The untimely death of Lynn Redgrave reminded me how cool she was when I got to interview her a dozen years ago. During the session, I struggled with whether I should ask her a rather personal question.
Redgrave came through North Texas in 1998 to promote Gods and Monsters, the superb biopic starring Ian McKellen as James Whale, the openly gay English director who helmed the original 1931 version of Frankenstein. Whale also hosted pool parties populated with male prostitutes as well as closeted members of the entertainment industry. In the movie, Redgrave played his tsk-tsk-ing German maid and steadfast companion. Rent it if you haven’t seen it.
I was one of several critics who attended the Gods roundtable interview with Redgrave. She was warm and enthusiastic throughout, which made my potentially sensitive question seem like a bigger deal than it turned out to be. Lynn’s father, the legendary stage actor Sir Michael Redgrave, was – like Whale — gay and did the closeted celeb circuit in the late 1930s, ‘40s, and beyond. (He died in 1985). Both Lynn and her sister Vanessa had discussed their father’s “bisexuality” in previous interviews, and his times and places certainly dovetailed with the storyline of Gods and Monsters. Had Sir Michael socialized with Whale? It seemed a legit thing to ask, but who wants to incur the wrath of a Redgrave by reminding her that daddy was on the down low?
Finally, the question popped out discreetly: Had her father ever met Whale? Lynn Redgrave turned with a wide, conspiratorial grin and declared something like: “Oh, yes, my father attended some of those ‘secret pool parties.’” We had the full, enthralling attention of British theater royalty as she explained that while researching the script, she’d tried to determine if, indeed, Whale and Sir Michael had ever met.
What an awesome lady and a great talent. She later earned an Oscar nomination for Gods and Monsters, along with McKellen. If you want to remember Lynn Redgrave, check out the almost forgotten Georgy Girl, the melancholy 1966 comedy that made her an international star as the tall, pudgy, but witheringly witty bird who can’t quite get the hang of the new sexual morality in swinging 1960s London.