08 July 2004: Weekly Gleaner

Diana Rigg The Biography

Many people who grew up in the sixties, myself included, remember Diana Rigg as the sexy and lethal Emma Peel in the British television series The Avengers. In an age when women were still being portrayed on television as being fragile, brainless flowers to be sheltered and protected from the real world, Emma Peel karate kicked her way across our television screens, often rescuing her male partner, and out-thinking criminal masterminds. Through all this, she maintained an air of graciousness and sophistication. This of course was not only due to the great scripts written for The Avengers but also to the actor Diana Rigg who portrayed the remarkable Mrs. Peel.

Kathleen Tracy has written a thoughtful, interesting, and well-researched biography. She begins with Rigg's father taking a job as an engineer in India for the British railway company, his marriage, and then the birth on July 20th 1938 of the couple's daughter Diana. The author tells of Diana's early life in India where she first learned to tap into her imagination. Later when the family returned to Yorkshire, England, Diana was encouraged by a speech teacher to develop her love of drama and her talent for it.

This biography tells of Rigg's days spent at The Royal Academy of Performing Arts along with other famed British actors such as, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, and Albert Finney. Rigg was accepted to the Shakespeare Memorial Theater, or as it was later called The Royal Shakespeare Company, in 1959. The biography then goes on to tell of Rigg's many successful stage performances, over the years both in Britain and America, which gained her fame as a remarkable actress. We are told about her successes such as her role in The Misanthrope and failures such as the short run sitcom Diana and the many experiences she had that shaped her life as both an actor and a woman.

This book is not just a chronicle of the actror's professional life but also an examination of the person, Diana Rigg. Through interviews Rigg gave over the years, we learn of her life with her married lover Peter Saville, her first marriage to the volatile Israeli artist Menahem Gueffen, her second marriage to Archibald Sterling officiated by then New York City Clerk David Dinkins. We also learn about her views on the value of practicing the craft of acting as a performer on the stage as opposed to being a movie star and her strong opinions on the role of women, motherhood, and personhood.

Kathleen Tracey's biography of Rigg is not just very well written but it is also well researched. She quotes sources directly in the book and presents an objective look at her subject's life that is not influenced by her own opinion. The biography is enjoyable and holds the reader's attention because the author also focuses on other interesting characters that entered Rigg's professional life.

The author also gives us background on the different roles played by Rigg both on the screen and on stage. For example, she describes the history behind the play Abelard and Heloise, which tells the story of doomed love. She does this so that we can better understand Riggs' role as Heloise.

I found this biography informative and well worth reading. I thought that the writer's approach to the subject was thoughtful and interesting. She not only told us about Rigg's life but also presented us with fascinating facts about both the English and American theater and television environments especially in the sixties and seventies. By painting such a strong picture of the world in which Rigg lives and acts, the author allows us to not merely read about the actress's life but to experience certain aspects of it.

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