I have always been absorbed by these types, the theatre & film personalities of the 1920s- 1960s. “The Lunts” ruled the American theater scene during that era, with their dazzling partnership. Their careers flourished at a time when even the biggest stars would do national tours & successful actors worked exclusively year-round on the stage. Their friends included other glamorous theater people: Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Helen Hayes, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman & Laurence Olivier.
There was never a question of their devotion, but the offstage union of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne was a marriage between a gay man & a Lesbian. Their presentation of themselves as the ideal couple may have been their most skillful performance.
When prodded by best buddy- Noel Coward, the couple would sometimes teasingly hint about their private lives. Their scandalous 1933 hit- Design for Living allowed the Coward & his co-stars to romp through a 3 way implying that there was sex between the 2 male characters. Design for Living remains one of my favorite plays. I remain fascinated by the ups, downs & pitfalls of a 3 way relationship.The production showcased the flawless comic gifts for which the Lunts were most admired, but they also excelled at dramatic pieces too, but the Lunts will always be known for the light comedy & the amazing chemistry.
When relaxing, they retreated in high style to their country manor in Lunt's home state, Wisconsin, where he could cook & redecorate while she sewed her chic clothing. The Lunts were my kind of couple; they ate off an orange crate, siting on Biedermeier chairs. The Lunts were Post Apocalyptic Bohemians. The theater was life for them, & their life was a piece of theater. Their dwellings were theatrical sets, their parties were stage shows, everyone who socialized with them was turned into audience. It was remarked that they knew next to nothing about what was going on in the world, had largely theatrical friends, usually acted together & rehearsed their parts in taxis, even in bed.
There are all sorts of marriages, I should know. Unlike in other show biz marriages, the spouses were equal stars; equally glamorous to the world & to each other, not much reason for jealousy. Passion was what they enacted on the stage. Fontanne : ''We were friends right away. . . . I loved him utterly. We were in the same profession. We were like twins. When we were acting, I always thought of him as another person. . . . I had a new lover every night, and so had he.'' '' Hmmm… sexual passion?
The Lunts had design for living to suit them both: There would be deep devotion. . . . There would be close friendships, particularly the triangle kind that Lynn preferred: Lynn, Alfred & a gay male, kindness, courtesy, loyalty & generosity. There would be passionate, total commitment to their work.''
After Lunt's death, Fontanne toasted him with a glass of champagne, saying simply, "To Alfred." We will not see their like again.