Tandy, Jessica (1909–1994)

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Tandy, Jessica (1909–1994)

British-born American actress of stage and screen whose later roles were notable for the grace she brought to her elderly characterizations. Born in London, England, on June 7, 1909; died of ovarian cancer at her home in Easton, Connecticut, on September 11, 1994; daughter of Harry Tandy (a rope manufacturer) and Jessie Helen (Horspool) Tandy; attended Dame Alice Owen's Girls School; trained at the Ben Greet Academy of Acting in London, 1924–27; married Jack Hawkins (an actor), in 1932 (divorced 1940); married Hume Cronyn (an actor), in 1942; children: (first marriage) Susan Hawkins (who married John Tettemer); (second marriage) Christopher Cronyn (b. 1943), Tandy Cronyn (b. 1945, an actress).

Selected theater:

appeared as Ophelia opposite John Gielgud in Hamlet, in London (1934); appeared as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway (1947); worked in London and regional theaters, including the Guthrie in Minneapolis, Stratford (Connecticut) American Shakespeare Festival, Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake, and Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada; starred opposite husband Hume Cronyn in The Fourposter, The Physicists, A Delicate Balance, Noel Coward in Two Keys, The Gin Game, Foxfire, and The Petition.

Selected filmography:

The Seventh Cross (1944); Forever Amber (1947); Light in the Forest (1958); The Birds (1963); Butley (1974); The World According to Garp (1982); The Bostonians (1984); Cocoon (1985); Driving Miss Daisy (1990); Fried Green Tomatoes (1991); Used People (1992); "The Story Lady" (television movie, 1991).


nominated for an Emmy for her performance in Hallmark Hall of Fame's "To Dance with the White Dog," adapted by Susan Cooper , CBS (1994).

Once, when credited for "creating" the role of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, considered one of the

classic roles in American theater, Jessica Tandy replied: "A writer creates. An actor interprets. Sometimes an actor can find things in a part that even the author didn't know was there. But it was there. It was there." Starring opposite Marlon Brando, the British-born actress was Broad-way's original Blanche, and fellow cast member Karl Malden credited Tandy's professionalism for keeping the other actors in that production in line: "We used to kid about it but we meant it—she was like the mother hen, she was the real pro in that company. She really kept it together. She did it with class. She said, 'It's time to go to work, let's go to work and get it over with,' and we did."

In an acting career that spanned six decades, Tandy became the winner of two Academy Awards and three Antoinette Perry awards (Tonys), and was nominated for a television Emmy on the night of her death. Her most impressive accolades, however, came for her work on the stage.

Jessica Tandy was born in London, England, on June 7, 1909. Her father Harry Tandy, a businessman, died of cancer when she was 12; her mother Jessie Horspool Tandy worked several jobs to put her daughter through private school. After training at the Ben Greet Academy of Acting in London, Tandy made her professional debut in a play called The Manderson Girls in 1927, at a small theater in Soho; she was 23 when she first came to the attention of English audiences, in Children in Uniform, in 1932. That same year, she married English actor Jack Hawkins, who would be best known for his film performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai.

In 1940, after divorcing Hawkins, and to escape the war in England, Tandy emigrated to the United States with her daughter Susan Hawkins . New York had only a few bit parts to offer, so she paid the rent by working as a cipher clerk for the British embassy, and lent her voice to radio as Princess Nada in the serial "Man-drake the Magician." While in New York, she met actor Hume Cronyn, who claimed in his 1991 autobiography, A Terrible Liar, that he fell in love with her laugh: "I adored the way she made fun of me and the world in general. I was captivated by her sensitivity, talent, generosity to others, compassion, and of course her beauty and the fact that she seemed totally unaware of any of these qualities."

Married in 1942, Tandy and Cronyn moved to California, where both had contracts with film studios. But in Hollywood, Hume was more successful than his wife. "Nobody out there really took me seriously as an actress," recalled Tandy. "Hume really engineered my first significant parts in movies."

In 1946, at the Actors' Lab in Hollywood, Cronyn directed his wife in a one-act play titled Portrait of a Madonna, written by a hot young playwright with the unusual name of Tennessee Williams; The Glass Menagerie had just exploded onto Broadway, and Williams, who had been looking for his Blanche, found her in Jessica. A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway in December 1947, and Tandy was a triumph, earning her first Tony as Best Actress for the role in 1948. Still neglected by the film industry, however, she saw the movie role go to actress Vivien Leigh . It would take Hollywood another 40 years to discover Jessica Tandy.

Giving up on Hollywood, Tandy and Cronyn moved back East in the early 1950s, where they built a reputation for their collaborations on stage. Together, they starred in The Fourposter, The Physicists, A Delicate Balance, Noel Coward in Two Keys, The Gin Game, Foxfire, and The Petition. Tandy's work opposite Cronyn earned her Tonys for Best Actress in The Gin Game (1978) and in Foxfire (1983). She also appeared in a number of movies, usually in small character roles.

In 1989, Tandy was 80 when Hollywood offered a role opposite Morgan Freeman that was to make her famous. In Driving Miss Daisy, the screen adaptation of the play by Alfred Uhry, she played Daisy Werthan, a mid-century Southern belle "struggling to balance propriety and humanity," wrote Richard Corliss in Time magazine. For her performance, she won the Oscar as Best Actress of 1990. Her acceptance speech was the shortest on record. "Good for me," she said. Two years later, she followed that up with a second Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress in Fried Green Tomatoes.

"Few actresses had invested theatrical glamour with such elegance and intelligence as Jessica Tandy," wrote Corliss. When she accepted the first-ever Tony given for Lifetime Achievement in June 1994, "a hush fell on the heart of Broadway." Many in attendance knew that she had been battling ovarian cancer for five years. While acknowledging her award, writes Corliss, Tandy "wore her pain as gracefully as she had once donned Blanche's frilly frocks or Miss Daisy's housedress. Like the boldest modern actor, this classically trained lady was daring the audience to be a party to revelation: Look at me; see what's inside—the ache, the character, the beauty."

Jessica Tandy died at 6:00 am on September 11, 1994, at age 85, her husband by her side. The night of her death, she was nominated for a television Emmy, along with her husband, for their mutual work on Hallmark Hall of Fame's "To Dance with the White Dog."


Corliss, Richard. "The Last Leading Lady," in Time. September 26, 1994.

Kuchwara, Michael. "Stage and Screen Actress Jessica Tandy Dies at 85," in The Day [New London, CT]. September 12, 1994.