THE BOOK SHELF: "The House of Redgrave," Charting the Family Tree of a Theatrical Dynasty

By Steven Suskin
24 Mar 2013

Tony Richardson

Tony, who died of AIDS in 1991, was arguably the most artistically important of the extended Redgrave clan, although some might nominate Vanessa or son-in-law Liam Neeson. He certainly provides the author with the most to write about. Lynn — the neglected, ugly duckling daughter — comes off best, although she doesn't receive much space. Vanessa doesn't come off well at all; at one point she all but deserts her children to make political documentaries. (While the family was full of top-rate actors, parenthood was reportedly not among the Redgraves' talents.) Adler follows the stories as they converge in a series of tragedies, culminating in the deaths of Natasha, Colin and Lynn within 14 months.

Reading between the lines, it appears that Adler — a journalist specializing on the film industry, with two prior Hollywood books — was a school chum of Natasha. He spoke with her about the book before her death in 2009, and broached the idea with Vanessa. The latter ultimately determined that the family would not cooperate on the project. No wonder, as things turned out. The book offers footnotes, but woefully few — leaving one to wonder just where the author is getting his (often juicy) information.

The 300 pages are unceasingly readable, although the reader might have some qualms. There is an unevenness, as suggested above; Tony constantly steals focus from all those Redgraves. Adler also displays a lack of understanding of things American, which wouldn't be such a problem if so much of the combined careers didn't take place over here. (More than half of the Redgraves — Tony, Rachel, Lynn and Natasha — moved to, and died in, America.)



Josh Logan, for example, is identified solely as a "Hollywood director." Adler tells us that the only name Warner Bros. could come up with for leading lady of the film version of Camelot was Julie Andrews, without apparently understanding why. And most curiously, Lehman Engel turns up at Corin's home in London on Oscar Night 1967 — when Vanessa ("Morgan") and Lynn ("Georgy Girl") both lost to Elizabeth Taylor for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" — and precipitates a major crisis in the lives of Michael and Corin. But Lehman, the legendary Broadway musical director who had more Tony Awards than Michael, Vanessa, Lynn and Natasha combined, is identified by name only.

The merry Redgraves surely don't compare to the Barrymores or the Lunts, as royal acting families go. But "The House of Redgrave" — comingled with the house of Richardson — offers an enlightening snapshot of a fascinating but difficult clan.

(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's On the Record and The DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

*

Passionate about theatre books? See what the Playbill Store has on its shelves.