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Tandy, Jessica

TANDY, Jessica



Nationality: American. Born: London, England, 7 June 1909; emigrated to United States, 1940, became American citizen, 1954. Education: Dame Owen's Girls' School; trained for the stage at the Ben Greet Academy of Acting, 1924–27. Family: Married 1) actor Jack Hawkins, 1932 (divorced 1940), one daughter; 2) actor Hume Cronyn, 1942, one son and one daughter. Career: Stage debut, London, 1927; actress, Birmingham Repertory Company, from 1928; New York debut, 1930; film debut, 1932; dramatic adviser, Goddard Neighbourhood Centre, New York, 1948; played Liz Marriott on The Marriage TV series, 1954; acclaimed in range of classical and modern roles on stage and screen. Awards: Tony Award, 1948, 1979, 1983; Twelfth Night Club Award, 1948; Comedia Matinee Club Award, 1952; Delia Austria Award, New York Drama League, 1960; two Obie Awards, 1973; Drama Desk Award, 1973, 1979, 1983; Brandeis University Creative Arts Award, 1978; Theatre Arts Medal, 1978; Los Angeles Critics Award, 1979; Sarah Siddons Award, 1979; National Press Club Award, 1979; Outer Circle Critics Award, 1983; Commonwealth Award, 1983; Kennedy Center Honours, 1986; Alley Theatre Award, 1987; Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films Saturn Award, for *batteries not included, 1988; Franklin Haven Sargent Award, American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1988; Emmy Award, for Foxfire, 1988; Golden Globe Award, Oscar Award, for Best Actress, and Silver Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, all for Driving Miss Daisy, all 1990; National Medal of the Arts, 1990; BAFTA Film Award, British Academy Awards, for Driving Miss Daisy, 1991; Women in Film Crystal Award, 1991. LL.D: University of Western Ontario, London, 1974; LHD: Fordham Univesity, Bronx, New York, 1985. Died: Easton Connecticut, 11 September 1994.

Films as Actress:

1932

The Indiscretions of Eve (New Year's Eve) (Lewis) (as Maid)

1938

Murder in the Family (Parker) (as Ann Osborne)

1944

The Seventh Cross (The Seven Crosses) (Zinneman) (as Liesel Roeder); Blonde Fever (Whorf) (uncredited)

1945

The Valley of Decision (Garnett) (as Louise Kane)

1946

Dragonwyck (Mankiewicz) (as Peggy O'Malley); The Green Years (Saville) (as Kate Leckie)

1947

Forever Amber (Preminger) (as Nan Britton)

1948

A Woman's Vengeance (The Gioconda Smile) (Korda) (as Janet Spence)

1950

September Affair (Dieterle) (as Catherine Lawrence)

1951

The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (Hathaway) (as Lucie Rommel)

1958

The Light in the Forest (Daugherty) (as Myra Butler)

1959

The Fallen Idol (Narizzano—for TV); The Moon and Sixpence (Mulligan—for TV) (as Blanche Stroeve)

1962

Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man (Adventures of a Young Man) (Ritt) (as Mrs. Adams)

1963

The Birds (Hitchcock) (as Lydia Brenner)

1974

Butley (Pinter) (as Edna Shaft)

1981

Honky Tonk Freeway (Schlesinger) (as Carol); The Gin Game (Nichols—for TV) (as Fonsia Dorsey)

1982

Best Friends (Jewison) (as Eleanor McCullen); Still of the Night (Benton) (as Grace Rice); The World According to Garp (Hill) (as Mrs. Fields)

1984

The Bostonians (Ivory) (as Miss Birdseye)

1985

Cocoon (Cocoon) (as Alma Finley)

1987

*batteries not included (Robbins) (as Faye Riley); Foxfire (Taylor—for TV) (as Annie)

1988

Cocoon: The Return (Petrie) (as Alma Finley); The House on Carroll Street (Yates) (as Miss Venable)

1989

Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford) (as Daisy Werthan)

1991

Fried Green Tomatoes (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe) (Avnet) (as Ninny Threadgoode); The Story Lady (Elikann—for TV) (as Grace McQueen)

1992

Used People (Kidron) (as Freida)

1993

To Dance with the White Dog (Jordan—for TV) (as Cora Samuel)

1994

Camilla (Mehta) (as Camilla Cara); Nobody's Fool (Benton) (as Miss Beryl); A Century of Cinema (Thomas) (as Herself)

1996

An African Love Story (Brown—for TV)



Publications


On TANDY: books—

Barranger, Milly S., Jessica Tandy, Westport, Connecticut, 1991.

On TANDY: articles—

Tanner, L., "Who's in Town?" in Films in Review (New York), vol. 40, no. 11, November 1989.

Seidenberg, R. "Driving Miss Daisy," in American Film (Marion, OH), vol. 15, no. 4, January 1990.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), vol 356, no. 8, 19 September 1994.

Obituary, in Film Dienst (Cologne), vol. 47, no. 20, 27 Septem-ber 1994.

Filmowy Serxis Prasowy (Warsaw), no. 4–5, June-July, 1995.


* * *

By the end of her life, Jessica Tandy was hailed as a Hollywood legend, and acclaimed one of the screen's great talents. Her cinematic beginnings were much more humble.

Born in England, Tandy worked her way up through the ranks of the British repertory system before making her way to the London stage, where she had a successful career during the 1930s. She played Ophelia to John Gielgud's 1934 Hamlet and Viola in Tyrone Guthrie's acclaimed Twelfth Night three years later. She made her way across the Atlantic in 1940 and, shortly after arriving in New York City, she met a young Canadian actor named Hume Cronyn. The couple was married in 1942 and together they headed for Hollywood, where Cronyn's career quickly took off. Tandy, however, had a much more difficult go of it.

The actress made her American screen debut in 1944 Fred Zinneman's World War II thriller, The Seventh Cross, appearing with Spencer Tracy, Agnes Moorehead, and Cronyn. But it was her husband who received the acclaim—and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Tandy was instead relegated to playing maids in hits such as Dragonwyck and Forever Amber. In 1946, Tennessee Williams chose Tandy to play Blanche DuBois in his new play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The actress' electrifying performance garnered her rave reviews and a Tony for Best Actress. But it did not earn her the role in the 1951 Hollywood film, which went to Vivien Leigh. Instead, during the 1950s, Tandy and Cronyn became America's most acclaimed stage duo, the successors to Lunt and Fontanne. Tandy did not make a significant film contribution until 1963, when she played the frosty and controlling mother in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Tandy and Cronyn continued to win accolades for stage performances such as The Gin Game, which earned Tandy her second Oscar. But it wasn't until the actress entered her seventies that she began to find work suited to her extraordinary talent. When Ron Howard assembled a star-studded cast of Hollywood veterans for Cocoon, he did not overlook Cronyn and Tandy. The immensely popular film about senior citizens who literally find the fountain of youth ignited Tandy's film career, and she appeared in *batteries not included in 1987 and Cocoon: The Return the following year.

In 1989, director Bruce Beresford cast the 80-year-old Tandy as Miss Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy. Spanning twenty-five years, from 1948 to 1973, the film depicts the relationship between a wealthy Southern Jewish widow (Tandy) and her dignified African American chauffeur (Morgan Freeman). After years of developing her acting skills in tandem with her husband, Tandy and Freeman achieve what critic Pauline Kael called "a beautiful equilibrium." In a performance that many felt was the best of her long career, Tandy won the Oscar for Best Actress.

During her eighties, Tandy made up for lost time by becoming a fixture in films aimed largely at female audiences, such as Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Used People (1992), and Nobody's Fool (1994). In her last three films, the indomitable spirit that Tandy brought to her stage performances and that kept her committed to a profession that sometimes overlooked her wide-ranging talents finally shone through and found a place in the hearts and minds of film audiences. The fact that Hollywood did not come to appreciate Jessica Tandy sooner can only be rued, even as fans of superb acting can be grateful that her formidable talents finally found a suitable cinematic home.

—Victoria Price

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