Sunday, November 17, 2013

Frances Tannehill, 90, Broadway Actress

Frances Tannehill, actress and lifelong Manhattan resident, died after a brief illness in Upper Manhattan on August 5th.

Known for her stunning looks in addition to her talents as a dramatic and comedic actress, Ms. Tannehill started her Broadway career at the age of eight in the play “Purity,” produced by Lee Shubert and starring Florence Reed. She attended Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, which enabled her to keep up with her studies as she worked on Broadway and toured nationally.

In 1938, Ms. Tannehill was cast in Cole Porter’s musical “Leave it to Me”, starring Mary Martin, Sophie Tucker and Gene Kelly in his first Broadway show. In 1940, she appeared on Broadway in “Keep off the Grass.” Although short-lived, the musical was choreographed by George Balanchine and starred Jimmy Durante, Ray Bolger, Jane Froman and Jackie Gleason. Jerome Robbins and José Limon were featured dancers. Ms. Tannehill joined the Broadway cast of “Othello” starring Paul Robeson, Uta Hagen and José Ferrer, in 1943 for the last six months of the run.

At the age of 19, appearing in a Broadway revival of “Counsellor-at-Law “starring Paul Muni, Ms. Tannehill met her future husband, actor Alexander Clark. They were married in 1945 and spenttheir honeymoon in France and Germany on a six-month tour with the USO. The play was “The Night of January 16th” by Ayn Rand; it was a courtroom drama that used the GIs as jurors.  The company was the first to play for the U.S. troops in Berlin after VE Day. The couple remained married for fifty years until Alec Clark’s death in 1995.

  In the early 1950’s, Alexander Clark and Frances Tannehill went on a year-long national tour of “Call Me Madam” starring Elaine Stritch. On a tour stop in Washington, D.C., Ms. Tannehill, as Frances Clark, testified in Congress with Oscar Hammerstein II and Howard Lindsay to help pass a bill making it legal for child actors under the age of 14, but not below age 7,  to perform in Washington as they did elsewhere in the nation. The bill was signed by President Truman in 1952.  

Other national tours included “Ladies in Retirement” with Dame Flora Robson, and “The Philadelphia Story” with Sarah Churchill. Ms. Tannehill also performed featured and supporting roles with Helen Hayes, Dorothy Loudon, Jessica Tandy, Cyril Ritchard, Lillian Gish and Michael Redgrave. Television and radio performances included episodes on The Alcoa Hour, Philco Goodyear Television Playhouse, Kraft Theatre and Theatre Guild on the Air.
Ms. Tannehill was the third generation performer from an American theatrical family dating back to the 1850’s. Her father, Frank Tannehill Jr. was an actor, playwright and lyricist. Her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Tannehill, worked in theatres throughout the U.S. in plays ranging from drama to farce.  In 1857, they were part of the ensemble company at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. John Wilkes Booth, using the pseudonym J.B. Wilkes, joined the company that year.
Nicole Clark, Helen Hayes,
Frances Tannehill

Ms. Tannehill created and performed one-woman shows for the past 20 years recounting her own theatrical experiences and those of other notable people in the arts. From 1995 until her death, she was President of Twelfth Night Club, Inc. which is the oldest extant club for women of the theatre in the U.S.

She will be remembered with love and admiration for her bright mind, her vibrant charm, her beautiful voice, and her wonderful recollections about the theatre that shaped her life.

Frances Tannehill is survived by her daughter Nicole Clark, of Manhattan.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Actor’s Fund.


msdworks said...

Wendy thanks so much for putting this up. I had not idea that Frances had been on the stage from age 8. At today's tribute to her mother, Nicole Clark showed these pictures and so many more along with such fascinating information on her family's long history in the theatre.

Unknown said...

A joy to have known