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Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy

cronyn and tandy circa 1950During 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."

four poster ad 1951A 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.

Before his own death in June 2003, Cronyn made one final visit to London in 2000. He visited the Grand Theatre and, standing upon its empty stage, delivered one of Tandy's favourite poems, Bredon Hill:

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
"Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray."
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
"Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon
And still the steeples hum.
"Come all to church, good people,"
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come."

Public appearances by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in London, Ontario

Dominion Drama Festival
April 15, 1939
Hotel London
Cronyn was a guest speaker at a round-table discussion on the future of Canadian theatre

Charles The King
bu Maurice Colbourne
November 23-24, 1939
Grand Theatre
Tandy starred in Maurice Colbourne's touring production

Player's Club
October 27, 1942
University of Western Ontario
Cronyn spoke on the development of Canadian Theatre

War Bond Drive
October 1944
London Armories and Hotel London
Cronyn spoke at these two fund-raising events

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
by Ludwig Bemelmans
January 23-28, 1950
Cronyn directed this Canadian premier starring Frederic March and Florence Eldridge

Dominion Drama Festival
May 1951
Grand Theatre
Cronyn presented the award for best actor

The Four Poster
by Jan de Hartog
July 16-18, 1951
Grand Theatre
Cronyn and Tandy starred in this Canadian premier

Convocation Ceremony
October 26, 1974
University of Western Ontario
Cronyn and Tandy were given honourary law degrees

Many Faces of Love
featuring the works of Edward Albee, Robert Frost, James Thurber and others
October 28 to November 13, 1976
Grand Theatre
Cronyn and Tandy starred in this evening of readings

Women's Canadian Club
October 21, 1976
Centennial Hall

Talk by Cronyn and Tandy

Long Day's Journey Into Night
by Eugene O'Neill
Spring 1977
Grand Theatre
Tandy appeared with William Hutt in this Robin Phillips production

September 22, 2000
Cronyn's final visit to London