NEW YORK (Sep. 5)
British actress Vanessa Redgrave suffered a setback last week after a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that the Boston Symphony Orchestra did not violate her civil rights when it canceled her performances, following threats by protesters.
It was the latest and probably the final chapter in the legal battle between Redgrave and the orchestra. It started in 1982 after the orchestra decided to cancel Redgrave’s contract to narrate six performances of Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” in Boston.
The orchestra canceled her appearance following threats they received because of Redgrave’s support of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The 3-2 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit last week said that the cancellation of Redgrave’s contract did not violate the Massachusetts Civil Right Act.
The court, however, upheld a $12,000 award to Redgrave as compensation for a lost role in a Broadway play. A three-member panel of the same appeals court ruled in her favor in October 1987.
The trial of Redgrave against the orchestra, in which the actress sought $5 million in damages, went beyond a simple breach of contract case and turned into a battle of freedom of speech and the mix of art and politics.
The orchestra said at the time it decided to cancel the contract after it received letters and calls warning that there would be picketing and other protests against Redgrave, because of her strong opposition to Israel and her embrace of the PLO.
Redgrave won the first round of her legal battle when a federal jury ruled in November 1984 that the orchestra breached the contract and awarded her $100,000 in compensation and $27,500 in lost wages.
But in February 1985, District Court Judge Robert Keaton dismissed the $100,000 award and ruled Redgrave’s civil rights were not violated.