Lynn Redgrave is no Cain, but, brother, is she Able. Make that ready, willing and able, finally, after years of tight-lipped tolerance, to trash her older and infamously outspoken sibling. “My sister Vanessa’s actions are suddenly pissing me off,” Lynn, 48, told New York Post gossip columnist and longtime friend Cindy Adams in an astonishingly candid—and scathing-interview. “[She’s] driving me crazy.” Distressed by Vanessa’s much publicized condemnation of U.S. (and allied) involvement in the Persian Gulf war, Lynn wanted, once and for all, to set the record straight: “[We are] not one person, one voice. We are two separate people. I’m thinking of changing my name to add my husband John Clark’s name. The waters are being muddied. I want them not to muddy me.”
The timing of this declaration of independence was hardly fortuitous, since it coincided with the actress sisters’ first-ever appearance onstage together—in London, in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. British tabloids were instantly agog with news of the feud—SISTERS AT WAR screamed one London daily; SHAMED BY HER SISTER railed another—but the rift had been brewing for weeks. It all began when Vanessa, 54, declared in January at a peace rally in Barcelona. “We must unconditionally defend Iraq against American. British or Israeli troops.” In the British press and in the U.S., her comments have caused a furious backlash, including cancellation of her scheduled American tour in the Broadway hit Lettice and Lovage. Vanessa claimed she was quoted out of context but then made the mistake of providing the context by placing an ad of “clarification” in the New York Times. “I unconditionally oppose the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait,” she explained. But by the end of the half-page letter, she had cited as the source of the conflict not Iraq, but Israel—culpable, she implied, for its treatment of the Palestinians.
Inevitably the fires of outrage burned hotter. Not, of course, that furor is anything new to the radical Vanessa. For more than 20 years, the left-wing activist has made for controversial copy. She rallied against both nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War. once sold her home to fund a documentary on the Palestinians and four times ran for the British Parliament (and resoundingly lost). But perhaps her most notorious performance came at the Oscars in 1978, where she was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role in Julia, a film about a young woman killed by the Nazis. She accepted the award with a pro-PLO speech that characterized Israel’s Zionist leaders as “hoodlums.” She was jeered and promptly placed on what amounted to a blacklist “banning” her for most of a decade from performing in America. The Boston Symphony Orchesta. for instance, dropped her from scheduled appearances in 1982 after receiving threats that pro-Israel demonstrators would picket her shows. (She sued and won a small settlement.)
Back then Lynn defended Vanessa. “People don’t know her,” she protested. “They just see the serious star who shouts and fights for what she believes in. People don’t see the private her. She’s a very generous and loving person.”
Growing up, the two were quite different—big sister Vanessa assertive and self-confident. Lynn shy and lonely—yet they maintained a special bond. “You can almost touch how close we feel,” Lynn once said. It was Vanessa more than the rest of her family—her father, the actor Sir Michael Redgrave; her mother, Rachel Kempson, now 80; or her brother, Corin, 51, also a politically involved actor—who gave young Lynn emotional support. “There was a great deal of tension [at home],” Lynn remembered. “My father was distant and didn’t communicate well with any of us. [Vanessa] was wonderful to me…. She’d read me books and make up stories for me.”
Years later, an accomplished actress in her own right, Lynn moved away from Vanessa and the suffocating burden of the Redgrave name. She settled in the U.S., where she still lives—in suburban Los Angeles—with her husband and manager, John Clark, and their three children.
Ironically, though Lynn and Vanessa are together professionally for the first time, they have never been more remote from one another personally. Backstage at London’s Queen’s Theatre, says Cindy Adams, the two do not speak. Nor are they likely to now. Among Lynn’s more biting observations about her sister was the suggestion that Vanessa’s causes are merely attention-getting devices. “I think she always thought of herself as Joan of Arc.” Lynn said. ‘There is definitely a dramatic angle attached. Perhaps it is the ultimate in being center stage.”
In the end, says Adams of Lynn’s declaration, “Her patriotism is stronger than her sisterly feelings.” Meaning in part that Lynn, who is the high-profile spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, and whose book, This Is Living: How I Found Happiness, is due out in May, doesn’t want Vanessa’s surly politics to sully her reputation—or employment potential. “I get phone calls about this,” said Lynn, who is not a U.S. citizen. “What’s happening is scary. I can understand [the outcry over Vanessa’s remarks] because I live in the States…. I think of America as my country, my people.” she said, as angry and sad as she is resigned to the forseeable future. “I don’t think [Vanessa and I] shall be working together again.”
Karen S. Schneider, Laura Sanderson Healy in London