Born September 26, 1877 in London, England, Edmund John Kellaway was the eldest son of a British civil servant who expected his son to follow in his footsteps. However, young Kellaway had a mind of his own and was determined to become an actor against his father’s wishes. Changing his name to Edmund Gwenn, he made his stage debut at 18 in 1895. He made his first appearance in London’s West End in 1899. In 1901, he married actress Minnie Terry (1882-1964), a member of the third generation of the famed Terry family of actors. Ellen Terry was her aunt, John Gielgud her nephew.
Gwenn’s younger brother Arthur (1881-1949), whose stage name was Arthur Chesney, had a longer lasting career on the London stage than he did. Chesney was at one time married to Estelle Winwood (1883-1984). His cousin Cecil Kellaway (1890-1973), like Gwenn, would become a two-time Oscar nominee.
Allegedly, Gween and Terry were only married for a few days, if not a few hours, but did not divorce until 1916. In the meantime, they were frequently paired together on stage.
Gwenn made his film debut in 1916 in The Real Thing at Last but didn’t become a regular contributor to film until the 1930s when he appeared in such films as The Skin Game, Waltzes from Vienna, and The Bishop Misbehaves. On Broadway in 1935’s Laburnum Grove, he was summoned to Hollywood to play Katharine Hepburn’s father in Sylvia Scarlet and with rare exception, stayed there for the rest of his life.