At a farmhouse in suburban Milwaukee, the table is always set for Noëlie (Coward), Larry (Olivier), Helen (Hayes), and Katharine (Hepburn). Every year from the 1920's through the 1970's, the Broadway acting team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne summered here with rafts of celebrity houseguests. They designed the estate mostly themselves—inspired by the bell-tower castles and gingerbread cabins of Scandinavia, Lunt's ancestral homeland—and called it Ten Chimneys, after the number of smokestacks on its dozen rambling buildings. The fanciful interiors were painted by a Broadway set designer, with trompe l'oeil curtains and cherubs that look like Alfred.
For photographers, the Lunts played at farming. Off-camera, they rehearsed the next season's productions. (In a log cabin on-site, they perfected Coward's 1933 Design for Living.) The house was filled with memorabilia—needlepoint cushions by Hayes, a copper mermaid statue by Cecil Beaton, fan letters from world leaders. But by the mid-nineties, Lunt and Fontanne were both gone,the roofs were caving in, and a developer was about to carve Ten Chimneys into a subdivision. Joseph W. Garton, a Wisconsin restaurateur and theater historian, raised $12 million to adapt the property into a museum and theater-arts center. Opening May 26—the Lunts' 81st anniversary—it's an authentic glimpse of lives in the limelight.
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