THE BOOK SHELF: "The House of Redgrave," Charting the Family Tree of a Theatrical Dynasty

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24 Mar 2013

Michael Redgrave

Michael was duly famous on stage and film, with his career ending in 1975 when it became apparent that his trouble learning lines and sustaining performances were the result of the onset of Parkinson's disease. Adler only touches on Michael's career, preferring to concentrate on his troubled offstage life — which, admittedly, is far more interesting than a paragraph or two about each of his 50-odd movies. Going unmentioned is the 1945 "Dead of Night," which to me is quintessential; that final image of the tortured Redgrave, as a ventriloquist whose dummy has turned evil, seems to peer directly into the troubled actor's soul.

This book about all the Redgraves is a highly-readable page-turner which will keep your eyebrows in a semi-permanent state of raised. It is somewhat off-kilter, though; the family saga is hijacked by Tony Richardson, Vanessa's husband for six years (although he remained an integral part of the family for the rest of his life). I've not done a page-by-page count, but this Redgrave-by-marriage seems to get far more coverage than either Michael or Vanessa; he also seems to get more space than Rachel, Lynn, Corin, Natasha and Joely combined. It's almost as if the author started writing a biography of Tony until some publisher convinced him that adding the presently-more-famous Vanessa and Natasha would make the thing more salable. (There are so many Richardsons and Redgraves floating about that you'll excuse me for putting them on a first-name basis.)

This is not a negative. Tony was for a decade one of the most influential stage and film directors around, central to the "angry young man" movement that came out of Great Britain in the late 1950s. He made his name in London and on Broadway with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer (starring Laurence Olivier) and A Taste of Honey. The film versions of these helped shake up the British cinema, with Richardson in 1963 reaching his pinnacle — and winning best director and best producer Oscars — for the phenomenally successful "Tom Jones." (Nepotism is fine when you have talented relatives. "Tom Jones" featured mother-in-law Rachel and sister-in-law Lynn, while Michael starred in Tony's prior film, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.")

What's more, Tony's private life was as eyebrow-raising as Michael's. When this book was initially serialized in the Daily Mail in 2011, Vanessa objected to the statement that she once discovered her husband and her father — well, let's just say that she objected and the sentence does not appear in the published book version. Adler does report, though, that during a summer vacation in Nice with Vanessa, Tony and Michael together attended one of Terrence Rattigan's "all-male parties."


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