First Ever Biography of Vanessa Redgrave Is Published
By: Ellis Nassour
The very first biography on an actress widely acknowledged as the greatest of her generation, Vanessa Redgrave, will be released in the U.S. on May 15 [Pegasus Books; 416 pages; Hardcover, SRP $29; 16 pages, B&W photos; Index]. Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave by film scholar and arts journalist Dan Callahan (Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman) covers her marriages, affairs, political activism and legendary five-decade career on the West End and Broadway and roles in over 80 films. Ms. Redgrave published an autobiography in 1994.
Controversial, fearless, loyal, outspoken, radiant, and unpredictable are adjectives used to describe Ms. Redgrave. Callahan, also an associate editor at Siman Arts Works, publishers of unique art books, "takes stock of Vanessa Redgrave both as actress and as political activist with a critical, objective study of her life and unparalleled career achievements."
Along with her late father Sir Michael, actress mother Rachel Kempson, late brother Corin and late sister Lynn, the Redgraves were considered the royal performing family of the U.K., just as the Barrymores were the royal performing family of the U.S. Callahan examines the influence Ms. Redgrave had from her father, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen Sir Michael Redgrave and her actress mother Rachel Kempson; and her close relationship with her siblings.
Ms. Redgrave was invited to go to Vietnam and protest, ala Jane Fonda; but realizing it would mean the loss of her career, she declined. She reasoned she could accomplish more politically with her celebrity as a stage and film star. There were some career missteps, however. Her membership in Britain’s Workers Revolutionary Party certainly garnered her lots of press – even a new "handle," "The Sexiest Socialist" and "The Shakespearian Turned Sexpot." Her political activism on behalf of the Palestinians often put her at odds with pro-Israel factions, such as the Jewish Defense League, even members of her family, but never diminished the acclaim for her brilliance onstage. Callahan fully explores her activism motivations.
Her children with the late theater and film director Tony Richardson are Joely and the late Natasha. The loss of her Natasha makes up a particularly poignant section of the book. "Her death," she writes, "changed my whole world, because it isn’t usual that the mother survives and the daughter dies, except in horrible situation like war … When my mother died … I was grief stricken and missed her desperately . . . But you accept that . . . but when your daughter dies, it’s so unacceptable, particularly when it’s not expected."
Her son with Italian actor Franco Nero [Django, The Bible: In the Beginning; forthcoming Django Lives], is Carlo Gabriel. Ms. Redgrave met Nero on the set of the 1967 film version of Camelot, where she played Guinevere and he played Lancelot, and had a highly scrutinized affair. They wed in 2006; however, Ms. Redgrave called the event a commitment ceremony, "a personal pledge" and "not a legal agreement," which she considered to be "abnormal."
Nero, describes their relationship as "deep," adding, "We fight every moment – but in a nice way." He further states, "She has an incredible talent … and she’s a great woman," but he acknowledges that Ms. Redgrave can be difficult "and sometimes she’s a little bit stubborn."
From her star-making portrayal of Rosalind in the Royal Shakespear’s Company’s 1961 staging of As You Like It to an astonishing roster of brilliant West End and Broadway stage and film roles, Ms. Redgrave, 77, has been unstoppable.
Highlights of her stage career include the RSC’s Cymbeline, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Tempest, The Aspern Papers, Much Ado About Nothing; and, on Broadway in the 2003 revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Year of Magical Thinking, Ibsen’s The Lady of the Sea, Williams’ Orpheus Descending [which she originated on the West End], and Off Broadway’s Vita and Virginia, Antony and Cleopatra, and, most recently, Rattlestick’s The Revisionist by and co-starring Jesse Eisenberg. For the latter, she received Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Lortel nominations.
Ms. Redgrave stirred up a bit of publicity when she refused to do appearances and interviews to promote her co-starring role opposite James Earl Jones in the 2010 Broadway revival of Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy, calling such activities "buffoonery." In spite of that, the show proved to be an audience and critical success, and also transferred to the West End.
Ms, Redgrave has appeared in film roles as varied as Second Serve, The Bostonians, Atonement, Howard’s End, Isadora, The Devils, Blowup, Camelot, Wilde, Mrs. Dalloway, The Whistelblower, Coriolanus, and Mary, Queen of Scots. She’s currently portraying Dr. Hartramph on the ABC series Black Box.
Jane Fonda, her Julia co-star, has written "Watching Vanessa work is like seeing through layers of glass, each layer painted in mythic watercolor images, layer after layer, until it becomes dark – but even then you know you haven’t come to the bottom of it."
Miss Redgrave remains the only British actress ever to win the Oscar, Tony, Olivier, Evening Standard, Emmy, Drama Desk, Cannes Film Festival, Golden Globe, and SAG awards.
In 2003, she was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. She received the 2010 BAFTA Fellowship "in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film." Redgrave was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1967. In 2003, she declined Dame honors from Tony Blair’s Labour government.