Edmund Gwenn

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Edmund Gwenn
Edmund Gwenn 1953.jpg
Edmund Gwenn, 1953
Born Edmund John Kellaway[1]
(1877-09-26)26 September 1877
Wandsworth, London, England
Died 6 September 1959(1959-09-06) (aged 81)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Resting place
Chapel of the Pines Crematory
Residence Woodland Hills, California
Nationality British
Education St. Olave's School
Alma mater King's College London
Occupation Actor
Years active 1910-1959
Known for Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street
Home town London, England
Spouse(s) Minnie Terry (m. 1901–01) (several hours later)
Family Cecil Kellaway (cousin),
Arthur Chesney (brother)
Awards Academy Award, 2 Golden Globes

Edmund Gwenn (26 September 1877[2] – 6 September 1959) was an English[3] theatre and film actor.[4] He is perhaps best remembered for his role as Kris Kringle in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Born Edmund John Kellaway in Wandsworth, London and educated at St. Olave's School and later at King's College London, Gwenn began his acting career in the theatre in 1895. In 1901, he married Minnie Terry, niece of the famous actress Ellen Terry, a marriage that evidently was short-lived, as most sources list it as beginning and ending in 1901, and Gwenn remained single for the rest of his life. He seems to have preferred not to go into any details about the marriage and divorce and Minnie Terry, who outlived Gwenn, never publicly mentioned the cause. That same year, however, he went to Australia and acted there for three years, not returning to London until 1904.[5]

Playwright George Bernard Shaw was impressed with his acting, casting him in the first production of Man and Superman and subsequently in five more of his plays. Gwenn's career was interrupted by his military service during World War I however, after the war, he began appearing in films in London. His brother was actor Arthur Chesney and his cousin, actor Cecil Kellaway.


Gwenn appeared in more than eighty films during his career, including the Greer Garson/Laurence Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cheers for Miss Bishop, Of Human Bondage, and The Keys of the Kingdom. George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett (1935) marked his first appearance in a Hollywood film, as Katharine Hepburn's father; - his final British film, as a capitalist trying to take over a family brewery in Cheer Boys Cheer (1939) is credited with being the first authentic Ealing comedy.[6] He settled in Hollywood in 1940 and became part of its British colony. For his Santa role in Miracle on 34th Street, which was ranked ninth by the American Film Institute on a list of America's 100 most inspiring films, Gwenn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Upon receiving his Oscar, he said "Now I know there is a Santa Claus!" He is the only person to win an acting Academy Award for playing the role of Santa Claus. Gwenn later reprised the Kris Kringle role on three different adaptations of Miracle on 34th Street for radio, including a 1948 performance on Lux Radio Theatre.

He received a second Oscar nomination for his role in Mister 880 (1950). Near the end of his career he played one of the main roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955). He has a small but hugely memorable role as a Cockney assassin in another American Hitchcock film, Foreign Correspondent (1940), the year he moved to Hollywood. He is one of many actors whose Hollywood careers were helped by Hitchcock.

In theatre, he starred in a 1942 production on Broadway of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, which also starred Judith Anderson and Ruth Gordon. It was produced by and starred Katharine Cornell. Time proclaimed it "a dream production by anybody's reckoning — the most glittering cast the theatre has seen, commercially, in this generation."[7]

In 1954, Gwenn played Dr. Harold Medford in the classic science fiction film Them! with James Arness and James Whitmore.


Gwenn remained a British subject all his life. When he first moved to Hollywood, he lived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. His home in London had been reduced to rubble during the bombings by the Luftwaffe in World War II. Only the fireplace survived. What Gwenn regretted most was the loss of the memorabilia he had collected of the famous actor Henry Irving. Eventually Gwenn bought a house at 617 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, which he was to share with his secretary and "confidential man," Ernest C. Bach and later with former Olympic athlete Rodney Soher.[8]

Edmund Gwenn died from pneumonia after suffering a stroke, in Woodland Hills, California, twenty days before his 82nd birthday. According to several sources, his last words, when a friend at his bedside remarked that "It is hard to die," were: "But it is harder to do comedy." However, a very similar deathbed saying was earlier attributed to a similarly named 19th century English actor, Edmund Kean, so the association of the words with Gwenn may be erroneous.[citation needed] Gwenn was cremated and his ashes are stored in the vault at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles. Edmund Gwenn has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street for his contribution to motion pictures.

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  2. ^ Birth certificate
  3. ^ Berry, David. Wales and Cinema: The First Hundred Years, University of Wales Press, 1994, p. 110.
  4. ^ Obituary Variety, 23 September 1959, page 87.
  5. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0350324/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
  6. ^ The Observer Review, 20 December 2009
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0350324/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

External links[edit]