Born in Dartmouth, England, on 28 May 1910, the late actress would have celebrated her 93rd birthday tomorrow. She died in New York at the home of granddaughter Natasha Richardson (currently on stage in London in the Almeida production of The Lady from the Sea). She'd been in town - where both of her daughter's, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, are starring in acclaimed stage productions of, respectively, Long Day's Journey into Night and Talking Heads - to see Lynn honoured with a Gielgud Award.
Though herself an accomplished actress, Kempson's career was often overshadowed by the successes of first her husband, Michael Redgrave. The couple met in 1934 while working at the Liverpool Playhouse and, though tempestuous - Redgrave was bisexual and both he and his spouse had several affairs - the marriage lasted 50 years, from 1935 until the 1985 death of Redgrave, who suffered from Parkinson's disease.
Kempson trained at RADA and had countless stage successes over the years, including notable productions of Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Blithe Spirit, Venus Observed, Hedda Gabler, A Family and a Fortune and The Old Country with Alec Guinness. She was a founding member of the English Stage Company at George Devine's Royal Court, where she featured in John Osborne's A Sense of Detachment. One of her last UK stage appearances was in 1989's Coriolanus at London's Young Vic. In 1998, she took part - with Vanessa and Lynn - in a Los Angeles reading of Chekhov's The Lady with a Dog.
On screen, Kempson's credits included The Captive Heart, Tom Jones, Georgy Girl (with daughter Lynn), Grand Prix, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Jane Eyre, Trelawny of the Wells, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Out of Africa, as well as popular British television series likes Elizbeth R, The Jewel in the Crown and The Black Tower. She was last seen playing the on-screen mother of her real-life daughter Vanessa in 1997's Déjà Vu.
Michael Redgrave was knighted in 1959. The couple's actor-son Corin Redgrave, who was with his mother when she died, hailed her as "a shiningly beautiful woman both in face and in spirit", who was "an inspiration to her children and grandchildren". In addition to Natasha Richardson, the latter include actresses Joely Richardson and Jemma Redgrave.
- by Terri Paddock