I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Rich Kleinfeldt with the
Special English program, People in America. Today, we tell the story of Jessica
Tandy who died in nineteen ninety-four. She won many awards for her acting
during the almost seventy years she performed.
Jessica Tandy probably is best
known for winning an Academy Award in nineteen eighty-nine for the movie
"Driving Miss Daisy. " She was the oldest person to have won the
award. But for many years, she had received praise for her great performances.
appeared in more than one hundred stage shows, twenty-five movies and on many
television programs during her sixty-seven years of acting. Most of her
performances were in the United States, although she did not become an American
citizen until nineteen fifty-four.
Jessica Tandy was born in
London, England in nineteen-oh-nine. Her father died when she was twelve years
old. Her mother taught and took other jobs at night to make extra money for her
older brothers showed an interest in the theater. They would put on shows in
their London home. Jessica said later that she was terrible in all of them. But
she said taking part in those plays as a child created a desire in her to be
Jessica loved going to the
theater. And she loved British writer William Shakespeare. Years later, she
acted in many of Shakespeare's plays, with great actors like John Gielgud and
love of the theater led her to attend an acting school in nineteen twenty-four.
When she was eighteen years old, she performed in her first play. It was called
"The Manderson Girls." She did not earn enough money to pay for the
five different dresses she had to wear in the play. She solved the problem by
sewing them herself.
Jessica Tandy always thought she
was plain-looking. So did most theater professionals. She said people in the
theater knew she was a good actress, but did not believe she was pretty enough
to be a success. She noted that they said: "She is plain but on the stage
she looks all right. "
of Jessica Tandy do not suggest that this is true. She just looked different
from the leading women actors of the day. Later, she said that it was good that
she was not considered pretty. She said she got more interesting parts that
In nineteen thirty-two, critics
in London recognized her great acting skill in her performance in the play
"Children in Uniform." That part gave her what she said was one of
the moments she loved most in the theater. She said at one performance, people
watching were so moved they continued to sit quietly when the play ended.
same year, she married actor Jack Hawkins. They had a daughter, Susan. Tandy
continued to work in the theater in London. By nineteen forty, her marriage was
ending. So she took her daughter and moved to the United States to escape World
War Two. In New York City, she met a young actor named Hume Cronyn. Two years
later they married and moved to Hollywood. By nineteen forty-five, they had two
In California, Hume Cronyn was
getting good parts in movies. But Tandy was not. She got only small parts, when
she got them at all. She said the producers in Hollywood did not take her
seriously as an actress. She began to feel like a failure.
Tandy was considering not acting anymore. But then her husband did something
that changed her life. He gave her the lead part in a play he was directing in
Los Angeles. It was "Portrait of a Madonna" by Tennessee Williams.
She played a lonely woman. Critics praised her.
Williams came to Los Angeles from New York just to see her in the show. He said
later that he knew he had found the actress to play the lead in his new play,
"A Streetcar Named Desire. "
play opened in New York in nineteen forty-seven. Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando
and Kim Hunter were the stars. It won a Pulitzer Prize and many other awards.
Tandy won the first of her four Tony awards for best actress in a play. One
director said that she was full of surprises. He said that she always did
things better than expected.
During the nineteen fifties,
Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn began working together in theaters in New York
City. Their first appearance together in a major Broadway theater was the hit
play "The Fourposter. " Through the years, they appeared together in nine
other plays on Broadway, including "A Delicate Balance," "The
Gin Game" and "Foxfire. " Their last Broadway appearance
together was in "The Petition" in nineteen eighty-six.
also worked with her husband in local theaters across the United States. They
liked doing it because they had a chance to play parts in the older well-known
nineteen sixty-three, for example, Miss Tandy played Gertrude in Shakespeare's
"Hamlet," Olga in Anton Chekhov's
"The Three Sisters," and the wife of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's
"Death of a Salesman." She also acted in plays in the Shakespeare festivals in
Stratford, Connecticut and in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.
Jessica Tandy said she hated
seeing herself in the movies. She said she never was as satisfied making movies
as she was working in the theater. But she thought it was important to accept
the acting jobs that were offered. It helped pay expenses when she performed in
small theaters for less pay.
played Hume Cronyn's wife in four movies during the nineteen eighties,
including "Cocoon" and "Batteries not Included." In
nineteen ninety-two, she played an old woman in the movie, "Fried Green
Tomatoes. " But she never really thought of herself as a movie actress.
Perhaps that was because of her experience earlier when she was not accepted in
after her success in the play "A Streetcar Named Desire," Hollywood
producers did not choose her to be in the movie. Vivien Leigh replaced her in
the part of Blanche Dubois. Tandy said she was surprised when she won the
Academy Award for "Driving Miss Daisy." She said then that the wonderful part she had made up for her
lack of experience in movies.
Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn
were married for fifty-two years. During their years of acting together, they
won almost every cultural award possible. In nineteen eighty-six, they won the
Kennedy center lifetime achievement award. In nineteen ninety, President George
Bush presented the National Medal of Art to them. A few months before she died,
Tandy and Cronyn were honored with a special Tony Award for their work in the
always were asking them how they were able to work so closely together for so
long. Tandy said they never discussed their work at home. She said they always
honored each other's ideas if they did not agree about something.
Jessica Tandy suffered from
stage fright that became worse as she grew older. It made her feel sick before
a performance. Yet her husband said she was at her best when she was working.
She was in great demand as she grew older. Tandy took good parts and bad ones.
She always said a person is richer for doing things. If you wait for the
greatest part, you will wait a long time and your skills will decrease, she
said. You cannot be an actor without acting.
was an actor until the end. She had problems with her eyes and her heart. Yet
they did not slow her down. In nineteen eighty-eight, she won an Emmy Award for
a television movie of the play "Foxfire. "
years later, Jessica Tandy had a cancer operation. But she continued working.
She did not let her pain lessen the effectiveness of her performance. She
appeared in more television movies in the years before her death. And she made
several movies that were released after she died September eleventh, nineteen
ninety-four. She was eighty-five.
Jessica Tandy said as an actor
her job was getting the best out of what the writer expressed in the play or
movie. The critics said she did. They said she always was able to show deep
meaning in the people she played. One critic wrote that she was such a good
actor that only poets, not critics, should be permitted to write about her.
This Special English program was
written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Rich Kleinfeldt.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Listen
again next week for another People in America program on the Voice of America.