My memories of Lynn Redgrave

Posted on June 4, 2010

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I’m not much inclined to follow the daily doings of celebrities but there are a few who, for varying reasons, hold a special place in my life. Lynn Redgrave was one such person.

The announcement of Lynn Redgrave’s death on May 2, 2010 took me by surprise and left me with a melancholy that lingered for several days. I had intended to write this post immediately after I learned of her death but final exams and grading responsibilities in early and mid-May kept me from devoting the time I wanted to spend in reflection and writing.

Lynn Redgrave was known for her charm, wit and acting skills. She was also a successful playwright, something many who didn’t follow her career in detail might not know. I had the opportunity to see her perform on stage twice and I met her briefly on one occasion. This blog post is my way to remember her life and contributions.

The first movie I can remember seeing in a theater as a child was Georgy Girl—-the film that catapulted Lynn Redgrave from her status as the other Redgrave daughter to critical darling.  My parents took me to see Georgy Girl at the Roxy Theater in my hometown. I  guess it was 1967 by the time the film made it to the Roxy.  I would have been about 4 years old. If you’ve seen Georgy Girl you know it’s not a film for children but I was too young to understand anything about the storyline. It was the mod clothing and English accents of Georgy Girl that stayed with me as a child. And the theme song, of course. I remember singing it a lot with my mom (along with “Happy Together” by the Turtles). I was watching The Avengers on TV during the same period and I was transfixed by Steed and Mrs. Peel. My childhood impression of Georgy Girl was that it was like the Avengers–accents and cool clothes. [I’ll blog about my fixation on The Avengers in a late post.]

Fast forward to early 1980s. I rediscovered Lynn Redgrave on House Calls and enjoyed the show. I admired her chutzpah for suing for the right to breastfeed her child. House Calls reintroduced me to Lynn Redgrave, the actor. I was happy when Georgy Girl was released on VHS. It was high on my list of films I wanted to see again and I remember watching it in the mid-80s when I was in law school. I even bought it on VHS at some point.

I made it a point to watch the 1991 TV-remake of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Lynn and sister Vanessa. In my opinion, Lynn stole the show.

In 1993 I read that Lynn Redgrave would be performing Shakespeare for My Father at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery. Ordered my ticket immediately. What a captivating performance.  I am thrilled to this day that I got to see Lynn Redgrave in Shakespeare for My Father. Bought a signed copy of Ms. Redgrave’s autobiography in the ASF bookstore. As I recall, the book includes a lot about her weight struggles. I have it in one of my unpacked boxes. I need to go back and re-read it.

A few years later, spring of 1996, my mom and I were in New York City with a group of friends and I recommended we see Lynn Redgrave in Moon Over Buffalo. Afterwards, on a lark I suggested we wait around the stage door for a few minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever waited by a stage door before or after a theatre performance. We lucked out–most of the rest of the cast came out first and graciously signed our playbills, including Robert Goulet, who played the male lead. We were told that Lynn Redgrave would be out soon–not to worry.

Lynn Redgrave did come out a few minutes later and signed a bunch of playbills. There were maybe 20-25 fans waiting around. My group was the last to approach her. I mentioned having seen her in Shakespeare for My Father at the Alabama Shakespeare and she was so, so gracious and charming. She had many kind words to say about the ASF facilities. Our group chatted with Ms. Redgrave for several minutes and she signed our playbills and posed for several pictures with us. That was the highlight of the trip and I got a lot of undeserved props from my traveling companions who never expected to get a photo WITH Lynn Redgrave when I suggested we wait at the stage door.

Who can forget her performance in Gods and Monsters or Shine?

Lynn Redgrave

A few years later, 2001-ish, I was surfing the web and discovered www.lynnredgrave.com.  There was a link to contact her (by email, I think) and I did. I mentioned having met her when I saw Moon Over Buffalo and reiterated how much I enjoyed Shakespeare for My Father.  I assumed my email would go to an assistant. Maybe it did. In any event, I received a reply by mail with a signed promotional card from Moon Over Buffalo. The envelope was addressed to me in Ms. Redgrave’s handwriting.

It wasn’t long after I received the card from Lynn Redgrave that I learned she had breast cancer. That’s a subject that’s close to my heart–in 1998 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Mom, who’s one year younger than Lynn Redgrave, is now 10+ years cancer free. My maternal grandmother, Lillian, died of breast cancer at age 60. I knew Lynn Redgrave had a mastectomy after her diagnosis and, the last I’d heard, she was doing well. When Natasha Richardson died I wondered about Lynn–because I rarely saw her name mentioned in the news coverage of Ms. Richardson’s death. But it was a private, family funeral so I didn’t think anything of it.

Most recently, Lynn Redgrave starred in another one-woman show, Nightingale, which ran in New York in November – December 2009. From what I’ve learned today it appears that she learned during rehearsals for Nightingale that the breast cancer had returned–although the news reports at the time simply refer to a “medical condition that required immediate attention.” According to her website, Lynn Redgrave completed the NYC run of Nightingale at the Manhattan Theatre Club. She won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Best Solo Performance Award for Nightingale, a play she wrote about her maternal grandmother.

Performance publicity photo from Nightingale

I regret that I didn’t follow Lynn Redgrave’s career over her last few years more carefully. Due to many professional responsibilities and commitments in recent years, especially 2007-2009 I just didn’t have time to keep up with my varied interests.
This blog post is more of a journal entry to record my memories of Lynn Redgrave for my own sake than a tribute or homage. But I hope that anyone who reads it through to the end will have some understanding of what a gracious, talented and special person Lynn Redgrave was and why I would take the time to share my memories.

Ben Franklin loved to converse with charming, witty and intelligent women and I’m quite certain that Lynn Redgrave would have been just his cup of tea.

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Posted in: Culture, Movies, Theatre