Friday, March 8, 2013

Remembering Lynn Redgrave

Lynn Rachel Redgrave was born on March 8, 1943 in Marylebone, London, England. The youngest child of the celebrated British actors Michael Redgrave [1908-1985] and Rachel Kempson [1910-2003], Lynn grew up in the shadow of her sister, Vanessa [1937- ], and her brother, Corin [1939-2010], and never acquired Vanessa’s aura of stardom. But as both a deft comedian and a commanding dramatic actress she carved out a varied career, playing parts in Shakespeare and Shaw and even appeared on TV’s “Fantasy Island.”

Redgrave was a frequently acclaimed performer, admired by critics and nominated three times for Tony Awards, twice for Oscars (more than 30 years apart) and twice for Emmys. But she came across nonetheless as the prototypical working actor, plying her trade more often in character roles than in leading ones and unafraid to disappear into a part that undermined her looks.

Indeed, for the film that made her a star when she was just 23, “Georgy Girl” (1966), she said she put on 14 pounds to play the title role: a previous generation’s Bridget Jones, a pudgy, gawky young woman whose painfully uncertain self-image leads her to sublimate her own desires to those of her acquaintances. She was nominated for an Academy Award.

She often described herself as living a lonely childhood in which her father was distant and her siblings excluded her; she recalled a family skit in which her brother and sister played world leaders and she was cast as a dog.

She attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and made her professional debut in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Royal Court Theater in 1962. Lynn made her Broadway debut in 1967 in Peter Shaffer’s “Black Comedy,” a vaudevillian comedy set in an artist’s loft during a power blackout. Unusually for a performer of her pedigree, Ms. Redgrave appeared in a large number of television series — including “Kojak,” “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote”. Redgrave shrugged at that idea, saying she was a working actress who needed to make a living. She appeared in one Euro-western “Long Live Your Death” (1971) playing journalist Mary O’Donnell along with future brother-in-law Franco Nero and Eli Wallach.

In the last two decades of her life, she started on a new professional path as a writer. At her death she was at work on a solo show, her fourth play to draw on her family history. Titled “Rachel and Juliet,” it was about her relationship with her mother, who had a lifelong fascination with Shakespeare’s Juliet.

Redgrave died from breast cancer at the age of 67 on May 2, 2010 in Kent, Connecticut. Today we remember Lynn Redgrave on what would have been her 70th birthday.

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