Lynn Redgrave, 1943–2010

The pedigreed actress who had the common touch

Born into one of England’s great acting dynasties, Lynn Redgrave said she’d been the child “of whom nothing was really expected.” Yet in a long, successful career, she appeared regularly on stage, film, and television, and mined her famous family for dramatic content in several critically acclaimed plays of her own. Redgrave never achieved the critical praise bestowed on her father, Sir Michael Redgrave, or her sister, Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave, but she won wide recognition for her range and her facility with classics.

“Despite self-doubts,” said the Associated Press, Redgrave “pursued the family trade” by studying at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. She debuted professionally in a London stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A founding member of Britain’s Royal National Theatre, Redgrave was directed by Noël Coward and Laurence Olivier.

Redgrave always seemed to be straddling the worlds of high and low culture, said The Washington Post. She received the first of two Oscar nominations for her starring role in Georgy Girl, a 1966 film about a pudgy young Londoner pursued by her father’s boss. More than 30 years later, she was nominated “for her supporting turn as a grumpy, frumpy housekeeper in Gods and Monsters.” Redgrave also earned Tony Award nominations for her stage work in George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, and her one-woman show, Shakespeare for My Father, which examined her difficult relationship with Sir Michael. “He already had two children when I was born,” she once remarked, referring to Vanessa and Corin, an actor who died just last month, “and Dad really put all his artistic hopes into them.”

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Despite her pedigree, Redgrave “took what jobs she could get,” said the Los Angeles Times. She served as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers from 1983 to 1991, and appeared on such television shows as Love Boat and Fantasy Island. “I go very much by my dad’s theory that work breeds work,” she explained, “and that you are not an actor unless you are acting.” She had a brush with tabloid notoriety in 1999, when she filed for divorce from John Clark, her husband of 32 years, after learning he had fathered a child in 1991 with his then-assistant Nicolette Hannah. Hannah later married Redgrave and Clark’s son, Benjamin.

While struggling with cancer in recent years, Redgrave was buoyed by her success as a writer. Her most recent stage appearance was in Rachel and Juliet, a one-woman show about the attachment of her mother, actress Rachel Kempson, to the Shakespeare character. In addition to her sister, Vanessa, Redgrave is survived by three children and six grandchildren. Her niece, actress Natasha Richardson, died last year following a skiing accident.

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