Legendary actress, Vivien Leigh, was born Vivian Mary Hartley on Nov 5, 1913 in Darjeeling, British India. [now India]. Leigh appeared in 20 films. Her best known films include Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, That Hamilton Woman and Anna Karenina. Leigh died at the age of 53 on Jul 7, 1967 in Belgravia, London and was cremated and her ashes scattered on lake at home in Sussex England.
Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5, 1913 in Darjeeling, Bengal Presidency of then-British India. Her father, Ernest, was an English military officer stationed in India and her mother, Gertrude, was a devout catholic with a high appreciation for the arts. She began to install these same cultural values in her child at a young age. Gertrude would read to her daughter the works of Lewis Carroll and Rudolph Kipling while introducing her to the magical worlds of Greek and Indian folklore. At the age of six, Leigh attended the Covent of Sacred Heart boarding school in London. She later traveled through Europe with her father, getting an eclectic education from different schools in differing countries. After seeing childhood friend, Maureen O'Sullivan, in a play at the West End, Vivien became interested in acting as a career. She enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but soon after ended her studies after marrying first husband, Herbert Leigh Holman.
Although no longer enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Leigh was offered a small part in film Things Are Looking Up. The role marked her feature film debut. In 1935 she was cast in the play The Mask of Virtue. The play was hit, receiving excellent reviews and shooting the young actress into theatrical stardom. Soon after she signed by British producer Alexander Korda, who moved the play to larger venue. Unfortunately, Leigh was unable to project her voice and the play closed soon after. Korda then decided to who cast in her the 1937 film Fire Over England opposite Laurence Olivier and the two began an affair. She continued to divide her time between the stage and film and in 1937, she was chosen to the role of Ophelia in Olivier's production of Hamlet at the Old Vic theatre. It was at this time Olivier began to notice Leigh's moments of lapsed sanity. The next year, she was loaned to MGM for A Yank at Oxford opposite Robert Tyler. Her next film was opposite Charles Laughton in St. Martins Lane. At this time Leigh had read Margret Michelle's great Civil War Romance Epic Gone With the Wind, to which publicly pronounced she would star in the film adaptation.
Gone With The Wind
As Leigh entered Hollywood is 1938, the United States was abuzz in the "search for Scarlet O'Hara." The young actress was determined to get the role that all of Hollywood coveted and sent her agent straight to David O Selznick. Selznick, who had seen Leigh in Fire Over England was impressed with performance and allowed for Leigh to have a screen test. It was the films then director, George Cukor, who solidified the casting choice, feeling her the perfect Scarlett O'Hara despite her haughty British nature. Although initially elated to get the role she publically announced she would play, filming of the epic proved difficult for Leigh. She professionally clashed with director Victor Fleming, who was brought on board after the Cukor was fired. She also personally missed Laurence Olivier, who was in New York doing theatre at the time. Despite the difficulties, the film launched her into international superstardom and to the surprise of no one at all, the film was smash hit - loved by critics and audiences alike. It was highest grossing film that Hollywood had seen since Birth of a Nation and received 10 Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Lead Actress. For her work Leigh not only won the Oscar but the New York Film Critics Awards as well.
Hollywood and The Stage
Leigh's follow up to the classic epic was the 1940 tragic love story, Waterloo Bridge opposite Robert Taylor. In the film, Leigh plays ballerina who falls in love with a wealthy solider. While away at war, she get word he has been killed and slowly slips into a tragic, lonely life of prostitution only to be reunited with her "dead" solider in a moment of utter heartbreak. Later that year, she starred with now husband, Laurence Olivier, in Olivier's Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet. Due to the adulterous nature of relationship, critics were not kind very the couple's daring production and the two lost much of their life savings to the project. Their next collaboration, the 1941 film That Hamilton Woman, proved far more successful and was an in international hit that was even supported by Winston Churchill. Next, she and Oliver embarked on tour through North Africa for Allied troops but soon Leigh was diagnosed with tuberculosis and required to remain bedridden in a hospital until recovery. She then suffered a miscarriage in 1944 while filming Caesar and Cleopatra and sunk into a deep depression. She remained inactive for a year, suffering mental breakdown related to her undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She returned to the stage in 1946 for the London production of The Skin of Our Teeth. Although the play was a hit, her subsequent film, Anna Karenina, didn't fair well with critics or at the box office.
In 1948, she became officially known as Lady Olivier after Laurence's knighting ceremony. The pair then began a six-week fund raising tour of Australia for the Old Vic Theatre. The tour proved unbearably taxing on Leigh and her relationship with Olivier. Her episodes of mental instability became more frequent and sometimes violent. Despite the troubles, illness, and exhaustion faced Leigh and Olivier, the tour was considered massively successful by all those involved. With the success of the Australia tour still fresh in their minds, the Oliver made their first West End appearance together in the Greek classic, Antigone.
In 1949 she starred as Blanche DuBois in the West End Production of Tennessee William's southern tragedy, A Street Car Named Desire. Once again he sound herself as the toast of theatre critics with her performance of the beautiful yet tragic Southern Belle. The show ran for an impressive 326 performances and in 1952, Leigh traveled to Hollywood to star opposite Marlon Brando in the Elia Kazan's film adaptation. The film managed to woo both critics and audiences, with Leigh winning her second Academy Award, and a BAFTA for her performance. Even Tennessee Williams himself said Leigh was a more than perfect Blanche DuBois. She continued to work on the stage, performing a rotating performance of Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra and Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra on Broadway. During this time, however, her mental health was in a state of perpetual collapse. She was fired from 1953's Elephant Walk due to mental breakdown and began an affair with co-star Peter Finch. She continued to make stage appearances with Olivier and despite their failing marriage both received glowing reviews for their work during the 1955 season at the Statford-upon-Avon. In 1958, she received notable success for her turn in the Noel Coward comedy Look After Lulu. By 1960, her marriage to Olivier was over and the two filed for divorced.
Later Life and Death
After her divorce, she continued to work despite her depression. She once again toured Australia, this time adding New Zealand and South America to the mix and was happy to received good reviews without Oliver. In 1963, she was cast in the Broadway Musical Tovarich for which she was award a Tony Award for Best Lead Actress. In 1965, Leigh made her final film appearance in the Stanley Kramer ensemble Ship of Fools. While preparing for the Production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, Leigh's tuberculosis resurfaced. Vivien Leigh was found dead by her partner, Jack Merivale, on July 8th 1957 in her East Suxxex apartment due to her tuberculosis. She was 53 years old.
HONORS and AWARDS:.
|1939||Best Actress||Gone with the Wind (1939)||Scarlett O'Hara||Won|
|1951||Best Actress||A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)||Blanche DuBois||Won|
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Emma: ...and I forgot London, and the old ways. I was young. I healed quickly. I learned French and Italian, music and dancing. And one day, I had more than I ever dreamed of. I became his wife... Emma, Lady Hamilton.
Blanche DuBois: I know I fib a good deal. After all, a woman's charm is 50% illusion.
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