The Actor Who Made Me Gasp


In 1974, Hume Cronyn was on Broadway in a Noel Coward play called A Song at Twilight. I had standing room way back of the theater. Unlike most of Coward’s plays, this one was not a comedy.

Cronyn’s role was of an older married man. At one point in the play, his wife, played by Jessica Tandy, finds an old letter of her husband’s and reads it to herself. She then runs out of the room, crying. We, the audience, already know from a previous scene, what was in the letter. Curious to know what was in the letter that made his wife react this way, Cronyn picks up the letter.

The letter, in fact, was an old love letter from another man to Mr. Cronyn’s character.   The two had had a deep relationship, but Cronyn’s character had tried to forget about it.

Cronyn, alone on stage, read the letter in silence for a good three, four minutes. An enormous amount of time to be on stage saying nothing. There was not a sound in the audience. And then as he was reading his face turned beet red–I could see it from all the way in the back of the theatre. He was blushing.

I will never forget that. And he did it eight times a week. Pure belief in the truth of what he was doing, thinking, and feeling.

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