Lynn Redgrave: Much-loved member of acting dynasty who was celebrated for her comic flair

Lynn Redgrave was a fine actress who had many individual triumphs – she was twice nominated for an Oscar, nominated three times for a Tony and had notable achievements on screen, stage and television. Her first big success, the film Georgy Girl (1966), was a key film of the "Swinging Sixties" and won Oscar nominations for Redgrave and for its potent title song, written by Tom Springfield and Jim Dale and sung by the Australian group The Seekers. Three decades later she was nominated again for her feisty but caring housekeeper in Gods and Monsters (1998).

Her stage roles encompassed the farcical capers of the National's legendary Hay Fever of 1964 and the searing emotion of the one-woman play she wrote, Shakespeare For My Father, an autobiographical work that enabled her to come to terms with the traumas of her upbringing. She was part of an acting dynasty – her parents were Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, and her older siblings were Vanessa and Corin Redgrave – and on her own admission she suffered from a lack of self esteem because of a troubled relationship with her famous but remote father and the shadow cast by her more glamorous siblings. "It was always, 'Corin's the brain, Vanessa's the shining star, oh, and then there's Lynn.'"

Also, Lynn was not as politically committed as her sister and brother, and sometimes held opposing views. The differences between the sisters led to a temporary estrangement, but Lynn made headlines of her own when she sued a TV network for not letting her breastfeed her child on set, and later she features in one of the most sensational divorce cases of recent times. Despite the traumas, those who knew Redgrave echo Sir Michael Parkinson's description of her as "maybe the jolliest and most likeable of all the family."

Born in London in 1943, she was to recall a childhood spent largely in the nursery, rarely seeing her parents. She said of her father, "I really didn't know him. I lived in his house. I was in awe of him and I adored him, and I was terrified of him and I hated him and I loved him, all in one go." She was educated at Queen's Gate School then attended the Central School of Speech and Drama, despite little encouragement from her family. Michael Redgrave wrote in his diary, "This strange, shy pudding of a child thought she was going to be an actress."

She made her stage debut as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Court in 1962, and later the same year made her first appearance in the West End, in N.C. Hunter's The Tulip Tree with Celia Johnson and John Clements at the Haymarket Theatre. In 1963 she was asked by Sir Laurence Olivier to join the newNational Theatre Company at the Old Vic, playing a Court Lady in the inaugural production of Hamlet, directed by Olivier.

During the next two years she gained invaluable experience in several supporting roles, her parts including that of the scatterbrained flapper Jackie Coryton in the peerless revival of Noel Coward's Hay Fever (1964), which none of us who saw it will ever forget. Directed by the author, it featured Edith Evans, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi and Robert Stephens in a priceless cast and matchless performance, with Lynn working comic wonders with a string of beads.

During this golden era for the National, Redgrave also played Rose in The Recruiting Officer (1963), Miss Prue in Love for Love (with Olivier) and Margaret in Franco Zeffirelli's production of Much Ado About Nothing (1965), with Albert Finney, Smith and Stephens. Though she made her screen debut as an extra in Michael Winner's B-movie, Shoot to Kill (1960), she had her first speaking part on screen as a barmaid crying "Rape" in Tom Jones (1963), directed by Vanessa's the husband, Tony Richardson, and she followed it with an engaging, BAFTA-nominated portrayal of Rita Tushingham's best friend Barba in Desmond Davis's The Girl With Green Eyes (1964), a sensitive, rueful adaptation of Edna O'Brien's novel The Lost Girl.

In 1966 she was cast in the title role in Silvio Narizzano's Georgy Girl, as the plump Ugly Duckling with a glamorous room-mate (Charlotte Rampling). It was a deliciously brash, funny and touching performance which won her accolades and made her a star. She tied with Elizabeth Taylor for the New York Film Critics best actress award, and was beaten by Taylor (in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) for the best actress Oscar.

Smashing Time (1967) teamed her again with Tushingham in a film even more redolent of the Sixties, with its "dolly birds", mini-skirts and outlandish sunglasses. Redgrave then displayed her flair for drama in A Deadly Affair (1967), which reunited her with her Georgy Girl co-star James Mason. In 1967, the year she married actor-director John Clark, who became her manager (he had been the BBC's first Just William on radio in the 1940s) she made a triumphant Broadway debut with a hilarious performance in Peter Shaffer's brilliant one-act farce, Black Comedy, with Michael Crawford. She developed a strong affection for New York, and her outgoing performances on talk and game shows made her a popular television attraction.

She returned to the UK for more theatre work, including Born Yesterday, directed by Tom Stoppard in Greenwich in 1973 – the dumb blonde, Billie Dawn, who develops a hunger for knowledge, was one of her favourite roles. In 1974, the year she had a personal success on Broadway in My Fat Friend, playing Vicky, an overweight young woman who sheds fat to find romance, she settled in the US, where she co-hosted a syndicated chat show, Not For Women Only. She also co-starred in the TV series House Calls (1979-81), based on the Glenda Jackson-Walter Matthau comedy in which a hospital administrator is frequently at odds with the doctor she loves.

Though the show lasted until 1982, Redgrave made a sudden departure in 1981 due to a dispute with the producers, who refused to allow her to breastfeed on set. Redgrave took CBS to court for a long and expensive battle. Though she lost the case, which made her bankrupt, she is credited with changing executives' attitudes to the needs of mothers.

She also starred in two more TV sitcoms, Teachers Only (1982-83), set in the staff-rooms of a high-school, and Chicken Soup (1989-90), in which her co-star was Jackie Mason. As a result of shedding many pounds, she also became a television spokesperson for Weight Watchers products. Her catchphrase for the advertisements, "This is Living" became the title of her semi-autobiographical book, which also included favourite slimming recipes and dealt with her battle with bulimia.

Her film career was sporadic, but included Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), as The Queen, who is given an aphrodisiac by the court jester (Allen) who then finds he cannot open her chastity belt, plus another role that Redgrave used to cite as one of her favourites, that of the real-life "madam" Xaviera Hollander in The Happy Hooker (1975), which recounted how the Dutch secretary left her dull office job and became a high-class prostitute.

On Broadway, Redgrave won her first Tony nomination for her performance in Mrs Warren's Profession (1976). She won the Sarah Siddons award as best actress for a Chicago production of Misalliance, and toured in The King and I. It is surprising that she did not appear in more musicals: in 1979 she sang on the first of several albums for producer Ben Bagley, who specialised in unearthing rare songs by the great popular composers. Among the numbers she handled adroitly were a delightfully droll duet with Arthur Siegal, "The Letter Song", cut from Rodgers and Hart's score for Love Me Tonight, and Cole Porter's wry "Why Marry Them?"

In 1991, while Lynn and Vanessa were appearing together with Vanessa's daughter Jemma in The Three Sisters (Lynn was Masha), she and Vanessa had a major falling-out over the Gulf War when Vanessa called the Americans "imperialist pigs". Though it caused a deep rift, the following year they bravely followed in the footsteps of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford by starring in a TV movie remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Lynn in the Davis role.

In 1993 turned the autobiographical section of her book into a one-woman play, Shakespeare for My Father, produced and directed by her husband, in which she tried to understand and come to terms with her feelings for her father, and how much his behaviour was determined by his own demons. It proved a rewarding and moving experience, which won Redgrave a Tony nomination and drew praise and enthusiastic audiences on Broadway, throughout the US, and at London's Haymarket Theatre. I met her during its run, and found her indeed open, frank, ebullient and friendly.

After seven years away from the screen she returned with two impressive performances. In Shine (1996), she played the wife of the true-life mentally disturbed piano prodigy David Helfgott (played by Geoffrey Rush), and in Gods and Monsters (1998), for which she won a deserved Oscar nomination for her hilarious depiction of the sharp but affectionate Hungarian housekeeper to director James Whale (Ian McKellen).

In 1998 Redgrave started divorce proceedings against Clark, and had to survive the sensational publicity. She had discovered that the boy she regarded as her grandson, Zachary, was actually the son of Clark and the couple's former personal assistant, who had then married the couple's son, Ben, and had kept the identity of the boy's father secret until her marriage broke up and Clark once more began to pursue her.

In 2001 she displayed her superb flair for comedy, taking over the role of the daffy repertory actress in Michael Frayn's Noises Off. In 2002 she was awarded the OBE for her services to drama, and in 2005 she joined Vanessa and her niece Natasha in the Merchant-Ivory movie The White Countess.

The same year she won another Tony nomination with an outstanding performance as Mrs Culver in W. Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife. The Hollywood Reporter called her "an utter hoot", while Clive Barnes in the New York Post proclaimed, "Redgrave plays Mrs Culver as a Lady Bracknell-in-waiting, offering an astonishing display of mannered virtuosity and flawless comic style."

She opened in another one-woman play, Nightingale, in 2006. Written by Redgrave, it was partly based on the life of her maternal grandmother, Beatrice Kempson. Last year she made her final television appearance, as a guest star in an episode of Ugly Betty. On 12 April, she attended her brother Corin's funeral, and though it was evident that Lynn was frail, she prompted smiles when she reminisced at the service that Corin once told her how to climb trees but omitted to tell her how to get down again.

Lynn Rachel Redgrave, actress: born London 8 March 1933; OBE 2002; married 1967 John Clark (divorced 2000; one son, two daughters); died Manhattan 2 May 2010.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride