LOS ANGELES — On Jan. 30, 1937, Michael Redgrave was performing the role of Laertes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” at the Old Vic in London. After the performance, Laurence Olivier stepped onto the stage to announce, “Ladies and gentleman, tonight a great actress was born: Laertes has a daughter.”
Olivier’s words were prophetic. Redgrave’s first daughter, Vanessa, did indeed become a great actress and an even bigger star than her father.
But in British author Tim Adler’s biography, “The House of Redgrave,” which arrives in the United States on Monday, he recounts that Michael Redgrave didn’t rush to the side of his actress-wife, Rachel Kempson, and baby Vanessa on the night of her birth. Instead, Adler writes, he had dinner at a restaurant in Soho and then retreated to the boudoir of his lover, Edith Evans.
The book chronicles the award-winning and often mercurial careers of Redgrave, Kempson, Vanessa and her siblings, Corin and Lynn, and her daughters, Natasha and Joely Richardson, as well as their equally complex private lives.
In fact, “House of Redgrave” has more high drama than most Shakespeare plays — including Michael’s bisexuality, his distant parenting skills, Vanessa and Corin’s revolutionary politics, which nearly derailed their careers, and the untimely death of Natasha Richardson.
The unauthorized biography also explores the equally colorful life of director Tony Richardson, Vanessa’s first husband, who was a groundbreaking theater and film director, winning an Oscar for directing “Tom Jones.”