Some ghosts you admire and/or respect, other free spirits you wish you could have hung out with while they were alive. Hume Cronyn was born way before my time, but I would love to have known him. He was short, wiry and far from drop dead gorgeous, but filled with so much talent that he often wiped other players off the screen. The part of “Shadow Of A Doubt” that I always liked the best was the odd relationship between Hume Cronyn as Herbie Hawkins and Henry Travers as Joseph Newton. While Joseph Cotten as homicidal Uncle Charlie was always skulking around Teresa Wright as Young Charlie Newton, her father and Herbie Hawkins were always talking about REAL murder. You know, the stuff you read about in pulp magazines and police gazettes. Although Herbie Hawkins was a good guy, even saving young Charlie from near-death, there was always a glint of insanity in Cronyn's portrayal of this soft-spoken neighborhood fixture. He would never kill his best buddy, but he COULD, you know. Even with aging makeup, Cronyn at 32 was much too young to be a contemporary of Henry Travers, then 69. But the two scene thieves were so great together, you didn't care.
A couple of years later, Cronyn was at MGM to make “A Letter For Evie.” It wasn't “Cyrano De Bergerac,” but it was close, as Cronyn played a love-starved guy who started writing letters back to John Carroll's pen pal Evie (Marsha Hunt) in his own inimitable style. Naturally, Evie falls in love with her unseen correspondent and there's all sorts of screwball mix-ups until everything is sorted out. Cronyn was all over the screen in this picture, vying for Evie's attentions with every resource at his command. With any other actor in the role, “A Letter For Evie” would have been forgettable 1945 fluff, instead of the hilarious showcase for Hume Cronyn that it became.
Over the years, Cronyn contributed to many other films until he and his wife Jessica Tandy were rediscovered by mass audiences all over again in 1985's “Cocoon.” But neither had ever stopped working onstage, onscreen or on television. After their Broadway hit “Noel Coward In Two Keys,” they toured with the much-younger Anne Baxter, whom they outlived by many years. Both Cronyn and Tandy were filled with such talent, energy and optimism that they could get away with teasing “Sixty Minutes” about their plans to break up ON CAMERA. Momentarily the interviewer lost his cool, but they never did. It was a gag, dreamed up by two free spirits who loved and trusted each other unreservedly at work and at play. They will always be missed.
© 2003 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 6/18/03