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Rachel Kempson, 92; Matriarch of the Redgraves

May 27, 2003|From Associated Press

Rachel Kempson, an actress who appeared with many of Britain's leading theater companies and became the matriarch of the Redgrave acting dynasty, has died at age 92.

The Redgraves' three generations of talent include Kempson's husband, Michael Redgrave; children Vanessa, Lynn and Corin Redgrave; and granddaughter Natasha Richardson.

Kempson died Saturday of natural causes while staying at Richardson's home in Millbrook, N.Y. Corin Redgrave said his mother would be remembered as a "shiningly beautiful woman both in face and in spirit" and as "an inspiration to her children and grandchildren."

Born on May 28, 1910, in Dartmouth, England, Kempson dreamed of a career in acting and made her professional stage debut at Stratford in 1933, playing Hero in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." She went on to appear with companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the English Stage Company and the Old Vic.

Kempson married Michael Redgrave, one of the leading actors of his generation, in 1935. She became Lady Redgrave when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.

Despite Redgrave's bisexuality and occasional affairs, their marriage endured until his death in 1985, four months before the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.

"The fact that I loved Michael so much meant that I was sure I could overcome his difficulties. I would have done anything for him," Kempson wrote in her 1986 autobiography, "A Family and Its Fortunes."

Kempson appeared in many films, sometimes with other members of the Redgrave family. She appeared opposite her husband in "The Captive Heart," with daughter Lynn in "Tom Jones" -- directed by Vanessa's husband, Tony Richardson -- and alongside Vanessa and Corin in "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

In the 1980s she played Lady Manners in the British television series "The Jewel in the Crown."

Kempson is survived by her three children and 10 grandchildren, who besides Natasha include actresses Joely Richardson and Jemma Redgrave.

Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave are appearing in plays in New York -- Vanessa portraying Mary Tyrone in the Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," and Lynn starring off-Broadway in Alan Bennett's "Talking Heads."

Natasha Richardson is also on stage, starring in a London revival of Ibsen's "The Lady From the Sea" at the Almeida Theatre.

Kempson's funeral will be Thursday at St. Peter's Church in Lithgow, N.Y.

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