Actress Lynn Redgrave (“Georgy Girl,” “Shine”) Dies at 67
If you’ve been there, you know what I am talking about. For Vanessa Redgrave to bury her daughter, her brother and her younger sister within a year is a horrifying trifecta.
(Below, Lynn Redgrave with her son Benjamin Clark at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008.)
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I’ll always love Lynn Redgrave for being Georgy in Georgy Girl. How in the world…you were too young to see Georgy Girl in the Sixties. No, I wasn’t. I remember seeing it on a long-dead late show called NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, and I was allowed to stay up on weekend nights. That’s where I saw Vertigo for the first time. Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco, played some Italian or British movies late at night too, and that’s how I was introduced to the likes of Sophia Loren and Rita Tushingham. I could follow adult situation, foreign films, which compared to now were pretty tame. And I could relate to Georgy, who was big and good and womanly, and all she wanted was a child to love and to love her back unconditionally. Her in-service, class-striving parents wanted her to marry their millionaire employer with a mortally-ill wife, played by a horny James Mason. She got all in the end just being a good girl. And I thought, like a kid, that’s the way it should be.
It wasn’t that way in real life for Redgrave. The youngest daughter of actor Sir Michael Redgrave and his actress wife, Rachel Kempson, Lynn suffered from self-esteem, bulimia, and weight issues, and so her acting career, particularly in film, was not as storied as Vanessa’s. So it was a pleasure when in the late Seventies, she played Glenda Jackson’s role in the TV version of House Calls opposite a then-likeable Wayne Rogers who took Walter Matthau’s part from the sleeper film comedy. (In an interesting period, Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau also played in Hopscotch. Sorta like Tracy and Hepburn without the backstage relationship.) When Redgrave was fired from that popular show in a controversy over her wanting to breast-feed her new baby, and allegedly to change the terms of her contract, she went on to represent Weight Watchers. Although she never starred in another primetime TV show, Redgrave became famous for whipping away her “fat” clothes to reveal her newly svelte form, declaring, “This…is living.”
Although Vanessa and Corin Redgrave are/were very, very left wing politically, Lynn’s politics were more middle of the road. She sometimes tussled with her sister and brother publicly over politics, but it did not appear to hamper their personal relationship with each other.
And then there is Vanessa’s sister, actress Lynn Redgrave. They’ve had public disagreements in the past, mostly over Vanessa’s politics. Here’s what Lynn Redgrave told [Mike] Wallace back then:
“When her revolution comes, if it does, if I were in her way I’m sure she’d walk right over me, much as she might love me,” she said. “It would upset her, I think, but, you know, onwards brothers, to the final goal. I think. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.”
Today, Lynn Redgrave says, “I regret now, not that I felt the way I did because I think I was justified at the time in feeling that way. What I regret is speaking about it.”
“The two of you have been at odds from time to time,” Wallace remarks to Vanessa Redgrave.
“No, years ago we are at odds,” Vanessa Redgrave replies, laughing. “We’ve never been at odds since the last, I don’t know, ten years.”
In that time Lynn survived a battle with breast cancer.
“Did your illness bring you closer?” Wallace asks Lynn Redgrave.
“Incredibly close, you know? It’s as sisters, I can’t describe it except to tell it warms my heart. It warms my soul, and I love every minute with her,” she replies.
“She’s an immensely giving and generous person. I’m very lucky to have her as a sister,” Vanessa Redgrave tells Wallace.
“And she, too, for you,” Wallace remarks.
“I think she feels the same way, yes,” says Redgrave.
“Ah…That’s lovely,” Lynn Redgrave reacts. “It is as good as it gets. And I know how lucky I am because – sisters aren’t always so close, at any time in their life let alone at this later point.”
And now Lynn is gone.
Redgrave was married to John Clark for 32 years and had three children, Benjamin, Kelly, and Annabel. Unfortunately, this long-time marriage and creative partnership ended in divorce in 2000 when Clark admitted during the previous Thanksgiving holiday that he had fathered a child eight years before on Nicollette Hannah, his former assistant, who later became the first wife of his son, Benjamin. In other words, the child was not Redgrave’s grandson, but her husband’s natural son.
The revelation triggered the uncovering of other hitherto unheardof secrets, some of which–true or not– were retailed in the tabloids. I didn’t read all of it, but it was certainly a big mess for a few months. Clark later claimed that he was responsible for Redgrave’s comeback in the late Nineties with Shine and Gods and Monsters and suggested that she did not show him respect or gratitude, that the acclaim had all gone to her head. He also accused her of infidelity with other men, including actor Brian Dennehy. (Responding to this news, Dennehy laid the signifying on thick with the reply, “That was a long time ago.”) Her cheating, Clark said, gave him the green light to cheat as well. Redgrave refused to reconcile, saying that the years-long duplicity had poisoned any love she had had for Clark.
In December 2002, however, Redgrave was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued to work until last year, starring in films like Kinsey and My Dog Tulip.
Wikipedia says that Redgrave managed to appear a number of other one-shots on the stage. In 2005, she appeared at Quinnipiac University and Connecticut College in the play Sisters of the Garden, about the sisters Fanny and Rebekka Mendelssohn, and Nadia and Lili Boulanger. A year later, she appeared in Nightingale, a one-woman play based on her rather ordinary grandmother Beatrice Ashwell, at the Mark Taper Forum, repeating the performance at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut. She was slated to appear in Rachel and Juliet, another one-woman show, this time about her actress mother, Rachel Kempson.
Redgrave wasn’t always playing serious during her last years. She starred in Confessions of a Shopaholic and in Peter Pan. She also appeared in a 2007 episode of Desperate Housewives as Dahlia Hainsworth.
Lynn Redgrave was also a naturalized American citizen, and held the honor of the OBE or Officer of the British Empire. She died at her home of breast cancer in Connecticut Sunday.