Hume Cronyn was a Canadian actor with a lengthy career. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “The Seventh Cross” (1944).
Cronyn was born to a prominent family. His father was politician Hume Blake Cronyn (1864-1933), Member of Parliament for London, Ontario (term 1917-1921). The elder Cronyn was a grandson of both Benjamin Cronyn, first bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Huron (1802-1871) and politician William Hume Blake (1809-1870), first Chancellor of Upper Canada.
Cronyn’s mother was Frances Amelia Labatt, heiress of the Labatt Brewing Company. Labatt remains the largest brewing company of Canada. Frances’ father was businessman John Labatt (1838-1915), and her grandfather was company founder John Kinder Labatt (1803-1866). The Labatts were a prominent Irish-Canadian family, claiming descent from a French Huguenot family which settled in Ireland.
Cronyn was sent to a boarding school in Ottawa, where he studied from 1917 to 1921. The school was at the time called “Rockliffe Preparatory School”, but has since been renamed to Elmwood School. Elmwood has become a school for girls. Cronyn attended first Ridley College in St. Catharines, and then McGill University in Montreal.
During his university years, Cronyn was a featherweight boxer. He was nominated for Canada’s Olympic Boxing team for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Cronyn was studying pre-law in the University, but switched his major to acting. He then enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he studied under theatrical director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943).
Cronyn made his Broadway debut in 1934, in the play “Hipper’s Holiday”. He had the minor role of a janitor. After a decade as a theatrical actor, Cronyn made his film debut psychological thriller “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943). He played crime fiction buff Herbie Hawkins. This was Cronyn’s first collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock. Cronyn later acted in “Lifeboat” (1944), and served as a screenwriter for both “Rope” (1948) and “Under Capricorn” (1949).
Cronyn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Paul Roeder in the concentration camp themed film “The Seventh Cross” (1942). Roeder is a common factory worker in Nazi Germany, who risks his life and family to assist his old friend George Heisler (played by Spencer Tracy) to flee the country. While Cronyn’s role was well-received, the award was instead won by rival actor Barry Fitzgerald (1888-1961).
In 1942, Cronyn married actress Jessica Tandy, and for many years they appeared together in theatre, film and television. The duo headlined the radio series “The Marriage” (1953-1954), depicting the difficulties of a professional woman in transitioning to the roles of housewife and mother. The duo also appeared in a television adaptation of the radio series, but it only lasted for 8 episodes.
Cronyn acting career mostly included supporting roles, but he found himself in the spotlight for the role of Joe Finley in the science fiction film “Cocoon”. It became a surprise box office hit, and Cronyn was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actor. The award was instead won by a much younger actor, Michael J. Fox (1961-).
Cronyn returned to the role of Joe Finley in the sequel “Cocoon: The Return” (1988). While less successful than its predecessor, Cronyn’s role was well-received. He was again nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actor, but again lost to a younger actor. The award was won by Tom Hanks (1956-).
Jessica Tandy died in 1994, and the widowed Cronyn married writer Susan Cooper in 1996. Cronyn had one of his last prominent roles in the film “Marvin’s Room” (1996). He played the incapacitated and bed-ridden Marvin Wakefield, who has to be taken care of by his adult daughters. The cast of the film was collectively nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Cronyn’s last film role was the role of con-artist Sam Clausner in the television film “Off Season” (2001). Cronyn died in 2003 from prostate cancer. He was 91-years-old.
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