Canadian-born actor Hume Cronyn was the son of a well-known Ontario politician. At his father's insistence, young Cronyn studied law at McGill University, but had by then already decided he wanted to be an actor; he made his stage bow with the Montreal Repertory Company at 19, while still a student. After taking classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and working with regional companies in Washington, DC and Virginia, Cronyn made it to Broadway in 1934. His first important role was as the imbibing, jingle-writing hero of Three Men on a Horse, directed and co-written by George Abbott. He remained with Abbott to work in Room Service and Boy Meets Girl - not only establishing himself as a versatile stage actor but also gleaning a lifelong appreciation of strict artistic discipline from the authoritarian Mr. Abbott. Cronyn went from one taskmaster to another when he made his film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. The 32-year-old Cronyn quietly stole several scenes in the film as a fiftyish mystery-novel fanatic. Cronyn would remain beholden to Hitchcock for the rest of his career: He acted in Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) and worked several times thereafter on the director's TV series; he adapted the stage play Rope and the novel Under Capricorn for Hitchcock's filmizations; and he sprang to the late director's defense when a dubious biography of Hitchcock was published in the mid-1980s. Though well-versed in Shakespeare and Moliere on stage, Cronyn was often limited to unpleasant, weasely and sometimes sadistic characters in films; one of his nastiest portrayals was as the Hitleresque prison guard Munsey in Brute Force (1947). A somewhat less hissable Cronyn appeared in The Green Years (1946), wherein he portrayed the father of his real-life wife Jessica Tandy, who was in fact two years older than he. Cronyn had married Tandy in 1942, a union that was to last until the actress' death in 1994. They worked together often on stage (The Fourposter, The Gin Game) and in films (Batteries Not Included), and delighted in giving joint interviews where they'd confound and misdirect the interviewer. Their daughter, Tandy Cronyn, matured into a fine actress in her own right. Seemingly indefatigable despite health problems and the loss of one eye, Cronyn remained gloriously active in films, television and stage into the 1990s, encapsulating many of his experiences in his breezy autobiography A Terrible Liar.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Decided to become an actor while in college.
- Made his debut with the Montreal Repertory Company before heading to America; his first notable Broadway role was in Three Men on a Horse (1935).
- Had a longstanding working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, making his film debut in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), appearing in many episodes of the director's TV series and cowriting the screenplays for his films Rope and Under Capricorn.
- Often costarred on stage and screen with his second wife, Jessica Tandy, including in the Pulitzer-winning play The Gin Game and the 1946 film The Green Years, in which he played her father despite being two years younger than she.
- Wore a glass eye, having lost an eye to cancer in the 1960s.
- Continued working steadily into his 90s, making his final appearance in the TV-movie A Separate Peace in 2002.