Design for Living by Margot Peters
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne

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From the much-admired biographer of Charlotte Brontë, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and the Barrymores (“Margot Peters is surely now . . . our foremost historian of stage make-believe”—Leon Edel), a new biography of the most famous English-speaking acting team of the twentieth century.

Individually, they were recognized as extraordinary actors, each one a star celebrated, imitated, sought after. Together, they were legend. The Lunts. A name to conjure with. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne worked together so imaginatively, so seamlessly onstage that they seemed to fuse into one person. Offstage, they brawled so famously and raucously over every detail of every performance that they inspired the musical Kiss Me, Kate. At home on Broadway, in London’s West End, touring the United States and Great Britain, and even playing “the foxhole circuit” of World War II, the Lunts stunned, moved, and mystified audiences for more than four decades. They were considered to be a rarefied taste, but when they toured Texas in the 1930s, the audience threw cowboy hats onto the stage.

Their private life was equally fascinating, as unusual as the one they led in public. Friends like the critic Alexander Woollcott (whom Edna Ferber once described as “the little New Jersey Nero who thinks his pinafore is a toga”), Noël Coward, Laurette Taylor, and Sidney Greenstreet received lifelong loyalty and hospitality. Ten Chimneys, their country home in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, “is to performers what the Vatican is to Catholics,” Carol Channing once said. “The Lunts are where we all spring from.”

In this new biography, Margot Peters catches the magic of Lunt and Fontanne—their period, their work, their intimacy and its contradictions—with candor, delicacy, intelligence, and wit. She writes about their personal and creative choices as deftly as she captures their world, from their meeting (backstage, naturally)—when Fontanne was a young actress in the first flush of stardom and Lunt a lanky midwesterner who came in the stage door, bowed to her elaborately, lost his balance, and fell down the stairs—and the early days when an unknown and very hungry Noël Coward lived in a swank hotel in a room the size of a closet and cadged meals at their table to the telegram the famous couple once sent to a movie mogul, turning down a studio contract worth a fortune (“We can be bought, my dear Mr. Laemmle, but we can’t be bored”).

We follow the Lunts through triumphs in plays such as The Guardsman, The Taming of the Shrew, and Design for Living; through friendships and feuds; through the intricate way they worked with such playwrights and directors as S. N. Behrman, Robert Sherwood, Giraudoux, Dürrenmatt, Peter Brook, and with each other.
Margot Peters captures the gallantry of two remarkably gifted people who lived for their art and for each other. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were once described as an “amazing duet of intelligence and gaiety.” Margot Peters re-creates the fun and the fireworks.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Margot Peters

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Margot Peters has been Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin and holds a Ph.D. in Victorian literature. She is the author of eight books, among them Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Brontë, The House of Barrymore, Mrs. Pat: The Life of Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and May Sarton: A Biography. She lives in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.From the Hardcover edition.
Published December 18, 2007 by Knopf. 416 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Design for Living

Kirkus Reviews

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Veteran biographer Peters (May Sarton, 1997, etc.) limns the glamorous life of the American theater's most successful acting team.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Design for Living: Alfred Lun...

Publishers Weekly

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In 1951, Alfred Lunt revealed insecurity when he said of his acting partnership with wife Lynn Fontanne, "I hope people don't get tired of us."

| Read Full Review of Design for Living: Alfred Lun...

Entertainment Weekly

Give Peters credit for infusing this enormously entertaining book with a genuine, specific sense that they weren't to be missed, if only because, in the immortal assessment of Holden Caulfield, ''They didn't act like people and they didn't act like actors.'' Originally posted Oct 24, 2003 P...

Oct 24 2003 | Read Full Review of Design for Living: Alfred Lun...


After Lunt's death, Fontanne toasted him with a glass of champagne, saying simply, "To Alfred."

Dec 20 2003 | Read Full Review of Design for Living: Alfred Lun...

Talkin' Broadway

Though she draws heavily on the two previously published biographies of the Lunts, Maurice Zolotow's Stagestruck and Jared Brown's The Fabulous Lunts (both out-of-print), Peters has done a great deal of additional research and conducted new interviews with people who knew the Lunts.

Nov 17 2003 | Read Full Review of Design for Living: Alfred Lun...

By the time Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne got married in 1922, .

Nov 17 2003 | Read Full Review of Design for Living: Alfred Lun...

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