The New Direction Of Vanessa Redgrave

British Actress Is Still Trying To Change The World

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On the day she was born, her father, renowned actor Michael Redgrave, was appearing on stage in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." During the curtain call, the show's lead, Laurence Olivier proclaimed "tonight a great actress has been born."

Well, Vanessa Redgrave has certainly lived up to that great expectation. She has won many awards, including two Emmys, a Tony and an Oscar. But when 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace first profiled her in 1979, she was just as famous, or infamous, for her politics. Her vocal anti-Zionism and fervent support of the Palestinian cause nearly wrecked her career. That was almost 30 years ago.

Redgrave is 70 years old now and she seems busier than ever. She is starring on Broadway in a one-woman play called "The Year of Magical Thinking."

It is the story of how author-turned-playwright Joan Didion tried to cope with the unthinkable – the deaths of her grown daughter and her husband.

On opening night, there was a standing ovation for the star and the playwright, a far cry from a different opening nearly 30 years ago.

At a Los Angeles movie theater, in 1978, there was a bombing and protests. The furor was sparked by a documentary called "The Palestinian," a film produced and bankrolled by Vanessa Redgrave.

"Many people were outraged. You remember what your reaction was?" Wallace asks.

"I didn't know why people were outraged to see a film about the Palestinians," she replies.

Perhaps it was a scene where she danced, wielding a Kalashnikov rifle. Fueling the controversy were her frequent, inflammatory remarks in support of the PLO, and her condemnation of Israel and Zionism.

"Zionism is a brutal, racist ideology. And it is a brutal racist regime," Redgrave said.

Comments like that outraged Jewish groups and left a deep impression which, in some circles, dogs her to this day and prompted this exchange:

"When I tell various New Yorkers that I'm gonna be sitting down with you, you would be fascinated by the various reactions. 'You're gonna be sitting down with Vanessa Redgrave.' Or 'That woman who hates Jews?'" Wallace remarks.

"I don't believe anyone said that to you. 'Cause even those who wouldn't agree with my views wouldn't say that of me," she replies.

"Why not?" Wallace asks.

"Because they know it's a million miles from the truth," Redgrave says.

That surely would have been a tough sell back then.

In 1979 she appeared in a different film, "Julia," in which she played an anti-fascist helping Jews escape the Nazi regime. But when she was nominated for an Academy Award, some Jewish groups demanded her nomination be dropped. On Oscar night, there were more protests. But Redgrave won the award and made some controversial remarks.

"At the Academy Awards in 1978 you know what you said. Let me repeat it, if I may. 'You should be very proud that in the last few weeks you stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums, whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world.'
Remember saying it?" Wallace asks Redgrave.

"Yeah. Do you remember what I added to it, also?" she says.

"Please tell me," Wallace says.

"Well, I said that. And I pledged myself to fight anti-Semitism and fascism for the rest of my life," Redgrave says. "And I think I have."