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Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

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Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

Arts & Life

Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

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The neon lights on Broadway were dimmed at 8 p.m. Thursday to honor the memory of Tony Award-winning actress Natasha Richardson.

She died at the age of 45 after an accident at a Canadian ski resort.

The British-born actress left behind a substantial body of work, and it was reported that she was planning to star with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, in a Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Richardson was not quite born with a script in her hand, but had an impressive pedigree — the Redgraves have been in the theater for generations.

Vanessa Redgrave is also well known for her political outspokenness and activism. Although she's encountered strong protests, her career continues to flourish. I thought about Redgrave when I read about the death of another actress whose career was cut short because of her political beliefs. The obituary appeared in the paper the same day as Richardson's.

Betsy Blair died in London at the age of 85. Chances are you may remember her only because she was nominated for an Oscar. She played Ernest Borgnine's girlfriend in the 1955 film, Marty. Blair almost didn't get the job.

Born in New Jersey, Blair began as a dancer — first in a Times Square nightspot where she met the choreographer, Eugene Curran Kelly. She was 17, they married, they moved to Hollywood — and he became Gene Kelly and Hollywood was their oyster.

During their 16-year marriage — one she described as happy — Blair became involved in political causes. She worked on behalf of the NAACP and the Independent Progressive Party. At one point, she wanted to join the Communist Party, but was not admitted. Her husband wasn't a member and was considered too famous.

She was put on Hollywood's blacklist and her career dried up, but through Gene Kelly's intervention, she was cast in Marty. The next year, she left him and went to Europe. She divorced him in 1957, made a few movies in Europe and married the Czech-born director, Karel Reisz. Blair went on to become a speech therapist in London. And she had no regrets, about anything.

Over the years, Blair was asked why she chose to end her storybook marriage to Kelly — a man she described as the perfect husband, father, friend, protector, provider and hard worker. Someone she said she loved and admired as a brilliant actor and dancer, as well as a good, good man.

In one interview, she said it had nothing to do with sex.

It was freedom.

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