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 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 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, 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 ascendancy to acting greatness, his achievement of British knighthood and, in great detail, his dark lifelong secret.
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 Lynn recalled, “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.”
It's not until well past the halfway point that the book dashes through highlights of the three children's accomplishments — Vanessa's humanitarian causes and her winning of Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Cannes, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards; Corin's outspoken political stances and acclaimed performances on stage and screen; and Lynn's maverick life, honored performances and prizewinning play about her father.
It's almost an afterthought when the book reaches the careers of the grandchildren who've carried on the family's acting legacy — Joely Richardson, Jemma Redgrave and Vanessa's daughter Natasha Richardson, the Tony Award-winning actress who died in a 2009 skiing accident.
Dennis King blogs at Blog.NewsOK.com/projections.