Rachel Kempson
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Rachel Kempson, the matriarch of the Redgrave acting clan and one of the clarion voices of British stage and screen, died May 24 at her home in Millbrook, N.Y. She was 92.

Miss Kempson was perhaps the least known of the Redgraves in the United States. But in Britain, her performances in large and small roles in Shakespeare ' s plays were greatly admired, as were her appearances in other treasured British classics, including Richard Sheridan ' s 1777 comedy, " The School for Scandal, " in which she appeared over the years both as Maria and, earlier, as Lady Teazle. She also performed in plays like " Not for Children " (Belfast, 1955), " The Seagull " and " Saint Joan of the Stockyards " (London, 1964) and " The Old Country " (London, 1977).

Americans knew her mostly through her work in motion pictures and in television presentations like " Lady Randolph Churchill, " PBS, 1975; " The Jewel in the Crown, " Masterpiece Theater, PBS, 1984; " Jane Eyre, " Hallmark Hall of Fame, NBC, 1971; and " Camille, " CBS, 1984. Her movies that were best known in America included " Tom Jones " (1963), " Georgy Girl " (1966) and " Out of Africa " (1985).

In her 1986 memoir, " Life Among the Redgraves, " Miss Kempson said: " I have never quite belonged anywhere. I think it is to do with my lack of an important ingredient: a tough ego. "

But her ego and sense of belonging were very much in evidence one London evening in 1973, when she was appearing in a new John Osborne play, " A Sense of Detachment. " Two young men in the audience began to heckle Lady Redgrave, who was then 62 years old. According to a short item in The New York Times, she became annoyed with them, jumped from the stage and " pummeled her detractors. "

Although she seemed to many to be a properly reserved, traditional Englishwoman, her 50-year marriage to Sir Michael Redgrave was anything but traditional.

She so totally loved Sir Michael that early in their relationship, in the early 1930s, she proposed marriage to him, even though she knew he was bisexual and given to escapades. Redgrave at first " was worried, " she later wrote, and hesitant about marrying her. " He said there were difficulties in his nature and he felt he ought not to marry, " she continued.

But she said she told him she understood, and added, " It doesn ' t matter to me I love you so. " Whereupon he replied, " Very well, if you are sure, we will. " And so they did, in 1935. Over the years, Lady Redgrave wrote, she and her husband endured their respective dalliances, and the marriage lasted until his death in 1985.

Lady Redgrave is survived by three children, the actors Vanessa, Corin and Lynn Redgrave, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Rachel Kempson was born in Dartmouth, Devon, on May 28, 1910, the daughter of Eric William Kempson, an educator, and the former Beatrice Hamilton Ashwell. Part of her education came in a convent school, and it was there that she became interested in the theater.

As a young woman she was accepted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and worked hard there to learn acting, though she complained the classes were too large.

Her work onstage earned her a prize, and in 1932 she was sent to Stratford-on-Avon, where she appeared in six of Shakespeare ' s plays. In a single year, she played a witch in " Macbeth, " a dancer in " The Merchant of Venice, " Phoebe in " As You Like It, " a lady-in-waiting in " Richard II, " Virginia in " Coriolanus " and Hero in " Much Ado About Nothing. "

She met several young, promising directors there, among them Tyrone Guthrie, who was still in his 20s.

After doing a Shakespeare production at Oxford, she was asked to play opposite Michael Redgrave in John Van Druten ' s " Flowers of the Forest. "

She was immediately taken with him and vividly recalled what he said to her when they were first introduced: " Oh, good, you ' re tall. I thought you were going to be tiny. "

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Published in San Diego Union-Tribune on May 31, 2003.
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