From Hitchcock to Cocoon, the late actor had a long and respected career

By Gary Susman
Updated April 08, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Hume Cronyn: George De Sota/Newsmakers/NewsCom

Hume Cronyn, whose seven-decade career on stage and screen was marked by frequent collaborations with his wife, Jessica Tandy, died Monday. Nearly nine years after Tandy’s death, her 91-year-old widower succumbed to prostate cancer at his home in Fairfield, Conn., a family spokesperson announced. In recent years, Cronyn had been known for his portrayals of cranky old men, notably, in Cocoon (1985) and Cocoon: The Return (1988), both of which costarred Tandy. But his career began with a stage role as a paperboy (in Up Pops the Devil) in 1931 and included stints as a writer and a TV and theater director.

Alfred Hitchcock gave Cronyn his big break in movies, casting him as the whodunit buff in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and the radio operator in Lifeboat (1944). Hitchcock also directed two screenplays cowritten by Cronyn, Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949).

Cronyn and Tandy married in 1942 and remained personal and professional partners for 52 years. One of their first collaborations, playing a German couple who shelter concentration-camp escapee Spencer Tracy in The Seventh Cross (1944), earned Cronyn his only Oscar nomination. Over the years, they worked together on projects on Broadway — notably The Gin Game (1978) and Foxfire (1983), which he cowrote — in movies from The Marriage (1954) to The World According to Garp (1982), and on TV. In 1994, shortly before Tandy’s death, the couple won the first-ever Tony award for Special Lifetime Achievement for their stage careers. After she died in 1994, Cronyn continued to work, playing the bedridden title character in the movie Marvin’s Room (1996) and a man who may be Santa Claus in the TV movie Off Season (2001).

Cronyn won three Emmys in the 1990s, for roles in the TV movies Age-Old Friends, Broadway Bound, and To Dance With the White Dog. This last was one of his final collaborations with Tandy; it was the story of a bereft widower whose wife returns as a canine. Cronyn won the Emmy for that film on the same day that Tandy passed away.