Lynn Redgrave: 1943 - 2010

By Jane Marla Robbins
Written for The Topanga Messenger

December, 1992. I had just moved to Topanga, and I was invited to a Christmas party given by people whose name I forget, who don't live here any more, people I had only smiled at (so Topanga!). Their postal carrier was there; and so was Lynn Redgrave. LYNN REDGRAVE? The stage and movie star nominated for an Oscar!?

She was shining, as was her way. I was intimidated, and was actually always a little in awe of her, but I went up to her and introduced myself. Probably with all three of my names.

"Of course!" she answered brightly, as if she had always known me and had always wanted to (which was her way). "You starred in a one-woman play at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York in 1974. I lived across the street. You played Fanny Burney!"

SHE REMEMBERED!?! AFTER EIGHTEEN YEARS?!? But that was Lynn: an extraordinary mind, memory, intelligence, and always with a deep connection to people, even if she didn't know them. I was knocked out. We became friends.

I did say she shone. Not because she was a movie star. But she seemed to shine just being, just watching you, as if she really wanted to see you, and was really there with you. And when she spoke, it was with her own special and astounding energy, charm, warmth and the ability to make you feel important.

She had no airs. She lived in Topanga in a rambling wooden house with many books, surrounded by Topanga green. And she loved it here, everything from riding her horse Minerva in the State Park, to going to the Theatricum, to watching her daughter Annabel in The Nutcracker. It was here she brought up her three children, Annabel, Benjamin and Kelly, and she was a fiercely loving mother, suing a television network (too expensively) because they fired her for breast feeding her baby in her dressing room.

It was only because of the painful breakup of her marriage that she left Topanga and moved to New York. I would see her there when I went back to visit my mother and we'd have lunch, or I'd see her in a play if she were in one (she usually was), and we'd see each other afterwards.

Eventually she came back to Topanga for a visit, and with great joy walked one of her favorite paths in the State Park (shocked to hear her dog was not welcome!), happy to be at peace again with the nature she loved so deeply and which she had called home for so long.

I felt she was an almost-sister for many reasons: we were born the same year; we wrote and performed one-woman plays; we had both felt too big, uncomfortable and unattractive, growing up; and we both ended up being actresses who did well (of course, she, unlike me, became a major star and was from a royal theater family in England.) But it was the love and respect between us that was the glue, the joy.

And now how can I honor her? Perhaps to learn, copy and practice her rare and amazing talent for making people feel seen, heard, honored and loved – just with one of her welcoming hellos.

She was a wonderful actress, but here I want to address the miracle she seemed to me as a person, with a generosity, compassion and luminosity unsurpassed by anyone I have ever met. And she was a good friend: whether it was writing an inspiring rave for my book (she was in Australia shooting a film and hadn't read it, though she understood what it was about), or inviting me, on one of my trips to New York, to spend the night at her new country house when I suddenly started crying about a problem with my family in the city.

Seven years ago she fought breast cancer, and lost a breast to it, a journey brilliantly and lovingly documented with photographs by her daughter Annabel in a book with excerpts from Lynn's journal. It's a beautiful book, a testament to Lynn's courage, beauty, strength and willingness not to hide, but instead to allow the world fully to see who she was, how she was, and what it meant to go through difficulties with grace, power, sweetness and humor.

A few years ago, in New York, we went to see the orange scarf-portals by Christo in Central Park. She'd been before and loved them, with her usual enthusiastic passion for nature and art (so Topanga!). So she took me there (with her dog). And now, somehow, I trust she is simply journeying through more magical portals, and with her usual grace, fortitude and good humor. I pray that her trip be an easy and blessed one. Surely her stay here was a blessing for us all.

"Jane Marla Robbins is witty and wonderful!"

Edith Oliver, The New Yorker