Remembering Miss Daisy

updated 09/26/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1994 01:00AM

MORGAN FREEMAN WILL NEVER forget the sight of Jessica Tandy baking calmly in a 1948 Packard. The two were filming Driving Miss Daisy that sweltering Atlanta summer of 1989, and Tandy, then 80, had to sit for hours under movie lights in the ovenlike car. "She didn't ask to get out," Freeman recalled. "She didn't even sweat. She just said, 'I'm fine. Let's get on with it.' "

Grace and professionalism marked the 67-year career of Tandy, who died Sept. 11, at 85, in her home in Easton, Conn., after a four-year struggle with ovarian cancer. Her husband of 52 years, actor Hume Cronyn, 83, was at her side, as he had been during a famed professional collaboration with her that spanned 50 years and included such movies as 1985's Cocoon and the 1977 Broadway hit The Gin Game. But Tandy was a phenomenon in her own right. Her remarkable range encompassed Shakespeare and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. It won her three Tonys and the 1989 Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the proud and prickly Georgia matron Miss Daisy Werthan.

Tandy's first stage was the parlor of her family's flat in London. After her father, Harry, a rope company staffer, died in 1921, her mother, Jessie, encouraged her daughter and two sons to put on skits—believing, Tandy explained, that acting was "a dignified way for me to break out of our bleak life."

Her career began at 18 in a storefront London theater. A few years' hard work made her a regular on the city's main stages. In 1932 she married actor Jack Hawkins. They had a daughter, Susan, but the marriage didn't last. In 1940 Tandy set out for America. She met Cronyn in New York City soon after she arrived. They wed in 1942 and headed for Hollywood. While Cronyn landed choice roles, Tandy received only bit parts and divided time raising Susan (now 60) and her children with Cronyn—Christopher, now 51, and Tandy, 48, an actress.

What seemed her big break led to Tandy's worst disappointment. In 1946, playwright Tennessee Williams saw her L.A. theater group stage one of his one-act dramas. Impressed, he chose Tandy to play Blanche DuBois in his new work, A Streetcar Named Desire. The Broadway show, with newcomer Marlon Brando, opened in 1947. Tandy earned critical raves and the Tony for Best Actress. Then she lost the film role to Vivien Leigh. Tandy took it in stride. "It's just life," she once reflected. "They didn't have a movie name. I went back to work and got on with it."

Unlike so many actresses, as Tandy got older she got busier—and worked recently through growing discomfort. Explaining her stoicism, she said, "What makes life worth living is the work." Last week, Cronyn likewise refused to go public with his pain. He was "coping," said his publicist, but would make no immediate statement. No doubt Jessica would approve. "In this day, when actresses do stupid infomercials and everyone is such a phony, Jessica was just herself," says Driving Miss Daisy author Alfred Uhry. "There was no bulls—t about her. She seemed totally true to everything she did."

GREGORY CERIO
TOBY KAHN in New York City

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