Monday, May 03, 2010

Sad news this afternoon about the death of Lynn Redgrave aged 67, only a month after her brother Corin's.Much has been made of Lynn's feelings of being a 'spare thumb' while growing up in her theatrical family but in the same year as Vanessa was acclaimed at the RSC for her performances in AS YOU LIKE IT and TAMING OF THE SHREW, Lynn and Corin made their London stage debut's in Tony Richardson's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Royal Court with Rita Tushingham.Lynn then appeared at the Old Vic in the first years of the National Theatre and showing the range of her ability, from Coward (Jackie in HAY FEVER) to Shakespeare (Margaret iin MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING), Farquhar (Rose in THE RECRUITING OFFICER) to Brecht (Kattrin in MOTHER COURAGE). She made the move to film with a supporting role in her brother-in-law Richardson's TOM JONES then to co-starring in THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES as Rita Tushingham's more gregarious, wordly roommate which earned her a BAFTA nomination.However she gained her biggest success by switching personas in Silvio Narizzano's GEORGY GIRL. Now playing the gauche and unloved flatmate to Charlotte Rampling's glamorous but nasty friend, Lynn's eye-catching performance made her an unlikely heroine for the swinging sixties audience and she found herself nominated with sister Vanessa for a Best Actress Academy Award - Vanessa was nominated for MORGAN: A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT - but ultimately they both lost to Elizabeth Taylor's Martha in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Personally I can't say I am a big fan of either film - I guess you had to be there to appreciate them.However she only made two more films in the 60s - SWINGING TIME again with Tushingham as two Northern girls seeing fame in swinging London and as the Sergeant Major's daughter in THE VIRGIN SOLDIERS.

Her work then seemed to proceed in a haphazard manner, no doubt due to family commitments - she married John Clark in 1967 and had children in 1968, 1970 and 1981.

Take for instance the first few years on the 1970s:

appears in LAST OF THE MOBILE HOT SHOTS, a little-seen or remembered Sidney Lumet film with James Coburn based on a Tennessee Williams flop "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" with a script by Gore Vidal (!); appears at the Garrick with Richard Briers in Michael Frayn's debut play THE TWO OF US.

appears at the Royal Court in David Hare's debut play SLAG with Anna Massey and Barbara Ferris; appears in an Italian spaghetti western with Vanessa's next amour Franco Nero called VIVA LA MUERTE...TUA. 1972: appears in Woody Allen's EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK as a Queen seducing Allen's Court Jester and in the woeful EVERY LITTLE CROOK AND NANNY as a woman posing as a Nanny to a mafia Don.

appears in the little-seen Jack Gold film of Peter Nichols' savage comedy THE NATIONAL HEALTH which contrasts the run-down reality of a failing NHS hospital with the antiseptic fantasy of a hospital soap opera; appears at Greenwich Theatre in BORN YESTERDAY directed by Tom Stoppard.

She then appeared on Broadway in MY FAT FRIEND with George Rose and John Lithgow and settled in America permanently. Her career in the 1970s then drifted along with acclaimed performances on Broadway - a Tony nomination as Vivie in MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION, ST, JOAN directed by her husband - and appearances on US TV. Her only other big screen appearances at this time were as real-life madam Xaviera Hollander in the utterly godawful THE HAPPY HOOKER and, to better effect, as the nymphomaniac fashion designer in the disaster movie send-up THE BIG BUS. Lynn was cast in the Glenda Jackson role in the tv spin-off of Jackson's film HOUSE CALLS but this ended in turmoil with Universal TV sacking her in 1981. Costly legal proceedings dragged on for years - she claimed she was sacked for breast-feeding her newborn baby Annabel and if nothing else the case did much to highlight the continued problems mothers faced with this situation in the workplace. However the case all but bankrupted her before it was thrown out of court. Needless to say the 1980s saw her concentrate heavily on US TV work - she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers - and the occasional stage appearance. The 1990s saw a return to the London stage on two occasions - the only times I saw her onstage. She was an emotional Masha with Vanessa and niece Jemma in Chekhov's THREE SISTERS at the Queens in 1990 but the production wasn't well received and the press gloated when Lynn vilified Vanessa for her condemnation of the first Iraq invasion. They had also just filmed an unnecessary tv remake of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE which truly deserved condemning.

However for Lynn there was always material in her family and in 1993 she wrote and starred in SHAKESPEARE FOR MY FATHER on Broadway. An exploration-cum-exorcism of her feelings towards her father as viewed through the words of his beloved Shakespeare, she received a Tony Award nomination for the piece and I saw it when it had a month-long run a the Haymarket.By then she had co-starred in the Oscar-winning SHINE and in 1998 received a second Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress, for her role as James Whale's disapproving maid in GODS AND MONSTERS.

However - in a seemingly endless pattern of good/bad strokes - this was the same year her personal life was splashed over the newspapers.
In 1991 her assistant had a baby boy and refused to name the father. The assistant later married Lynn's son but this marriage foundered. in 1998 - at a Thanksgiving dinner yet! - Lynn's longtime husband John Clark admitted he was the father. He had tried to start the relationship up again with the assistant who was having none of it and was threatening to tell Lynn.The marriage's dirty linen was washed in public for two years before a divorce was granted in 2000. She made her final appearance on the London stage in 2001 at the Piccadilly Theatre in the National Theatre revival of NOISES OFF when she replaced Patricia Hodge for the west-end run. The same year she received an OBE but in 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her battle against the disease and subsequent mastectomy and chemotherapy formed the basis of a 2004 book with photographs by daughter Annabel but by then Lynn had already won a Drama Desk award for Best Supporting Actress for an off-Broadway production of Alan Bennett's "Talking Heads" monologue MISS FOZZARD FINDS HER FEET.

Her role in Maugham's THE CONSTANT WIFE won her another Tony award nomination in 2005 and in the same year, she appeared alongside Vanessa and niece Natasha in James Ivory's sadly rather leaden THE WHITE COUNTESS.

More supporting roles followed in films and US television - her last screen role was a guest star in UGLY BETTY - and she was working on stage almost to the end in NIGHTINGALE, another 'family' play she wrote, this time based on the life of her maternal grandmother.
Her career was certainly full and varied but one can't help wondering what greater legacy she might have left had she not moved to America at such a crucial point in her career.

No comments: