Monday, May 03, 2010
Lynn Redgrave (1943-2010)
The past two years have been tragic ones for the Redgrave acting dynasty. Last year, they lost Natasha Richardson from the family's third generation of performers. Last month, the second generation and sole male acting heir to the family's name, Corin, passed away. Now, we have lost his sister and Natasha'a aunt, the great Lynn Redgrave, who has died at 67 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Lynn and her sister, Vanessa, were contemporaries and Lynn always had the misfortune of being thought of as the lesser of the two in terms of talent, but if it engendered sibling rivalry, it never seemed to show. The two even competed against each other for the best actress Oscar in 1966, Lynn for Georgy Girl, Vanessa for Morgan, but both lost the prize to Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Lynn's film debut came in 1963's best picture winner, Tom Jones. Georgy Girl was her third feature as the slightly frumpy English girl, teaching kids and longing for a more exciting, happier life while pursued as a mistress by an unhappily married but wealthy businessman (the also nominated James Mason).
Lynn's career from the very beginning always floated between the screen, the stage and television. She worked with Woody Allen in Eveything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask as the queen with the chastity belt that Woody's jester longs to unlock.
In 1973, in an ABC Afterschool Special I really wish I had seen, she played various characters in a special titled William: The Life, Works and Times of William Shakespeare. Imagine television trying to show something that might be (gasp) educational, enriching and entertaining as I imagine that must have been to children today.
All of her film work wasn't of the highest quality (she was British after all) and in 1975 she took on the role of infamous madame Xaviera Hollander in the adaptation of Hollander's autobiography The Happy Hooker. The following year, she was on of the many trapped on the very underrated disaster spoof The Big Bus.
Her television work ranged from the classy to miniseries such as Centennial to even appearances on Kojak. She even starred briefly in a sitcom version of the film House Calls until she became embroiled in a legal dispute with the producers over whether she could breast-feed her baby on the set. Eventually, she left the show and the series final handful of episodes featured Sharon Gless.
She also wasn't immune from hitting the ABC guest star magnets, hitting the trifecta with appearances on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island AND Hotel. She tried some other TV series, most infamously as Jackie Mason's romantic interest in his short-lived try at sitcom glory Chicken Soup.
In 1991, Lynn teamed with her sister Vanessa for a television remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Lynn taking the Bette Davis role and Vanessa stuck in bed with the Joan Crawford part.
The mid-'90s started to bring Lynn better film roles again, starting with 1996's Shine as the woman who eventually wed David Helfgott. In 1998, her work as James Whale's coarse housekeeper in Gods and Monsters brought her her second Oscar nomination. Her monologue at the end of Kinsey as to how his studies changed her life was one of that film's highlights. James Ivory's The White Countess gave Lynn, Vanessa and Natasha the chance to work together in the same film.
Her most recent television appearances have come on Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
From 1967 to as recently as 2005, Lynn made frequent appearances on Broadway, earning three Tony nominations for best actress in a play: for her last appearance in 2005's revival of The Constant Wife, 1976's revival of Mrs. Warren's Profession and for 1993's Shakespeare for My Father, a one-woman show she conceived as a love letter to her legendary actor father, Michael Redgrave.
RIP Lynn Redgrave and my best wishes to the extended Redgrave family in these trying times.
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