Jessica Tandy, 85, dies of cancer

September 12, 1994|By New York Times News Service

Jessica Tandy, who enhanced the American theater and enriched the American screen as few actresses have, died yesterday at her home in Easton, Conn. She was 85.

The cause was ovarian cancer, said her husband, the actor Hume Cronyn.

Miss Tandy triumphed on Broadway in 1947 as Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire" and was still a great star more than 40 years later when she played the title character in the 1989 film "Driving Miss Daisy." In the years between, she and her husband played opposite each other in success after success to become the most illustrious theater couple of their day.

With the role of Blanche Dubois, Miss Tandy emerged from a series of minor film roles to establish herself as one of the leading ladies of the stage.

Almost four decades later, New York Times drama critic Frank Rich wrote of her, "Everything this actress does is so pure and right that only poets, not theater critics, should be allowed to write about her."

When she was 80, she brought that purity and rightness to her portrayal of an aging and fiercely independent Southern lady in "Driving Miss Daisy." It was a performance that won her critical acclaim from Los Angeles to Berlin and, at last, an Academy Award.

When she received the Oscar in March 1990 she was the oldest person ever to win one.

When Miss Tandy and Mr. Cronyn first appeared together, in "The Fourposter" in 1951, audiences found a husband-and-wife team that would come to succeed Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne as the foremost couple of the American theater.

Miss Tandy was nominated five times for a Tony and won three: in 1948 for her role as Blanche Dubois, for "The Gin Game" in 1978, and for "Foxfire" in 1983. Mr. Cronyn was also nominated for "The Gin Game" but did not win. "I was bitterly disappointed," Miss Tandy said. "His performance is part of mine. I think he's very proud when I win, and vice versa."

Last night Mr. Cronyn won an Emmy for "To Dance with the White Dog" and Miss Tandy, also nominated, did not.

Miss Tandy acted in more than 100 stage productions during her 67-year career. She appeared in more than 25 movies and played the leading role in a number of television programs.

There was no temperament; there were no tantrums. Elia Kazan, her director in "Streetcar" said: "She's absolutely sweet-natured. She does her job; she has a sense of humor."

Miss Tandy, who became an American citizen in 1954, was born in London on June 7, 1909. Her father died when she was 12 and her mother took clerical and teaching jobs at night to supplement her regular income as headmistress of a school for retarded children. She and her two older brothers were read to a lot, Miss Tandy recalled in 1986: "good stuff, poetry."

Her love of the theater led her to the Ben Greet Academy of Acting where, in 1924, she began three years of dramatic training. She was 18 when she made her professional debut in a small back-room theater in Soho in "The Manderson Girls."

The offer of a role in "The Matriarch" brought her to New York briefly in 1930 for her Broadway debut. Ten years later, when the war in Europe had begun and her eight-year marriage to the actor Jack Hawkins was ending, she settled in the United States.

In 1940, while she was appearing in A.J. Cronin's "Jupiter Laughs," a young actor and wealthy man-about-town by the name of Hume Cronyn called on her backstage. Two years later they moved to Hollywood and were married. A son, Chris, was born in 1943 and a daughter, Tandy, in 1945.

They, her daughter Susan, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren survive her, in addition to her husband.

She played Mr. Cronyn's wife in four of her most recent films, "Honky Tonk Freeway," (1981) "Cocoon," (1984), "Batteries Not Included" (1987) and "Cocoon: The Return" (1988). In 1992, Miss Tandy, then 82, played an indomitable 82-year-old woman in "Fried Green Tomatoes."

Miss Tandy co-starred with her husband in 10 plays on Broadway and dozens of off-Broadway and regional productions during their 52-year marriage.

She appeared in the television movies "The Story Lady" (1991) and "To Dance With the White Dog" (1993) and completed three more feature films: "Used People" (1992) and "Camilla" and "Nobody's Fool," which are to be released this fall.

Jessica Tandy's career

Jessica Tandy's major Broadway and movie appearances:

STAGE

"The Matriarch," 1930.

"The Last Enemy," 1930.

"The White Steed," 1939.

"Geneva," 1940.

"Jupiter Laughs," 1940.

"Anne of England," 1941.

"Yesterday's Magic," 1942.

"A Streetcar Named Desire," 1947.

"Hilda Crane," 1950.

"The Fourposter," 1951.

"The Honeys," 1955.

"A Day by the Sea," 1955.

"The Man in the Dog Suit," 1958.

"Triple Play," 1959.

"Five Finger Exercise," 1959.

"The Physicists," 1964.

"A Delicate Balance," 1966.

"Camino Real," revival, 1970.

"Home," 1970.

"Noel Coward in Two Keys," 1974.

"The Gin Game," 1977.

"Rose," 1981.

"Foxfire," 1982.

"The Glass Menagerie," revival, 1984.

% "The Petition," 1986.

FILMS

"The Indiscretions of Eve," 1932.

"Murder in the Family," 1938.

"The Seventh Cross," 1944.

"The Green Years," 1946.

"Dragonwyck," 1946.

"Forever Amber," 1947.

"A Woman's Vengeance," 1948.

"September Affair," 1951.

"The Desert Fox," 1951.

"The Light in the Forest," 1958.

"Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man," 1962.

"The Birds," 1963.

"Butley," 1974.

"Honky Tonk Freeway," 1981.

"The World According to Garp," 1982.

"Still of the Night," 1982.

"Best Friends," 1982.

"The Bostonians," 1984.

"Cocoon," 1985.

"Batteries Not Included," 1987.

"The House on Carroll Street," 1988.

"Cocoon: The Return," 1988.

"Driving Miss Daisy," 1989.

"Fried Green Tomatoes," 1991.

"Used People," 1992.

4( "To Dance With the White Dog," 1993.

Associated Press

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