Vivien Leigh Biography Among Centenary Celebrations

Vivien Leigh biography, movies, and photo exhibit among centenary celebrations (image: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier as Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson in 'That Hamilton Woman')

[See previous post: “Vivien Leigh Turns 100: Centenary of One of the Greatest Movie Stars.”] From November 30, 2013, to July 20, 2014, London's National Portrait Gallery will be hosting a Vivien Leigh photo exhibit, tracing her life and career. The exhibit will be a joint celebration of both Leigh's centenary and the 75th anniversary of Gone with the Wind. (Scroll down to check out a classy Vivien Leigh video homage. See also: “'Gone with the Wind' article.”)

Additionally, the British Film Institute is hosting a lengthy Vivien Leigh and Gone with the Wind celebration, screening all of Leigh's post-1936 movies, from Fire Over England to Ship of Fools – and including The Deep Blue Sea (“a digital copy of the only surviving 35mm print we were able to locate; the condition is variable”). I should add that Terence Davies recently remade the 1955 romantic drama; Davies' 2011 The Deep Blue Sea stars Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) and The Avengers' Tom Hiddleston.

Also at the BFI, author Richard Stirling will present “Vivien Leigh: The Faces of Vivien,” a discussion about Leigh's on-screen and off-screen personas (Scarlett O'Hara, Blanche DuBois, Laurence Olivier's wife), while Victoria & Albert Museum Curator Keith Lodwick will talk about the museum's recently acquired Vivien Leigh archives.

And finally, there's Kendra Bean's recently published biography Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait – perhaps best described as a photo-bio – with foreword by none other than Claire Bloom, who was hardly a Laurence Olivier fan and who was Leigh's co-star in a Jean-Louis Barrault-directed 1958 production of Christopher Fry's Duel of Angels (the English-language version of Jean Giraudoux's Pour Lucrèce). Kirkus Reviews calls Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait “a worthy tribute to an eternally fascinating star.”

Not worth considering as part of the Vivien Leigh centenary celebrations are recently published and/or upcoming articles and books focusing on Leigh's allegedly insatiable libido and sexual escapades, alleged attempted rape by one of her co-stars, and all that other (alleged) good stuff appealing to the Hollywood Babylon crowd.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier

Vivien Leigh and barrister Herbert Leigh Holman – his middle name became her professional last name – were married from 1932-1940. The couple had a daughter, Suzanne. Laurence Olivier and actress Jill Esmond were married from 1930-1940. Tarquin Olivier is their son.

Leigh and Olivier's affair began after they were featured together in Fire Over England, shot in 1936; they were married in 1940, and, however turbulently, remained together until 1961. (There were extra-marital liaisons; Leigh, for instance, had a well-known affair with co-star Peter Finch during the making of Elephant Walk* in the mid-'50s.)

Professionally, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were featured in three movies; as mentioned in the previous post, those were Fire Over England, 21 Days Together, and That Hamilton Woman. Olivier wanted her to play “I” the Winter in Rebecca (1940), but Selznick found her inadequate; Joan Fontaine eventually landed the role and a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Among the other discussed Leigh and Olivier movie pairings that failed to come to fruition was Separate Tables (1958), in which they were to have played two different couples; Rita Hayworth, Burt Lancaster, Best Actress Oscar nominee Deborah Kerr, and Best Actor Oscar winner David Niven were ultimately cast in the Delbert Mann-directed film version of Terence Rattigan's play.

On stage, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier co-starred in about a dozen plays, including Romeo and Juliet (a surprising box office failure in the U.S., shortly after the release of Gone with the Wind), The School for Scandal, The Sleeping Prince, Caesar and Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra, and, their last play together, Titus Andronicus in 1957. Several of those were directed by Olivier, who also guided Leigh – without playing opposite her – in a mid-'40s staging of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth and the 1949 London production of A Streetcar Named Desire. (Jessica Tandy played Blanche DuBois on Broadway.)

Two months after his divorce from Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier married Joan Plowright (his leading lady in the 1960 drama The Entertainer). The couple would remain married until his death from renal failure at age 82 in Ashurst, U.K., in 1989.

Vivien Leigh, who was plagued by serious mental and physical ailments, died of chronic tuberculosis at age 53 in London on July 8, 1967.

* Vivien Leigh suffered a nervous breakdown during the making of Elephant Walk in Sri Lanka. She was removed from the film, and replaced by Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier as Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson in That Hamilton Woman: United Artists.

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1 Comment to Vivien Leigh Biography Among Centenary Celebrations

  1. andrew dock

    When you think of the trouble the uk goes to to destroy her name; i wish she could belong to another country such as the germans. When will the article go up about miss Leigh; to get rid of the Daily mail newspaper, sex mad article about her on bing?