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First Day Ceremony

At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City in early March, one production opened and another closed.

On March 2, closing notices were posted for the musical "Titanic," after 804 performances and 23 months. It had not recouped its entire $11 million investment, despite winning awards for Best Musical, book, score, sets and orchestrations.

Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne The day before, the U.S. Postal Service launched its stamp honoring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the great actors after whom the theater was named. (Click pictures for a full-size view)

At the first day ceremony, the actors playing Ida and Isidore Straus (Alma Cuervo and Larry Keith, left) sang a duet, "Still," about a married couple coming to the end of their lives, yet still in love with each other. Cuervo and Keith sang in front of the large poster of the stamp, which had been lowered from above the stage. They wore life jackets, and, at the end, Keith wrapped his wine glass in his handkerchief and crushed it, as is the custom during the Jewish wedding ceremony.

Judd Hirsch Master of ceremonies Judd Hirsch (right) pretty much stuck to the Postal Service script, but after the ceremony, in an exclusive interview with the Virtual Stamp Club, he said he'd wished he'd seen the Lunts perform. He'd had one opportunity, but saw another play instead.

He also mentioned that he was an avid stamp collector as a child, and knew the names of all the African countries, "all of which have changed now."

Uta Hagen Actress Uta Hagen (left), who appeared with the Lunts in 1938 in their production of Chekhov's "The Seagull," bemoaned during the ceremony how many young actors don't know who Lunt and Fontanne were. "I talk to my students, and they don't know who these people were." She said the theater community needs to regain its history.

"They were certainly one of the great influences of my life," she continued. "Everyone should read everything about them." She mentioned The Fabulous Lunts by Jared Brown. The book is listed as out of print by Amazon.com. Brown was in the audience for the ceremony.

Theatrical and television producer Alexander Cohen pointed out that the Lunts matched their performances on Broadway with their appearances on the road. "If they spent a year here, they spent a year on the road. Nine to 15 months here, nine to 15 months on the road." He did not indicate if he was aware that the stamp will not be available at regular post offices "on the road."

Even the first day ceremony program mentions they "widely toured the country to bring first-rate theater to audiences outside New York City."

Lunt and Fontanne met while in summer stock in Washington, DC, in 1919, and married three years later. From 1928 to the end of his life in 1977, they only appeared together, in 26 plays, three films, and four television programs. Their final Broadway appearance was in 1958.

Also participating in the ceremony were Jim Boese, Director of Operations for the Nederlander Producing Company of America, which owns the Lunt-Fontanne Theater and produced "Titanic," and postal officials Gail G. Sonnenberg and Robert E. Maddern, also a married couple.

All the speakers at the ceremony, except Hirsch, stayed to sign autographs. A table was set up in the mezzanine lobby, while postal clerks sold stamps from the theater's bar.

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