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Favorite Vivien movie: Gone With The Wind (1939), Waterloo Bridge (1940) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

That's one of the two words in the English language I most detest - Pretty, and the other is beautful.~Vivien

In my opinion the greatest and most beautiful actress that has ever been seen by anyone! Stage or screen! Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Hartley on November 5th 1913 in Darjeeling, West Bengal, British India which is now India. She was the only child to Ernest and Gertrude Hartley. When she was only six she was sent off to the Convent of the Sacred Heart. She was two years younger than anyone there, but she quickly became a popular student. This is where she got a bug for acting. The school put on many plays and because it was an all girls' school Vivien played a lot of male parts. She thought these were more interesting then the female parts. In 1927, when Vivien was 13, her parents moved to England and since they were wealthy they decided to go traveling. They took Vivien with them and she finished her schooling in Italy, France and Austria. When Vivien finished school in 1932 she announce she wanted to be an actress and enrolled at the Royal Academy Dramatic Art in May.

A few months before enrolling she met Herbert Leigh Holman, other wise known as 'Leigh.' He bore a striking resemblance to Vivien's favorite actor, Leslie Howard. She fell in love and in July of 1932 Leigh purposed. They were married in December of that year. She had discontinued her schooling because Leigh did not want her to be an actress. She went back a few weeks after then were married. However, soon after, Vivien became pregnant. She had a daughter, Suzanne, in October 1933, one month prematurely.

She then went back to work eventually getting small parts in films. Her strong screen persona was yet to come through. She also appeared in a theater production that also failed. None of the films were successful. Her last name was changed to Leigh, from her husband, and the a in Vivian was changed into an e. Finally in 1935 she appeared in a theater production of The Mask Of Virtue. She got rave reviews and become a big star in Britain. During this time she had gone to several plays herself, all starring an up and coming actor named Laurence Olivier. She became infatuated immediately and is claimed to have said that she was going to be his wife. All this before they even met.

Their affair began in 1936. At this point neither of them wanted to leave their spouse. Olivier was married to Jill Esmond and had a new-born son. In 1937 they were both cast in the film Fire Over England. By that time it was impossible to contain themselves any longer. The affair was known by both spouses, but neither Leigh Holman or Jill Esmond would a grant a divorce to their spouse. Even so, Esmond understood that she would eventually lose her husband. Holman thought it was an infatuation that would extinguish itself.

When they returned from co-starring in the stage production of Hamlet they both decided to live together, but neither spouse granted a divorce. In 1938 Olivier went to Hollywood to star in American films. Vivien went over as well, to be with Larry and to go after the role of Scarlett in Gone With The Wind.

Vivien signed with Larry's American agent who also happened to be David 'O Selznick's (the producer of Gone With The Wind) brother, Myron Selznick. The particular day that Myron brought Vivien to the set of Gone With The Wind they were filming the scene of the burning of Atlanta. Just as Vivien was brought up the fire lit up her face. It's easy to say that Selznick was taken back because Vivien then got a screen test. There were still a few other actresses in the running, but Vivien was told she had the part on Christmas day 1938.

It's not many actors who can completely take a part, as if it were actually written for them. The thought of anyone else playing Scarlett O' Hara is preposterous. Of course, I'm totally biased. The Academy was obviously impressed with her and the film. She won the best actress Oscar for 1939.

In 1940 Vivien made what was later to be her favorite of all her films, Waterloo Bridge. Vivien wanted Larry to star along side her, but Robert Taylor was instead cast. Vivien had no problem with it, she got along fine with Taylor. And since Vivien's star had risen since her role as Scarlett her affair with Laurence Olivier was starting to become known. So, finally, both Vivien and Larry's spouses agreed to divorces, with Holman granted full custody of their daughter, Suzanne. Vivien and Larry were married on August 31st just a minute past midnight.

Vivien and Larry's first (and only) film together as husband and wife was That Hamilton Woman, release in 1941. It was also the last film Vivien would make for four more years. She certainly didn't take a break. Vivien was a known work-a-holic. She starred in several stage productions such as The Doctor's Dilemma in 1942, The Skin Of Our Teeth in 1942, 1945 and 1946 and The School For Scandal in 1942 and again in 1946 and 1949.

Her next film role was in the 1945 film Caesar and Cleopatra also starring Claude Rains as Caesar. It was during the production that Vivien suffered her first of two miscarriages. Around this time signs of mental illness began to show.

In 1948 she starred in the film Anna Karenina. The story was an adaptation of the novel by Leo Tolstoy. Vivien's version was called "a beautiful disaster." The 1935 version starring Greta Garbo and Fredric March is the more popular version.

The next year Vivien starred in a British stage production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire directed by her husband, Laurence Olivier. Vivien played tragic Blanche DuBois, a character whom she played perfectly because, unfortunately, she was too much alike. In 1950 a film production was set to be made. Seven of the actors from the Broadway version reprised their roles. Jessica Tandy played Blanche in the Broadway version, but the role was given to Vivien to add more "star power." Williams also said something along the lines that Vivien nailed the part better then Tandy ever did. Friends thought it was a mistake for her to do both the stage and film version. For this is what set her back even farther in her manic depressive state. The film came out in 1951 and Vivien won her second best actress Oscar. During times after this there have been reports that sometimes Vivien couldn't separate her own life from that of Blanche DuBois.

Although her mental illness was affecting her marriage with Olivier she did not let it affect her work. She starred in over 15 more stage productions from 1953 to 1966, some alongside Olivier. Her next film was The Deep Blue Sea in 1955.

In 1960 Vivien and Larry divorced after 20 years of marriage. He could no long take the results of Vivien's attacks caused by her mental illness. In his autobiography, Confessions Of An Actor Larry says: After six years of contending with the anguishes of this disease, my whole nature was in revolt against further voluntary torture. By degrees, calculated so as not to exacerbate her condition, the break must be made. Vivien granted him a divorce and he married his The Entertainer co-star, Joan Plowright.

Neither one ever stopped loving each other. Vivien always kept a photograph of Larry beside her bed and her luggage still had the initials 'V.O.' on them up to her death.

In 1960 Vivien starred in a play called Duel Of Angels alongside Jack Merivale. Merivale and Vivien hadn't met in almost 20 years. Although, during her divorce from Olivier she became dependant on him and even said she loved him even though she was still in love with Olivier till the end of her life. Merivale provided love and comfort in a time when Vivien needed him most and Vivien called him Angel.

In 1961 she starred alongside Merivale again in The Twelfth Night. She also starred in her last major screen role in The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone alongside Warren Beatty.

In 1963 she starred in the Broadway play Tovarich and won her first and only Tony award. In 1965 she starred in the play The Contessa and her last film Ship Of Fools. And in 1966 she starred in her final play Ivano.

Vivien had had tuberculosis one time earlier in her life. She hadn't taken proper care, but it had gone away. In 1967 she got the disease again. At the end of May a doctor was summoned to her home in which he took an X-ray. He found that the tuberculosis had flared violently and she was ordered to three months bed rest with no cigarettes or alcohol.

Friend Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and his wife went to visit Vivien on July 7th 1957. He recalled that she was sitting up arranging flowers in a vase beside bed. She chatted, although still weak from the illness. At 11:30 p.m. Merivale found Vivien on the floor. She was dead.

Fairbanks delivered the news to Olivier and Fairbanks recalls: Larry had his own life elsewhere, and I broke the news to Larry that Vivien had gone. And I remember there was a long long silence. And just seemed that their whole life was running through his mind like a speeded up film story. And he just sighed deeply and said, 'poor dear little Vivien,'and that was it.

Her whole life Vivien Leigh produced an image of beauty, class and grace. In my opinion she was one of the most underrated actresses, only remembered to some as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. And to many they don't even know her name, due to the fact probably that she only starred in 19 films and only nine of them were after Gone With The Wind. She had a talent and a beauty that none have seen before or since. She is truly one-of-a-kind and will always be my absolute favorite star and my idol.

How I'll always remember Ms. Leigh:



Oscar nominations and wins. * indicates a win

1939 (12th) ACTRESS * Vivien Leigh -- Gone with the Wind {"Scarlett O'Hara"}

1951 (24th) ACTRESS * Vivien Leigh -- A Streetcar Named Desire {"Blanche DuBois"}




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