June 5, 1928– Tony Richardson
Failure is not fatal; victory is not success.
Academy Award winning film director, screenwriter and producer Tony Richardson was brimming with talent and led a life both complex and tumultuous. Richardson had romantic relationships with many famous women, including Vanessa Redgrave and Jeanne Moreau, but with plenty of guys too, men such as Alan Bates, Laurence Harvey and Rudolf Nureyev. His films were nearly as complicated as his personal life. But, his movies are inspiring, plus his direction often brought Oscars and other awards to his actors.
Richardson attended Oxford, where his classmates included Rupert Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher, Kenneth Tynan, and filmmakers Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert.
He worked in the theatre, directing John Osborne‘s play Look Back In Anger (1956) at the Royal Court Theatre, and in the same period he directed Shakespeare plays in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 1957 he directed Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice in Osborne’s next play The Entertainer, a production that changed Olivier’s career just when he needed it the most.
In 1962, Richardson married Vanessa Redgrave, whose famous family make up one of the greatest acting dynasties of all time. The Redgraves were already plenty famous when Richardson became a family member: Vanessa, of course; Lynn, who in the early 1960s was just starting out in the biz but would go on to earn Oscar and Tony Award nominations, Corin, an actor and activist; the matriarch Rachel Kempson, a stage and screen actor whose credits include Out Of Africa (1985); and Sir Michael Redgrave, the Oscar-nominated patriarch, one of the most important British stars of stage and screen in the 20th century, and, who like his son-in-law, enjoyed having sex with other men. That’s right, in the great showbiz tradition of Judy Garland and her famous daughter Liza Minnelli, both Vanessa Redgrave and her mother married guys who dug other guys. Richardson was such a part of the family, he had sex with his father-in-law, caught in the act by his wife.
Richardson was only married to Vanessa Redgrave for five years, but they managed to have two famous children: Natasha Richardson, who won a 1998 Tony Award for a Broadway revival of Cabaret and starred in films like The Handmaid’s Tale (1995) and Nell (1994); plus Joely Richardson, whose television credits include Nip/Tuck and The Tudors. Even after his death, Richardson seems to be forever associated with that famous Redgrave acting clan. Richardson directed Michael Redgrave in The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (1962).
His masterpiece is Tom Jones (1963), starring Albert Finney, and featuring sister-in-law Lynn and mother-in-law Rachel. It’s an adaptation of Henry Fielding‘s novel The History Of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749). It was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular comedies of its time, winning four Academy Awards. The screenplay was adapted by Osborne. The film has an unusual comic style: the opening sequence is performed in the manner of a silent film, and characters sometimes break the fourth wall, looking directly into the camera and addressing the audience, and going so far as to have the character of Tom Jones suddenly appearing to notice the camera and covering the lens with his hat. Another unusual feature is the presence of an unseen narrator voiced by Micheál Mac Liammóir. Mock-serious commentaries between certain scenes deplore the action of several characters as well as the weaknesses in the human character and provides a poetic denouement for the film.
Tom Jones was both a critically acclaimed and box-office smash. It was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Original Score (John Addison) Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Finney, Best Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith, and Best Supporting Actress for Diane Cilento, Edith Evans and Joyce Redman. It is the only film in the history of the Academy in which three actors were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. All three nominations were unsuccessful; the Award went to Margaret Rutherford for her role in The V.I.P.s. Tom Jones’s five unsuccessful acting nominations matched the record set by Peyton Place in 1957, a record that still holds. It also won two Golden Globe Awards and three BAFTA Awards including Best Film.
The film still stands up today, and Richardson won two Academy Awards for it, Best Picture and Best Direction. For its time, it is a really randy romp.
The success of Tom Jones led him immediately to the wonderful, wacky The Loved One (1965), adapted from the novel by gay writer Evelyn Waugh, and starring John Gielgud, Rod Steiger and Robert Morse working in Hollywood both on location and on the sound stage.
Richardson and Redgrave were divorced by the time he made The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1968), but he still used his ex in the film and he featured Natasha, just four-years-old, along with little Joely, a year younger. Joely also has a role in my favorite Richardson flick The Hotel New Hampshire (1984), alongside Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe, written and directed by her father, and just as sexy a film as Tom Jones.
Richardson’s astounding filmography includes several movies with gay themes and associations: Look Back In Anger (1959), The Entertainer (1960), A Taste Of Honey (1961), The Loved One and A Delicate Balance (1973), and Joseph Andrews (1977).
Among his actors that worked with Richardson, many who gained awards for their work: Jeanne Moreau, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, David Hemmings, Marianne Faithfull, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Katharine Hepburn, Paul Scofield and Judi Dench. His screenwriters included gay writers Jean Genet, Christopher Isherwood, and Edward Albee.
He directed Vanessa Redgrave one more time, as a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz who survives by playing in the camp orchestra in the harrowing and heartbreaking Playing For Time (1982).
Richardson’s final film was Blue Sky (1990). No Redgraves were in that one, but Jessica Lange won an Academy Award.
Richardson came out of the closet as bisexual when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1990. He was taken by the plague within a year.
After her father’s death, Natasha Richardson worked tirelessly for AIDS research, serving on the board of amfAR and God’s Love We Deliver. She organized the amfAR‘s hugely successful auction of Oscar dresses each year after the award ceremony. She died tragically, shockingly, from a head injury sustained in a ski accident in spring 2009. She was survived by her husband Liam Neeson, who she met while appearing together on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill‘s Anna Christie in 1994. The evening of her funeral the lights on Broadway were dimmed in her honor. Vanessa and Joely are still with us.