The son of a traveling British civil servant, Edmund Gwenn was ordered to leave his home at age 17 when he announced his intention to become an actor. Working throughout the British empire in a variety of theatrical troupes, Gwenn finally settled in London in 1902 when he was personally selected by playwright George Bernard Shaw for a role in Shaw's Man and Superman. Thanks to Shaw's sponsorship, Gwenn rapidly established himself as one of London's foremost character stars, his career interrupted only by military service during World War I. Gwenn's film career, officially launched in 1916, took a back seat to his theatrical work for most of his life; still, he was a favorite of both American and British audiences for his portrayals of blustery old men, both comic and villainous. At age 71, Gwenn was cast as Kris Kringle, a lovable old eccentric who imagined that he was Santa Claus, in the comedy classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947); his brilliant portrayal was honored with an Academy Award and transformed the veteran actor into an "overnight" movie star. Edmund Gwenn died shortly after making his final film, an oddball Mexican comedy titled The Rocket From Calabuch (1958); one of his surviving family members his cousin Cecil Kellaway, was a respected character actor in his own right.
by Hal Erickson biography