For Lynn Redgrave, last Thanksgiving began like any other. Expecting friends for dinner at the five-bedroom, ranch-style home in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon that she shared with her husband of 32 years, John Clark, the actress was just placing the holiday bird in the oven when Clark decided to talk turkey. What he told her was straight out of Chinatown—or an episode of Melrose Place. In 1991, he confessed, he fathered a child, Zachary, with his then-assistant, Nicolette Hannah. Four years later, Hannah married Redgrave and Clark’s son Benjamin, becoming the elder Clark’s daughter-in-law.
Redgrave’s husband kept all this secret until Benjamin and Nicolette divorced in 1996. Becoming suspicious, Benjamin, a 30-year-old airline pilot, confronted his father, who eventually decided to come clean with his hopelessly soiled laundry. On March 1, after a few months of psychotherapy and spurred by a tell-all interview her husband gave to the National Enquirer, Redgrave, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Gods and Monsters, filed for divorce. “I’ve discovered a lifetime of betrayal from my husband,” she tearfully told The Times of London. “It was right beneath my nose for eight years. I thought the child was my surrogate grandchild.”
Clark, 66, a theater producer, director and manager of his wife’s career, has always paid paternal attention to his supposed grandson, a third grader in a Topanga public school. “I saw him at his birth and every day of his life since then,” he says. But when, after her divorce, Nicolette began seeing Ernesto Hernandez—a married plumber who worked for Clark—the concerned dad moved his ex-lover and son into his Topanga cottage and refused to allow Hernandez to visit. (Hernandez, who is getting divorced, is no longer involved with Nicolette.) In response, Nicolette took out a restraining order forbidding Clark to come within 50 yards of her or Zachary. Fearing the order would become public, Clark launched his preemptive strike. “What I said to the Enquirer was damage control,” he says. “What [Lynn] said to The Times was just damage. I feel betrayed. And my response is, ‘Lighten up, Lynn.’ ”
Redgrave, 56, who declined to be interviewed for this story, seems unlikely to do so. “I can’t forgive him,” the actress told The Times. “There’s no way we can be back together. There’s no wavering on my part.”
Clark blames the split not on his sexual peccadilloes but on Redgrave’s recent success. “It’s not fair,” he says. “We work together as a team. She’s the actor and the writer, and I am the director. I’ve managed her affairs all along.” Redgrave, he insists, “is where she is today because of my effort. She’s now on top of the world, and she’s dumping me for no good reason.”
To a degree, Redgrave is professionally indebted to Clark, a onetime child actor in England whom she met in 1966. The daughter of English actors Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, Lynn broke out as the frumpy title character in 1966’s Georgy Girl, for which she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. But for much of her life, her highest-profile role was as a Weight Watchers spokeswoman, and she has often been overshadowed by her outspoken sister, actress Vanessa, 62. (Brother Corin, 60, is a successful stage actor.)
In 1993, with Clark’s encouragement, Redgrave wrote and starred in a play about the life of her bisexual father, with whom she had a famously icy relationship. (He died in 1985.) Her Tony-nominated performance in the show, Shakespeare for My Father—which Clark directed—won the attention of director-producer Scott Hicks, who cast her as pianist David Helfgott’s astrologist wife in 1996’s acclaimed Shine, her first film in six years. With that, her career was reborn. As for her Oscar nomination for Gods and Monsters, in which she plays a prim housekeeper, Clark says (prior to the Awards), “If it’s truly goodbye to me, I would like that to be my parting gift, because I think I put her in a position where she just might get it.”
Clark is also annoyed with Benjamin and his sister Kelly, 29, an openly gay (and pregnant) actress now living in England, who have sided with their mother. “I don’t think children should ever question their parents about their lifestyle,” says Clark. “Kelly I don’t want to even talk to anymore.” (Their sister Anabel, 17, who heads to L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University in the fall, “doesn’t want to be in the middle of all this,” says Clark. “I hope she hasn’t taken sides.”)
Those who have worked with the couple seem horrified by Clark’s behavior. “The Redgraves are a very colorful family, to put it mildly,” says Broadway producer Arthur Cantor. “I don’t like John Clark. But I don’t expect that kind of behavior from people no matter how I dislike them.” Actor Michael Allinson, a close friend of Clark’s for over 50 years, agrees. “What he’s done is terrible,” he says. “It boggles the mind. John has killed any future he has. My heart goes out to Lynn.”
But Clark insists that Redgrave is far from innocent. “All the sympathy is going to her because she’s acting the victim,” he says. “I’m supposed to be the baddie, and she’s the virtuous goodie. Once the truth is out, she won’t look so holier-than-thou.” Clark accuses her of past improprieties with two costars, including Brian Dennehy. (“It was a long time ago,” the actor told London’s Sunday Mirror.) “She went elsewhere for her sex,” Clark adds, “and I went elsewhere for mine.” All that changed, he volunteers, in the last five years, when he began suffering from erectile dysfunction and has “been out of it.” Since then, he notes, “all the women have left me.”
While Clark insists he is “totally unrepentant” about the entire sordid chain of events, he genuinely appears to regret being kept apart from Zachary—who, he claims, was thrilled to learn his grandfather was actually his father. Clark has begged Nicolette to allow him to see his son and intends to file for joint custody of the child.
Redgrave, however, has kept a low profile but appears to be recovering from her shock. She and Anabel have been staying at Hollywood’s Le Pare Hotel while she films Annihilation of Fish, with James Earl Jones. “She’s all business,” says a crew member. “She works from dawn till early evening, and you couldn’t tell she might have other things on her mind.” In the last few months, “with each step I take, as hard as it is, I feel a little clearer,” Redgrave told the London Times. “I’m not afraid of being alone. I’m quite good at it.”
Ron Arias and Vicki Sheff-Cahan in Los Angeles and Ward Morehouse III in New York City