Vivien Leigh Overview:

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.

Early Life

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.

Early Career

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.

Later Career

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.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Vivien Leigh was nominated for two Academy Awards, winning for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind (as Scarlett O'Hara) and A Streetcar Named Desire (as Blanche DuBois) in 1939 and 1951 respectively.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1939Best ActressGone with the Wind (1939)Scarlett O'HaraWon
1951Best ActressA Streetcar Named Desire (1951)Blanche DuBoisWon

She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. In addition, Leigh was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 1990.

BlogHub Articles:

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By Jennifer Garlen on Jul 10, 2023 From Virtual Virago

As I was walking from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I came across this sweet little tribute to legendary actress . Best remembered today for Oscar winning film roles as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in A Str... Read full article

On Blu-ray: and Robert Taylor in Waterloo Bridge (1940)

By KC on Dec 4, 2020 From Classic Movies

made so few films that every opportunity to see her is a great pleasure. She achieved one of her best screen performances in Waterloo Bridge (1940). I recently watched the World War I-set romantic tragedy on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive. Adapted from a Robert E. Sherwood pl... Read full article

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During this isolated time of quarantine, I?ve been catching up on some of my favorite conversations with the classic movie artists that I love. One of the greatest conversations I?ve ever seen among show biz folk occurred in 1958 on Small World, a TV show created by award-winning radio and TV broadc... Read full article

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By Kat_Selby on Mar 18, 2018 From All Good Things

Welcome to Day #19 of MARCH MADNESS! Every day in March, ALL GOOD THINGS will highlight a Classic film Super-star, you know, the type renowned for really, really B.A.D. to sweetest-dearest-most darling! DAY #18 results: FRED MacMURRAY seems to be equally loved whether playing tender or tough and i... Read full article

as Scarlett O’Hara: Movie History’s Most Iconic Character

By Virginie Pronovost on Nov 5, 2016 From The Wonderful World of Cinema

Today, on November 5th, the fascinating and tragic would have turned 103. Unfortunately, this lady who had the beauty of a goddess left us too soon at the age of 53 in 1967. But will never be forgotten had she had made her proofs as a talented actress, both in movies and on... Read full article

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Vivien Leigh Quotes:

Rhett Butler: So, you see I shall have to marry you.
Scarlett: I've never heard of such bad taste.
Rhett Butler: Would you be more convinced if I fell to my knees?
Scarlett: Turn me loose, you varmint, and get out of here!
Rhett Butler: Forgive me for startling you with the impetuosity of my sentiments, my dear Scarlett. I mean, my dear Mrs. Kennedy. But it cannot have escaped your notice that for some time past the friendship I have felt for you has ripened into a deeper feeling. A feeling more beautiful, more pure, more sacred. Dare I name it? Can it be love?
Scarlett: Get up off your knees! I don't like your common jokes!
Rhett Butler: This is an honorable proposal of marriage made at what I consider a most opportune moment. I can't go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands.
Scarlett: You're coarse, and you're conceited. And I think this conversation has gone far enough.

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.

Emma: [shocked after seeing Lord Nelson's wounds] They told us of your victories but not of the price you paid!

read more quotes from Vivien Leigh...

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Vivien Leigh Facts
After Joan Crawford quit filming Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) Leigh was offered her role but she, however, turned it down. Olivia de Havilland, Leigh's co-star in Gone with the Wind (1939) was then offered and accepted the role.

She took her then husband's first name (Leigh) as her last name when she began acting professionally.

As of 2008, she is only one of six actors who have a 2-0 winning record when nominated for an acting Oscar. The others are Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937); Helen Hayes for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931) and Airport (1970); Sally Field for Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984); Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects (1995) and American Beauty (1999); and Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry (1999) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).

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