In selecting names to highlight from the Grand Theatre’s 125 years it helps if there is current interest in the names!
This week we’ve landed in 1947 and lifted two such people from my Grand Centenary book.
Screen and stage star Vanessa Redgrave has appeared in BBC1’s series Call the Midwife while Arnold Ridley is an ever-present Saturday night TV face, as Old Godfrey in Dad’s Army.
You are so alert! How could Vanessa have appeared at the Grand in 1947, when she was only 11 years old?
She didn’t – but her father, Michael Redgrave (1908-1985), appeared in Macbeth in November, 1947, and told the Gazette a story of how Vanessa could have become a Walt Disney child star.
The newspaper’s showbiz scribe, Bill Burgess, interviewed the actor and heard the Redgrave family had just spent three months in Hollywood, where Michael starred in RKOs three-hour movie of Eugene O’Neill’s tragedy Mourning Becomes Electra.
He told Burgess they had met Walt Disney, who was involved in pre-production work for his cartoon feature of Alice In Wonderland.
Disney was struck by Vanessa’s resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s classic illustrations of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s original book.
When Walt heard that Vanessa could sing and dance he proposed a screen test with a view to casting her in films.
Michael Redgrave said he and his wife, Rachel Kempson, declined Disney’s offer, believing it would have been wrong to uproot their daughter from home and bedazzle her with the glamour of a stardom that might not materialise.
Eleven years later (January, 1958) Vanessa began her rise to adult stardom, at the Grand Theatre, appearing with her father (by then Sir Michael) in the premiere of A Touch of the Sun, by NC Hunter.
As for the 1947 performance of Macbeth, Bill Burgess said Michael Redgrave was an actor who loved and understood his material.
It was a performance in which the warrior took second place to the poet.
“Such artistry restores nobility to the theatre,” he wrote.
For contrast in the 1947 plays at the Grand, how about Arnold Ridley (1896-1984) in the premiere of Easy Money, his own play about a big football pools win.
He didn’t intend to be in it but during rehearsals the leading actor, Hylton Allen, was taken ill. Arnold saved the week by stepping in.
His first success as a writer was with the comedy-thriller The Ghost Train, in 1925. He wrote more than 30 plays but continued to act and visited Blackpool several times.
His last appearance at the Grand was in March, 1964, when he played the Reverend Wood in a tour of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë.
In 1976 he was in the stage tour of Dad’s Army, which played two weeks in June at the Opera House.
In 1968, at the age of 72, Arnold Ridley joined the cast of the BBC’s Home Guard sitcom and was with the show to its final episode in 1977.
Are there any other actors from that era who can still be seen on the telly, every Saturday night?