Jessica Tandy

Active - 1932 - 1994  |   Born - Jun 7, 1909 in London, England  |   Died - Sep 11, 1994   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy Drama, Romance

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Possessing a great dignity tempered by the humorous sparkle in her clear blue eyes, Jessica Tandy was among the grand dames of stage and screen. Like many of her peers, her distinguished acting career stretched back to the early 1930s, though rather than make her name on film, Tandy won much of her fame with her work on the stage.

Born in London in 1909, Tandy studied drama at the Ben Greet Academy of Acting. She was sixteen when she made her professional stage debut in London, and just twenty-one when she took her first bow on Broadway. In 1932, Tandy made her first film appearance in Indiscretions of Eve (1932), but due to her extremely busy stage schedule did not appear in her second film, Murder in the Family, until 1938. In 1942, she married Canadian stage and screen actor Hume Cronyn (she had previously been married to actor Jack Hawkins from 1932 until 1940), and they remained professional and personal partners until Tandy's death in 1994.

The couple moved to the States shortly after their marriage, and made their Hollywood debut together in Fred Zinnemann's The Seventh Cross (1944). For a long time, Tandy had her greatest success on the stage, beginning with her Tony-winning portrayal of Blanche DuBois in the first production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947. Despite the acclaim she received, she was passed by in favor of Vivien Leigh for the play's screen version. Tandy continued to work on the stage and appeared in a few more films through 1951, after which her film career became sporadic. One of her rare appearances was in Hitchcock's The Birds in 1963.

It was after she won her second Tony while appearing with Cronyn in The Gin Game (1978) that Tandy's film career was renewed with a supporting role in John Schlesinger's Honky Tonk Freeway in 1981. The following year she appeared in The World According to Garp, and then starred in Merchant Ivory's The Bostonians in 1984. In the meantime, she won her third Tony for her work in 1983's Foxfire (she would win an Emmy in 1987 for the same role in the play's televised version). Tandy's film career then experienced a complete resuscitation in 1985, when she and Cronyn co-starred in Ron Howard's Cocoon; four years later, the then-80-year-old Tandy won an Oscar for her feisty performance as a Southern lady who befriends her black chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy. She went on to have notable roles in films like Fried Green Tomatoes in 1991 and 1992's Used People. Before succumbing to ovarian cancer in September of 1994, Tandy completed the made-for-TV movie To Dance With the White Dog, in which she starred with Cronyn, and Nobody's Fool, the latter of which was dedicated to her memory.

Movie Highlights

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  • Made her professional stage debut in London at age 16.
  • First film appearance was in 1932's The Indiscretions of Eve, playing a maid.
  • Created the role of faded, fragile Southern flower Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway in 1947. Her costars Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden all reprised their roles in the 1951 film version, but Tandy was replaced by Vivien Leigh, who was thought to be a more marketable movie star at the time.
  • Collaborated with husband Hume Cronyn in many plays and films over the course of their 52-year marriage.
  • Appeared in Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds, one of her rare film appearances between 1950 and 1980.
  • Experienced a career renaissance later in life, when she appeared alongside husband Hume Cronyn in Ron Howard's 1985 sci-fi fantasy, Cocoon, and then went on to win an Oscar at age 80 for her performance in 1989's Driving Miss Daisy.