Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lunt and Fontanne - the New England Tour From Hell

Husband and wife acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, famed for appearing in witty, sophisticated comedies, toured New England in “I Know My Love” in the summer of 1951. Apparently, it was The Touring Production from Hell.

Fresh from its run on Broadway at the Shubert Theater from November 1950 through June of 1951, the play, directed by Mr. Lunt, was set in Boston from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Lynn Fontanne has an interesting Broadway credit of being the one who designed and “executed” a hat she wore onstage.

It seems that when the play went on tour their luck ran out. From the book of theatre “incidents” by Brad Schreiber, “Stop the Show!” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006), an entertaining collection of theatre stories, “I Know My Love” first encountered problems in Hartford, Connecticut, when a robbery backstage occurred.

On to Springfield, Mass., where actress Esther Mitchell, one of the original Broadway cast members who played a maid, got smacked on the head by a prop box. She suffered a concussion.

On to Portland, Maine. Star of the show, Miss Fontanne, tripped on the hem of her dress while exiting her hotel, and fell. She broke her arm. According to the book, her husband, Mr. Lunt, was so rattled by this he just ran off. Ever the trooper, Miss Fontanne tied her broken arm up in a scarf and found herself a doctor. That night on stage, she wore her arm in a sling. Her husband apologized for momentarily losing his senses and his nerve.

The show went on, continuing the tour westward, but did not leave their bad luck in New England. Appearances in Pennsylvania and the Midwest were hampered by severe snow, staff illness, and a railroad strike.

In 1964, two years before they retired from acting, Lunt and Fontanne were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom award by President Lyndon Johnson. Perhaps it should have been a Medal of Honor for conspicious courage. Except for that moment in Portland when Alred lost it.

(The photos above are in public domain, from the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.)

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