Vivien Leigh


Actor
Vivien Leigh

About

Also Known As
Vivian Mary Hartley
Birth Place
India
Born
November 05, 1913
Died
July 08, 1967
Cause of Death
Tuberculosis

Biography

A lovely, petite, fragile stage-trained player whose delicate beauty first graced the screen in 1935, Leigh was born to a British military family stationed in India. Despite her heritage, she remains best-known for her two most successful screen roles as American Southern belles.After a childhood traveling Europe, an apprenticeship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and a brief marriag...

Photos & Videos

A Streetcar Named Desire - Lobby Card
Storm in a Teacup - Publicity Still
Caesar and Cleopatra - Vivien Leigh Publicity Still

Family & Companions

Herbert Leigh Holman
Husband
Solicitor. Married in 1932; divorced in 1940.
Laurence Olivier
Husband
Actor. Born in Surrey, England on May 22, 1907; married on August 30, 1940; divorced in 1960; died on July 11, 1989.
Peter Finch
Companion
Actor. Had affair during 1948 tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Jack Merivale
Companion
Actor. Together from 1960 until Leigh's death.

Notes

Her 1939 Oscar was sold at auction in 1993 for $563,500.

"Even if she had not played Scarlett O'Hara, the most coveted role in movie history, it is probable that Vivien Leigh's striking Dresden Shepherdess beauty would have won her a place among the great stars. She was recognized, even by unbelievers, as one of the beauties of her era: what with that and Scarlett, and for being much of her life Lady Olivier, fame and acclaim rather obscured her actual ability."--David Shipman, in "The Great Movie Stars."

Biography

A lovely, petite, fragile stage-trained player whose delicate beauty first graced the screen in 1935, Leigh was born to a British military family stationed in India. Despite her heritage, she remains best-known for her two most successful screen roles as American Southern belles.

After a childhood traveling Europe, an apprenticeship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and a brief marriage, Leigh began her career in 1935 with several small stage and screen roles. After making a hit onstage in "The Masque of Virtue" (1935), she was signed by Alexander Korda and appeared as a pretty ingenue in such films as "Fire Over England" (1937), opposite Laurence Olivier, and "Storm in a Teacup" (also 1937), with Rex Harrison. Korda loaned her to MGM for "A Yank at Oxford" (1938), which did more for Robert Taylor than Leigh. That same year, she displayed her screen charisma and charm as a Cockney petty thief who is befriended by street performer Charles Laughton and romanced by songwriter Rex Harrison in the frothy "Sidewalks of London/Saint Martin's Lane." While making her mark in features, Leigh continued to polish her talents onstage, notably as Ophelia to Olivier's "Hamlet" in 1937.

By this time, Leigh and Olivier were romantically involved. When he went to the US in late 1938 to make "Wuthering Heights," Leigh followed and won the much-coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind" (1939). Her Scarlett was a headstrong, willful and colorful portrayal. Despite much flack about a relatively unknown Brit taking the role of the quintessential Southern belle, Leigh was triumphant, won an Oscar and became a bigger star than Olivier (whom she married in 1940).

Leigh failed to immediately follow up on her tremendous promise. She starred onstage with Olivier in "Romeo and Juliet" (1940) and made two films. In the fine remake of "Waterloo Bridge" (1940), Leigh's beauty heightened her portrayal of a ballerina in love with an upper-class soldier (Robert Taylor). Through a series of plot machinations, she is reduced to prostitution and has a bittersweet reunion with Taylor, whom she thought was killed during the war. The role was the first of many in which her character suffered mental collapse--ironically mirroring her own bouts with mental illness. She again was a woman of questionable virtue in the biopic of an historical tart in "That Hamilton Woman" (1941, opposite Olivier). Her subsequent career was slowed to fits and starts by the tuberculosis which eventually killed her, and by her own emotional instability.

For the rest of her career, Leigh alternated between the stage and screen, giving electrifying, emotional performances in both mediums. She appeared in six films after her initial bout with Hollywood, first in the British productions "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1946), opposite Claude Rains, and as "Anna Karenina" (1948). Her next huge hit was recreating her stage role as the fragile, emotionally unstable Blanche Du Bois in Elia Kazan's film of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). Her performance as the outsider is enhanced by playing off her Method-trained co-stars, notably Marlon Brando's stunning Stanley, Kim Hunter's torn Stella and Karl Malden's gentle Mitch. Leigh earned a second Best Actress Oscar playing this damaged woman trailing the tattered threads of her sanity behind her, a role some felt was eerily close to Leigh's own personality at times. Her last films consisted of stellar performances as emotionally unstable women in less than stellar films: "The Deep Blue Sea" (1955), as a frustrated, suicidal wife; "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" (1961), based on a Tennessee Williams' story, as an elegant, middle-aged actress who is ample bait for Warren Beatty's gigolo; and Stanley Kramer's all-star "Ship of Fools" (1966), as an embittered, flirtatious divorcee.

Leigh was, perhaps, happier onstage. She and Olivier toured with the Old Vic company in the late 1940s and early 50s, in such plays as "The School for Scandal," "Anthony and Cleopatra," "Caesar and Cleopatra," "Richard III" and "Antigone." She was directed by Olivier in "The Skin of Our Teeth" (1945) and "The Sleeping Prince" (1954) and scored successes with "Duel of Angels" (1958) and "Look After Lulu" (1959), directed by Noel Coward. In 1963, she made her American musical stage debut in "Tovarich," winning a Tony Award. But health problems began to interfere with her ability to sustain a long run and she frequently missed performances. Her last stage appearance was in "Ivanov" in 1966.

Leigh's private life was as stormy as any of her roles. After twenty tempestuous years, she and Olivier divorced in 1960, and her mental illness often transformed her intelligent and sweet nature, making professional and personal relationships problematic at times. By the time she died, a ravaged 53 years old, Vivien Leigh had become one of the broken butterflies she had so often played on stage and screen.

Life Events

1920

Moved to England

1926

Traveled with parents for several years throughout Europe

1934

Screen debut in "Things Are Looking Up"

1935

Professional stage debut in "The Green Sash" (as Vivian Leigh)

1935

Signed to five-year contract with Alexander Korda

1935

Met Laurence Olivier

1937

Played Ophelia to Olivier's "Hamlet" on stage

1937

First screen appearance opposite Olivier, "Fire Over England"

1939

US screen debut, in "Gone with the Wind"

1940

US stage debut (with Olivier) in "Romeo and Juliet", directed by Olivier

1945

First began suffering from tuberculosis

1948

Toured Australia and New Zealand with Olivier in "Richard III", "The School for Scandal" and "The Skin of OUr Teeth"

1949

Played Blanche Dubois in London staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire"

1951

Recreated Blanche onscreen in Elia Kazan's screen version of "A Streetcar Named Desire"

1951

Played Cleopatra in repertory stagings of Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra" and Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra"

1957

Last stage appearance in London opposite Olivier in Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" (after touring Europe)

1963

Made stage musical debut on Broadway in "Tovarich"

1965

Last film, "Ship of Fools"

1966

Last stage appearance, "Ivanov"

Photo Collections

A Streetcar Named Desire - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Storm in a Teacup - Publicity Still
Storm in a Teacup - Publicity Still
Caesar and Cleopatra - Vivien Leigh Publicity Still
Caesar and Cleopatra - Vivien Leigh Publicity Still
Gone With the Wind - Wardrobe Stills
Here are several rare wardrobe stills taken for David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind (1939). Such test stills were taken prior to principal photography to approve the look and design of costumes. (Images courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
Dark Journey - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Dark Journey (1937), starring Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Gone With the Wind - Behind-The-Scenes Photos
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind (1939), starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and directed by Victor Fleming and George Cukor.
Gone With the Wind - Vivien Leigh Publicity Stills
Here are several photos of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, taken to publicize Gone With the Wind (1939). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Waterloo Bridge (1940) - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to help publicize the 1940 version of Waterloo Bridge, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Waterloo Bridge (1940) - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few behind-the-scenes photos taken during the making of Waterloo Bridge (1940), starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor.
A Yank at Oxford - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from MGM's A Yank at Oxford (1938), starring Robert Taylor, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Vivien Leigh.
That Hamilton Woman - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for That Hamilton Woman (1941), starring Vivien Leigh. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Vivien Leigh - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills of Vivien Leigh.
Gone With the Wind (1939) Japanese Roadshow Program
This a rare Japanese souvenier program provided to audiences for a 70mm exhibition roadshow of Gone With the Wind (1939). Although no date is given, this was likely from the early or late 70's, when large format roadshows of American classics were common in Asia.

Videos

Movie Clip

That Hamilton Woman (1941) -- (Movie Clip) My Dear Captain Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) thriving as the wife of Sir William (Alan Mowbray), the British ambassador to Naples, grapples with a social problem and meets young Captain Nelson (Laurence Olivier) for the first time, in Alexander Korda's That Hamilton Woman, 1941.
That Hamilton Woman (1941) -- (Movie Clip) By The Queen's Own Hand At odds with history but smartly dressed by designer Rene Hubert, Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) visits her old friend now Admiral Nelson (Laurence Olivier) aboard the Vanguard, shocked at his condition but bearing good news of her influence with the queen of Naples, in Alexander Korda's That Hamilton Woman, 1941.
That Hamilton Woman (1941) -- (Movie Clip) Such Godlike Simplicity The flashback begins, introducing Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), the British ambassador to Naples, and a dazzling double entrance, first by portrait, of young Emma (Vivien Leigh), accompanied by her mother (Sara Allgood), in Alexander Korda's That Hamilton Woman, 1941, also starring Laurence Olivier.
That Hamilton Woman (1941) -- (Movie Clip) Emma, Lady Hamilton Nothing inaccurate in this opening scene, Vivien Leigh as the now dissolute Lady Hamilton, who died in poverty in Calais in 1815, clashing with French authorities, rescued by English Mary (Heather Angel), in Alexander Korda's That Hamilton Woman, 1941, co-starring Laurence Olivier.
That Hamilton Woman (1941) -- (Movie Clip) My Only Idea Of Happiness Still giddy over her social achievements (and reflecting on her disreputable former fiancè) Emma (now-Lady) Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) is awakened in her Naples bedroom, with her excited mother (Sara Allgood) and her fussy ambassador husband (Alan Mowbray) as the leading man (Laurence Olivier, Leigh’s husband, as Captain Nelson) is introduced, in Alexander Korda’s That Hamilton Woman, 1941.
That Hamilton Woman (1941) -- (Movie Clip) What Mood Is This? Now-admiral Nelson (Laurence Olivier), bored with his hero’s welcome in Naples is now evading celebrations, indulging his interest in the title character (Vivien Leigh, Mrs. Olivier, as Emma, Lady Hamilton, wife of the British ambassador), in a tavern when his junior officers (Ronald Sinclair as Josiah) appear, Alexander Korda directing from the original screenplay by Walter Reisch and R.C. Sherriff, in That Hamilton Woman, 1941.
Yank At Oxford, A (1938) -- (Movie Clip) The Mother In You After colliding again with the dean (Edmund Gwenn), Robert Taylor (as American student Lee Sheridan) visits a bicycle shop where he begins his first-ever scene with Vivien Leigh (as frisky faculty wife "Mrs. Craddock"), in the MGM-British production A Yank At Oxford, 1938.
Ship Of Fools (1965) -- (Movie Clip) Don't Bother Getting Up Widow Mary (Vivien Leigh) meets ex-ballplayer Tenny (Lee Marvin), then anti-Semite Rieber (Jose Ferrer) is joined by Dr. Schumann (Oskar Werner), then misfits Glocken (Michael Dunn) and Lowenthal (Heinz Rumann) on board a German liner off Mexico, 1933, in Ship Of Fools, 1965.
Streetcar Named Desire, A (1952) -- (Movie Clip) Napoleonic Code Having ejected her sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) encourages her New Orleans brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando) to continue with his inquiries about her affairs, Elia Kazan directing, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, 1952.
Streetcar Named Desire, A (1952) -- (Movie Clip) Which One Is He? Travel-weary Blanche (Vivien Leigh) finds younger sister Stella (Kim Hunter) at the bowling alley, where she points out husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) early in Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, 1952.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) -- (Movie Clip) You're Bald! Julius Caesar (Claude Rains) dresses for battle with the aid of Brittanus (Cecil Parker) and Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh) in Caesar and Cleopatra, 1945.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) -- (Movie Clip) A Divine Child Julius Caesar (Claude Rains) discovers Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh) in the desert who, unaware of his identity, confides her fear of the Romans in Caesar and Cleopatra, 1945, Gabriel Pascal the director and producer, from the George Bernard Shaw play.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Ernest Richard Hartley
Father
British cavalry officer and stockbroker. Married Leigh's mother in 1911.
Gertrude Robinson Yackje
Mother
Of Irish descent; married Leigh's father in 1911.
Suzanne Farrington
Daughter
Born on October 12, 1933; married insurance broker Robin Farrington in 1957; first child, a son Neville, was born December 1958; had two other sons, Jonathan and Rupert.

Companions

Herbert Leigh Holman
Husband
Solicitor. Married in 1932; divorced in 1940.
Laurence Olivier
Husband
Actor. Born in Surrey, England on May 22, 1907; married on August 30, 1940; divorced in 1960; died on July 11, 1989.
Peter Finch
Companion
Actor. Had affair during 1948 tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Jack Merivale
Companion
Actor. Together from 1960 until Leigh's death.

Bibliography

Notes

Her 1939 Oscar was sold at auction in 1993 for $563,500.

"Even if she had not played Scarlett O'Hara, the most coveted role in movie history, it is probable that Vivien Leigh's striking Dresden Shepherdess beauty would have won her a place among the great stars. She was recognized, even by unbelievers, as one of the beauties of her era: what with that and Scarlett, and for being much of her life Lady Olivier, fame and acclaim rather obscured her actual ability."--David Shipman, in "The Great Movie Stars."

"Behind fragile beauty and sophisticated charm, Miss Leigh harbored a feverish dedication to acting and a tough business sense that drove her to develop constantly an originally modest talent until she became one of the century's great stars ... Away from work Miss Leigh was, according to some who knew her socially, excellent company, sparkling with anecdotes that she told well, and a good listener. She was a woman of poise and education. Her heart-shaped face, green-gray eyes and mobile lovely face were captivating, even after years of illness." --From The New York Times, July 9, 1967.

"She made life hell for everybody near her, unless they did everything she wished, as she wished, and when she wished. Despite which she was surrounded by people who worshipped her and were ready to carry out her whims." --Wolfe Kaufman, quoted in "The Great Movie Stars," by David Shipman.