater than has ever been acknowledged.

Along with an insight into the world behind the curtain, the reader gets an overview of the American theater from its heyday in the 1920’s and 1930’s, through its slow decline over subsequent decades, to its present ambiguous and fragmented condition. Brown’s dual biography illustrates one theme throughout: Success is the result of single-minded dedication and hard work. THE FABULOUS LUNTS is an inspiring story of two remarkable people.