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Creator / Michael Redgrave

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Sir Michael Scudamore Redgrave CBE (20 March 1908 – 21 March 1985) is regarded as one of the greatest English theatre and film actors of the 20th century. Born to stage and silent film actor Roy Redgrave and his wife, actress Margaret Scudamore, Redgrave was attracted to acting from an early age but was encouraged to pursue a more conventional career by his mother. He graduated from Cambridge and taught modern languages at the prestigious Cranleigh School in his early twenties before succumbing to the lure of the stage. After a string of acclaimed performances in prominent productions, Redgrave accepted Alfred Hitchcock's offer to play the male lead in the British thriller, The Lady Vanishes, and instantaneously shot to international fame. From then, his career never looked back.

Achieving equal success in stage and film, Redgrave was one of the most popular English stars of the 1940s and 1950s, on a par with fellow British actors Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. Some of his best remembered works from this period are his performance as deranged ventriloquist Maxwell Frere in horror Anthology Film Dead of Night (1945), bitter schoolmaster Andrew Crocker-Harris in the famous adaptation of Rattigan's The Browning Version (1951), and inventor Barnes Wallis in popular war movie The Dam Busters (1955). On stage, Redgrave's interpretation of Hamlet (Stratford, 1958) and Uncle Vanya (Chichester, 1962 and Old Vic, 1963) continue to dominate critics' lists of the most compelling theatrical performances of all time.

Redgrave was married to actress Rachel Kempson, later Lady Redgrave, and is the patriarch of the famous Redgrave dynasty, which includes daughters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, son Corin Redgrave, and grandchildren Natasha Richardson, Joely Richardson and Jemma Redgrave. Following his death, rumours of Redgrave's bisexuality were confirmed in his family's memoirs and by friends.

Selected filmography

Tropes about his work

  • Actor-Shared Background: As a former modern languages teacher, he played a lot of multilingual characters, such as Gilbert Redman in The Lady Vanishes (English, Italian and "Bandrikan"), Karel Hasek in The Captive Heart (English and German), Andrew Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version (English, Greek, Latin) and Thomas Fowler in The Quiet American (English and French).
  • Creator Couple: Redgrave and his wife collaborated frequently, and to critical acclaim (see Real-Life Relative below).
  • Dyeing for Your Art: He lost weight, bleached his hair and shaved the crown of his head to create a bald patch for the role of the prematurely aged and ill Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version. Later, when he saw the film, he was a bit peeved that the bald patch could only be seen in one scene.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: He played a musicologist in The Lady Vanishes, a classics master in The Browning Version, and real-life inventor Barnes Wallis in The Dam Busters.
    • Also a case of Actor-Shared Background, as Redgrave himself went to a public school, was Cambridge-educated and taught at Cranleigh School before taking up acting. He wrote two acclaimed books on acting, one book of poetry, one novel ("The Mountebank's Tale") and an autobiography.
  • The Hollywood Blacklist: Flirted with the risk of being blacklisted because of his known leftist ideologies (which he passed on to his children Vanessa and Corin) and for having met former schoolmate-turned-Soviet spy Guy Burgess during a trip to Moscow in the 1950s. Ultimately he avoided being formally blacklisted, partly because he only worked in Hollywood for a year before returning to England permanently, and partly because M1-5 thought that Redgrave had only succeeded in making "a fool of himself" by dabbling in leftism and did not pose a serious Communist threat.
  • Method Acting: Averted. Redgrave, along with friend and fellow-actor Laurence Olivier, was a known critic of method acting. He preferred technique over psychological self-manipulation.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Played Straight in several of his movies, notably in The Way to the Stars, The Captive Heart and The Night My Number Came Up. In Real Life, Redgrave joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman as part of the War effort in 1941, but was discharged with an arm injury in 1942.
  • One Head Taller: Stood at a strapping 6 feet 3 inches and as a result most of his female co-stars could barely reach his shoulders.
    • There is a striking visual instance of this in The Quiet American, where he walks through a crowd of Vietnamese locals and is easily head and shoulders above the extras used in the shoot.
  • Real-Life Relative: Redgrave and his wife acted together in several stage productions. Their only film collaboration was The Captive Heart (1946), where Redgrave played the role of a prisoner of war who has to steal the identity of a dead soldier to survive, and Rachel acted as the widow of the dead soldier.
    • Redgrave also acted with his daughter, Vanessa Redgrave, in Behind the Mask (1958), where she played his daughter, and in the musical ''Oh! What a Lovely War' (1969). The latter also featured his son, Corin, in a major role.
  • Romance on the Set:
    • Redgrave and his wife, Rachel Kempson, fell in love while co-starring in Flowers of the Forest at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1935. In his autobiography, Redgrave stated that the scene required him to extinguish a lamp which failed to turn off on cue due to an electrical malfunction, and then turned off unexpectedly when he and Rachel had just embraced on stage. The audience laughed, but once the performance was over, he and Rachel embraced in earnest. The couple wed soon after and remained more or less Happily Married until Redgrave's death.
    • Redgrave and Dame Edith Evans had a brief affair during the production of As You Like It at the Old Vic in 1937, where she was playing Rosalind to his Orlando - notwithstanding that Redgrave was already married to Rachel and was 20 years younger than Edith (he was 28 and she was 48). Redgrave later recollected, "Edith always had a habit of falling in love with her leading men; with us it just went rather further." The affair ended soon after the production, but Edith remained a lifelong friend.
  • Shakespearean Actors: One of the finest. Modern critics often contend that the so-called triumvirate of theatre greats - Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson - should actually be described as a "quartet", with Redgrave being counted as the fourth member. In his lifetime, Redgrave was occasionally relegated to a lower stature than the other three because influential critics James Agate and Kenneth Tynan disliked his "intellectual" approach.
  • Star-Making Role: Redgrave's portrayal of the good-humoured, charming Gilbert Redman in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) propelled him to the status of matinée idol. It was his film debut.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: In the 1930s and 1940s, he frequently played heroes who typify this trope - see Gilbert Redman in The Lady Vanishes, David Charleston in Thunder Rock, or Mark Lamphere in Secret Beyond the Door....
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Unusually for the time, Redgrave conscientiously attempted to change his accent as the role demanded. That said, he struggled to emulate the authentic Geordie accent for his role as a miner from Northumberland in The Stars Look Down, and only managed a generic northern accent.
    • By his own admission, he was irked by his failure to capture the Lancashire accent in the 1964 stage production of Hobson's Choice.
  • Your Make Up Is Running: Redgrave evoked this trope to take revenge on fellow actor Geoffrey Edwards during a production of Hamlet (Liverpool Playhouse, 1935). Redgrave was playing Horatio to Edwards' Hamlet, and was required to grieve while cradling Hamlet's body. Always able to cry on cue, Redgrave turned on the waterworks so that "a large splash of warm mascara fell on Hamlet's chin."