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A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of September, Solar Year 2018

The Cable Knit Sweater

September 26, 1877 was the birthdate of character actor Edmund Gwenn.

In 1901 Edmund Gwenn went to Australia and acted on stage there for three years, not returning to London until 1904. There he took a small part in “In The Hospital”, which led to him receiving a postcard from George Bernard Shaw, offering him a leading role as Srtaker, the chauffeur, in Shaw’s “Man and Superman”. Gwenn accepted and the play was a success. He spent three years in Shaw’s company, performing in “John Bull’s Island”, Major Barbara”, “The Devil’s Disciple” and other plays by Shaw.

Edmund Gwenn made his first appearance on screen in a 1916 British short “The Real Thing at Last”, followed by a silent version of “The Skin Game” in 1920 as the character Hornblower. This role he would reprise in a talking version by Alfred Hitchcock, released in 1931. After these films, Gwenn worked steadily until the end of his life, appearing in English stage pays and films, eventually doing more and more on Broadway and in Hollywood.

In 1940 Edmund Gwenn played a delightful Mr Bennet in “Pride and Perjudice”, then played a completely opposite role as an assassin in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 “Foreign Correspondent”. He later played a comedic role in the 1941 “Charley’s Aunt”, in which he romanced Jack Benny, masquerading as a woman. Gwenn was in the 1945 “Bewitched”, “Of Human Bondage” released in 1946, and the 1947 “Green Dolphin Street”.

Then in 1947, Edmund Gwenn became a super star. Twentieth Century-Fox was planning the film “Miracle on 34th Street”. The studio had offered the role of “Kris Kringle” to Gwenn’s cousin, the well-known character actor Cecil Kellaway, but he had turned it down with the observation that the role was too whimsical. Twentieth Century-Fox then offered it to Edmund Gwenn, who immediately accepted. His performance earned him at the age of 71 an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor and, because it is rerun every Christmas season, Gwenn would become for many their all-time favorite screen Santa.

Though rotund, Edmund Gwenn didn’t feel he was rotund enough to look like the jolly old elf most people expected after having read Clement Moore’s “The Night before Christmas”, in which Santa “had a broad face and a little round belly”. He could of course worn padding, but he resisted that as too artificial. So Gwenn gained almost 30 pounds for the role, a fair amount for a man of his short stature, and added nearly five inches to his waistline.

Gwenn’s final days were spent at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California. Having endured terrible arthritis for many years, he had suffered a stroke, and then contracted pneumonia, from which he died at age 81 on September 6, 1959. His body was cremated, and his ashes are buried in a vault at The Chapel of the Pines in Los Angeles.

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