During the Christmas season of 1939 a touring company from England arrived at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario for a production of Charles the King. The play starred a 30-year-old actress named Jessica Tandy.
"She used to go up and down Richmond Street learning her lines and, she said, I'm sure half the Londoner thought I was totally insane because here I am walking down, grumbling, mumbling to myself, yelling, hollering, guesticulating and, she said, I would then duck into St. Pauls and have a quiet moment to myself and then come back to the theatre," recalls Rob Wellan, public relations manager at the Grand
Three years later, Tandy married a rising movie actor who was the great grandson of a bishop who had once preached at the cathedral that had given her that quiet moment.
Although he went to the Grand Theatre as a child, Hume Cronyn did not begin his acting career until he was in and Ottawa boarding school, isolated from family and friends.
"Someone told me that I was leading a very rich fantasy life and I suppose I was," says Cronyn. "I got into the habit of performing for no audience at all. Just to please myself and escape from a sort of loneliness I suppose."
Cronyn made his first professional appearance at the Grand during the 1939 Dominion Drama Festival - but as an activist, not an actor. At a round table discussion Toronto drama critic Hector Charlesworth flatly dismissed the future of professional Canadian theatre. Cronyn took up the challenge, arguing passionately for a national company. He pointed to the Grand's amateur troop as a stepping stone towards that goal.
Cronyn finally brought his theatrical skills to the Grand in 1950 when he directed and co-produced a new play starring Oscar-winner Frederic March. Tandy, fresh from her Broadway triumph in Streetcar Named Desire, flew in to catch the world premier of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep - with a cast of 46.
"I had delusions of grandeur I think," Cronyn laughs. "It was a play but it was done on the scope of a musical. Today it would be impossible. It would just be too expensive…I directed, in all six Broadway plays but this was the first and certainly of them all it was the most ambitious."
A year later, at the age of 40, Cronyn made his acting debut in London. The play was The Four Poster, a two-hander about a married couple, starring a married couple. Cronyn and Tandy would take the play on to a successful Broadway run, and help it to win a Tony Award for best play.
In 1976 they opened the Grand's 75th season with another two-person show, The Many Faces of Love. Four months later Tandy returned for the fourth time to star with then-artistic director William Hutt in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.
"I remember Hume standing out on the stage that evening after all the applause had died down and just said to the audience I hope you appreciate what you have," says Elenor Ender, the wife of then board president Art Ender.
Applause and awards followed
every London visit by North America's greatest theatrical couple. In return,
they gave free readings and lectures and lent their names to local fundraising
campaigns. After Tandy's death in 1994 The Grand Theatre's rehearsal hall
was named in her honor.
In summertime on
The bells would ring
to call her
But when the snows
They tolled the one
Public appearances by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in London, Ontario
Charles The King
War Bond Drive
Now I Lay Me Down
The Four Poster
Many Faces of Love
Long Day's Journey
September 22, 2000