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City of Angles

Enter the Faithless Husband, Then the Plumber

April 08, 2001|ANN O'NEILL

Actress Lynn Redgrave was on the witness stand in Los Angeles, hating every minute of it. She was being questioned by her ex-husband in one of the nastiest Hollywood divorce trials in years. John Clark, acting as his own attorney, drew close to show her a document. Redgrave flinched.

"Please, I would rather he didn't," she implored the judge.

"I understand that sparks fly between you and Mr. Clark," Superior Court Judge Arnold Gold told her. "Just grit your teeth and answer his questions."

Clark finally had his moment: "This is my big question. What happened to your attitude towards me?"

Redgrave, her clipped English voice dripping with indignation and disbelief, replied, "Not only did I discover you had fathered a child with someone I had considered my friend, you had planned it. . . . You said I was unattractive."

Although the trial is about the mundane--the division of money, property and possessions, it's also about something much more dramatic: the private betrayal and public humiliation of the daughter of a famous acting dynasty by a man who doesn't feel he's wronged her.

In court, Redgrave was demure and wore black. Clark was rumpled, often removing his jacket and complaining of the heat. Outside court, Clark explained that impregnating the friend--who later became the family's secretary--was "an act of kindness on my part." She was depressed, he said, and a child would "take her mind off herself."

Clark, who receives $60,000 a year in alimony and has asked for more, lost his job as Redgrave's manager when she learned his secret and walked out after nearly 32 years of marriage. Redgrave is asking for a reduction in alimony. "Lynn can look forward to a lifetime of acting," said Clark. "As for me, I don't have a future. It's sad. I could end up pushing a Ralphs cart around Santa Monica."

They're also fighting over a home in Topanga Canyon, a production company, a pair of hobby planes and a Hirschfeld ink drawing of Redgrave with the ghost of her father, the actor Sir Michael Redgrave. She says Clark gave it to her as a gift to celebrate the 100th performance of her play "Shakespeare for My Father." Clark insists that the drawing was commissioned for publicity purposes.

Redgrave has demanded a gag order to keep Clark from telling "lies and untruths through the press." Clark had asked that she be ordered to remain in the U.S. until the trial's end, but Gold let Redgrave return to London, where she's rehearsing a play. "Some of your conduct in this case," he told Clark, "suggests that you would keep her just out of meanness."

Redgrave and Clark met in 1967 in London, where both were appearing in a play. She was 24, he was 35, and he wanted to be her agent. Later, they met again in New York. Clark gave Redgrave a tour of the city; two weeks later, they were married. They have three grown children.

"Mr. Clark controlled the finances, and I was used to going along with it. I trusted him," Redgrave testified. "He said, 'I just have our best interests at heart.' It seemed a terrific arrangement. Now I find it wasn't."

Clark takes credit for Redgrave's success. "I made it possible for her," he said during a break. "We were a creative team. I would decide what she would wear when she dealt with the press. How to act. I just did everything for that woman. We complemented each other, which to me is the true meaning of a good marriage. . . . I think I'm a decent person." And then he gleefully slipped us a scathing review of one of Redgrave's plays. "The bottom line is, I simply don't deserve this. I've done nothing."

Nothing?

In 1990, Clark was introduced by his daughter to Nicolette Hannah, with whom he fathered a child a year later. Shortly after the baby was born, Hannah came to work for Redgrave and Clark, who concocted a story about the boy's absent father. In 1994, Hannah married the couple's son, Ben, in Las Vegas. Redgrave and Clark treated Hannah's son as their grandson.

By late 1998, Hannah and Ben had split up, and Hannah, according to Clark, took up with Ernesto Hernandez, a plumber. Hannah filed a restraining order against Clark, alleging he was stalking her. She also allegedly threatened to reveal to Redgrave that Clark had fathered her son.

On Thanksgiving Day 1998, three months before Redgrave received an Oscar nomination for her role in "Gods and Monsters," Clark confessed his secret. The couple's divorce became final last December.

Clark, who is not on speaking terms with his family, said he's writing a book about the breakup. (Working title: "Enter the Plumber.")

He hasn't won any friends during his courtroom battle either. He's gone through four sets of lawyers. And he spent his 68th birthday in jail for contempt. (He refused to turn over financial documents.) "I was surrounded by rapists, murderers and thieves," he said. "The dregs of humanity."

Our sympathies.

*

Times staff writers Louise Roug and Gina Piccalo contributed to this column. City of Angles runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Email: angles@latimes.com

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