Biography of ‘The Redgraves’ tells colorful, controversial family saga
With the 1907 marriage of British actress Daisy Scudamore to matinee idol Roy Redgrave, an acting dynasty was born that has profoundly touched the worlds of stage, screen, television and politics in the 105 years since.
The Redgraves in typically dramatic – and melodramatic – fashion evolved into one of the great theatrical clans of the 20th century, acting royalty whose regal talent, convention-defying eccentricities and outsized public personas are spotlighted in “The Redgraves: A Family Epic” (Crown Archetype, $26), celebrity biographer Donald Spoto’s less-than-sweeping history of the English classical-acting tribe.
Focusing primarily on first son Michael Redgrave (only child of Daisy and Roy), the brilliant stage and movie actor who, despite fathering three children with glamorous wife and actress Rachel Kempson, was a barely closeted homosexual with a florid and torrid sexual history, the book casts his extraordinarily talented offspring into largely supporting roles.
At its front end, the biography thoroughly recounts Michael’s poverty-stricken childhood, his ascendency to acting greatness, his achievement of British knighthood and, in great detail, his dark lifelong secret.
In scrupulous detail, Spoto recounts the highlights of Michael’s long career (he died of Parkinson’s disease in 1985) and his sexual dalliances with many male lovers he invited into his home as “family friends.” There are dramatic descriptions of Rachel’s struggles with her husband’s proclivities and her determination that through love she could change him.
Michael and Rachel’s gifted children – Vanessa, Corin and Lynn – appear early on mainly as commentators on their father’s demons. As Corin observed, “My father was gay, or bisexual, at a time when you would be ashamed, humiliated, penalized and possibly put in prison.” And the shy, retiring Lynn recalled of her complicated dad, “I was in awe of him and I adored him, and I was terrified of him and I hated him and loved him, all in one go.”
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