He was the quintessential avuncular Englishman, poised and proper, but thoughtful and full of insights. While he is most often known as Santa Claus in Miracle on 49th Street,
and who could make a better Santa Claus, my favorite Gwenn film is Apartment for Peggy, an uninspired title for a very fine and neglected film, also starring Jean Crain and William Holden. It is the thoughtful journey of an elderly academic luminary who has decided to end his own life. The lack of housing in Cambridge after the war forces him to rent his attic to the bustling and full of life Peggy (Jean Crain) while her husband (Holden) studies chemistry at Harvard. The professor and Peggy are at two poles of experiencing life: Peggy on the brink of having her first child and the professor feeling that, since his wife passed away, he no longer has a reason to live. Peggy convinces him to hold seminars in philosophy for herself and other GI bill wives whose husbands have access to college while they do not—they work to support their families. In a pool hall they borrow for the class, there is a lively discussion of philosophy and ideas among the women assembled, a scene often lacking in the history of film. And Gwenn is there, the Professor revitalized by new ways of thinking, a soul becoming recommitted to being.