Today (Saturday) is Ten Chimneys Day in Wisconsin, the anniversary of the day Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne got married all of a sudden in New York City, 1922.
They’d been secretly engaged for a while, had been apart, playing in separate plays and had a couple of weeks before their next assignments were due to begin. Sitting together on a bench in Central Park, Alfred just said it. “Let’s get married.”
“Now.” he urged. So they went to the Justice of the Peace’s office.
They had to invite a couple passers-by if they would be their witnesses.
When Alfred reached into his pocket for his wallet to pay the $2 fee for the marriage license he realized his wallet was back at home. So… they borrowed two bucks from their two witnesses for the license. When the clerk pronounced them husband and wife it’s said Lynn kissed Alfred. Then she kissed the clerk. Then the two witnesses! She couldn’t believe it – she was married!
It happened on May 26, 1922, and their marriage lasted over 55 years.
Their estate is right behind my house, and I volunteer as a docent (story-telling tour guide) there. It’s an honor to be on the schedule on this annual holiday, and I’m going to enjoy telling their story and encouraging people today. If you’re ever in this part of the world, you should stop in and see the place. Alfred and Lynn were two people you need to know about… a delightful example of people who invested in people, excelled as actors, bringing life and reality to Broadway. They were at the top of their trade from 1920 – 1960 when they retired, yet they enjoyed life, gave back to society and kept things in balance – which included their ability to consistently let the water flow back into the reservoir of creativity at their hideaway retreat in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin – my hometown.
I love escaping to this place, even though it’s within walking distance. It’s like going back to 1940 for a couple hours once in a while.
I love telling the stories, applying life-lessons (without my guests knowing that’s what I’m doing). If I make them laugh a lot, and bring them to near-tears three or four times in the two hours I’m with them I know I’m doing a good job. It’s a holiday – I intend to bring down the house today, even though my audience will be ten people or less. It’s going to be a great day!
The name Ten Chimneys, by the way, is because there are ten chimneys on the estate – six on the house, three on the cottage, one on the studio (a Swedish-style barn they used for a champaigne suppers, dancing, and to practice for their next play).