Digging Up the Redgraves

Well now. It was no small matter getting to the bottom of the multi-generational Redgrave pool, with so many twists and turns and tributaries. It’s enough material for a book, but as with my post on the Barrymores, Drews and Rankins I’ll endeavor to keep it to the greatest hits.

The first Redgrave in the acting line is Roy Redgrave (George Ellsworthy Redgrave, 1873-1922), although as we shall see he was less a “founder” than the stallion that sired the line. Redgrave was indeed an actor but his famous son never knew him. He is thought to have taken his professional name from the Scottish outlaw Rob Roy (subject of the Sir Walter Scott novel) in the romantic belief that he was a descendent. Born in London to a craftsman who made bagatelle games (a prototypical, non-mechanical version of things like pinball and foozball), Redgrave was acting professionally by the 1890s. Around the turn of the century he played the Britannia Theatre, a combination legit house and music hall, performing a solo turn in which he was billed as “Roy Redgrave — The Dramatic Cock o’ the North”, an apparent reference to the fact that the Redgrave family originated in Northamptonshire.

Redgrave was a scofflaw in matters of the heart, married and/or involved with a succession of actresses, including Judith Kyrle (Ellen Maud Pratt), Ettie Carlisle (Esther Mary Cook), and Margaret Scudamore (Daisy Bertha Mary Scudamore). The latter liaison only lasted a few months in 1907, but is most germane here for it is the one that yielded Michael Redgrave. (FYI, his first marriage, which had lasted about a decade produced three children, and his dalliance with Ettie Carlisle produced a child out of wedlock, if you’re keeping score). Circa 1904, Redgrave had toured Australia with actress Minnie Tittell Brune. Shortly after the birth of Michael, he returned there permanently, acting at the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, co-authoring a play about Dr. Crippen, and starring in ten silent films (1911-20). His last film was the kangaroo western Robbery Under Arms (1920). He died in 1922, although the family would not know what became of him for many decades.

Thus, in a real way, the true founder of the dynasty is Margaret Scudamore (1881-1958) from the point of view of continuity and transmitted knowledge. When it comes to that, if we begin with her, we begin the line with her mentor and benefactor, the actor/manager/playwright/ novelist Fortunatus Augustine Davis Scudamore (1846-1904), sometimes rendered as “F.A. Scudamore”. Amusingly, he was not a blood relation. Born Fortunatus Augustine Davis he had added “Scudamore” to his name became he liked the sound of it. Margaret was directed to him when she had come to London from her native Portsmouth seeking stage employment. Delighted by the coincidence the elder Scudamore took her into the bosom of his family until she found her bearings. In addition to years of stage work she was also in a dozen films between 1909 and 1948, the best known of which is Powell-Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947). In 1922, when Michael was about 14, she married a wealthy tea planter named Captain James Anderson.

I acknowledge that this is a ridiculous photo with which to represent Sir Michael Redgrave (1908-85) but naturally I am going to privilege the “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” section of Dead of Night (1944) here! Considered one of the finest actors of his generation, film fans may also know him from Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), Orson Welles’ Confidential Report a.k.a. Mr. Arkadin (1955), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Innocents (1961), Uncle Vanya (1963, in the title role), Oh What a Lovely War! (1969), The  Battle of Britain (1969), Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), The Go Between (1971) and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). Initially a schoolmaster (where he directed and performed in theatricals), Redgrave made his professional stage debt in Liverpool in 1934, and two years later was acting at the Old Vic under the direction of Sir Tyrone Guthrie. He was a mainstay of the British stage for over four decades, acting alongside the likes of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maurice Evans, Wendy Hiller, and his wife Rachel Kempson, whom he had married in 1935. Their’s was what was known as a Lavender Marriage, though it did bear three famous children.

Rachel Kempson (1910-2003), originally from Devon, studied at RADA and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In addition to years of stage work she appeared in nearly two dozen films (1941-97) in supporting roles, often with her husband and offspring. Her films include Tom Jones (1963, directed by her son-in-law Tony Richardson), Curse of the Fly (1965), The Jokers (1967), Jane Eyre (1970), and Out of Africa (1985). Naturally her own career momentum was slowed by the arrival  of the children Vanessa (b. 1937), Corin (1939-2010), and Lynn (1943-2010). It was clearly Kempson who supplied the genes for Vanessa’s cheekbones.

Oscar-winning Vanessa Redgrave is the true movie star of the family. Having begun acting on both stage and screen in the late 1950s, her film/TV credits would come to include Morgan! (1966), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966), Camelot (1967), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Isadora (1968), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Seven Percent Solution (1976), Julia (1977), Agatha (1979), The Bostonians (1984), Prick Up You Ears (1987), The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1991), Howards End (1992), Mission: Impossible (1996), Wilde (1997), Mrs. Dalloway (1997), Deep Impact (1998), Cradle Will Rock (1999), Girl Interrupted (1999), Venus (2006), Nip/Tuck (recurring 2004-09), Coriolanus (2011), and the voice-overs on Call the Midwife (2012-2020), among scores of others. She became a controversial figure in the 1960s and ’70s for her support of left wing causes and the Palestinian minority in Israel.

Redgrave was married to stage and screen director Tony Richardson from 1962 through 1967. Their oldest daughter was Natasha Richardson (1963-2009), star of Gothic (1986), Patty Hearst (1988), The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), The Parent Trap (1998), and Maid in Manhattan (2002) and the wife of Liam Neeson. Her tragic death in 2009 in a skiing accident was the first of three losses Vanessa Redgrave would suffer in rapid succession, as both of her siblings passed away a few months later. Younger daughter Joely Richardson (b. 1965) has over 70 screen credits, including King Ralph (1991), Shining Through (1992), 101 Dalmations (1996), The Patriot (2000), Nip/Tuck (2003-10), The Tudors (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and The Turning (2020). From 1992 to 2001 she was married to produced Tim Bevan. Their daughter Daisy Bevan is also an actress.

While working on Camelot in 1967, Vanessa and co-star Franco Nero became an item. Their son, film director Carlo Gabriel Nero was born in 1969. I actually got to know Carlo and his lovely wife, actress Jennifer Wiltsie when they were part of our circle of friends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the mid to late 90s. Our toddlers did playdates together! Carlo and Jenny left the States shortly after 9/11 and Carlo went on to direct Uninvited (1999) with both his parents, Eli Wallach, and my old school friend Patricia Dunnock (granddaughter of Mildred), as well as an adaptation of Wallace Shawn’s The Fever (2004), starring Vanessa, with cameos by Joely, Angelina Jolie, and Michael Moore. Redgrave and Franco Nero reunited and finally married in 2006. From 1971 through 1986 Redgrave was in a relationship with Timothy Dalton. 

Corin Redgrave is the least well known of the three siblings in his generation but he too has extensive stage and screen credits. His films include A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1967), Anthony and Cleopatra (1974), Excalibur (1981), In the Name of the Father (1993), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, produced by his nephew-in-law, Tom Bevan), Persuasion (1995), Indecent Acts (1996), Enigma (2001) and The Turn of the Screw (2009). Like Vanessa, Corin was a left wing activist. His 1996 book and documentary project Michael Redgrave: My Father broke the story of the elder Redgrave’s bisexuality. Jemma Redgrave (b.1965), Corin’s daughter by his first wife, is also an actress, perhaps best known for being in Howard’s End (1992) and a regular on Doctor Who (2012-15). Corin’s second wife was actress Kika Markham (b. 1940).

Lynn Redgrave was the member of the family whose work I knew first, I suppose because she was a regular on House Calls (1979-81) and because she did all those Weights Watchers commercials. I was too young to know that she had been chosen as the spokesperson because she had been famous for starring in Georgy Girl (1966) when she was a chunky little teenager. I think light comedy was her strongest suit, though like her siblings she had a long list of credits in both stage and screen, encompassing both comedy and tragedy. She didn’t get the same kind of prestige roles as Vanessa. I think of her primarily in television stuff like Dan Curtis’s The Turn of the Screw (1974), The Big Bus (1976), Centennial (1978-79), a very fun made-for-TV whodunit called Rehearsal for Murder (1982), and the Showtime series Rude Awakening (1998-2001). Her last role was a guest shot on Ugly Betty (2009)!  Her husband from 1967 to 2000 was actor and director John Clark. The public had long known about her breast cancer when it finally took her at age 67.

To learn more about the variety arts, such as music hall, where Roy Redgrave got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.