Also known as Lady Redgrave, Kempson was the widow of actor Sir Michael Redgrave, who died in 1985. Two of their children, Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, are currently starring in New York productions: Vanessa is playing Mary Tyrone in the Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, while Lynn is Off-Broadway in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. Last week, both actresses were honored with Drama Desk Awards for their work this season, and Vanessa Redgrave is also a Tony Award nominee. Their brother Corin is not now on the boards in New York but, within the past few seasons, has played here in Not About Nightingales and The General From America.
Rachel Kempson was born in Dartmouth, Devon, on May 28, 1910. She first became interested in the theater while attending a convent school and was later accepted as a student by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. At Stratford-on-Avon in 1932, she had roles in six of Shakespeare's plays; she went on to specialize in classic works throughout her career, earning praise for her performances in The School for Scandal (first as Lady Teazle, later as Maria) and The Seagull. Among her many other stage credits in England were Not for Children, Saint Joan of the Stockyards, and The Old Country. Her last live performance came in 1998 when, in the company of her daughters Lynn and Vanessa, she appeared in a reading of Chekhov's The Lady With a Dog in Los Angeles.
In the United States, Kempson was known primarily for her television work: The Jewel in the Crown, Camille, The Black Tower, etc. Her most popular films are Tom Jones (1963) and Out of Africa (1985). She also appeared in Georgy Girl (1966) with Lynn Redgrave; in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Déjà Vu (1998) with Vanessa Redgrave; and in The Captive Heart (1946) with her husband, Michael Redgrave.
According to a source, Vanessa Redgrave missed the Saturday and Sunday shows of Long Day's Journey Into Night this weekend due to her mother's death; her performance is among the most lauded of the season and, as the source described the scene to TheaterMania.com, there were long lines outside the Plymouth Theater as people waited to exchange their tickets for another date. (Standby Pamela Payton-Wright appeared as Mary Tyrone in Redgrave's absence.) Lynn Redgrave plays Miss Fozzard in one of the monologues that make up the alternating "A" and "B" programs of the Off Broadway production Talking Heads at the Minetta Lane Theatre; according to a Playbill On-Line report, her performance schedule may be altered in the coming days.
Kempson's 1986 memoir, Life Among the Redgraves, was published by Dutton. In addition to her children, Lady Redgrave is survived by 10 grandchildren -- including the noted actress Natsha Richardson, Vanessa's daugher -- and 11 great-grandchildren.