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Thursday, December 3, 2009


It's that time again! Another month, another fantastic artist to be celebrated! This month is dedicated to Vivien Leigh, the woman who will be forever known as Scarlett O'Hara, but who possessed within herself the grace, power and dignity of multiple characters-- none of whom were more fascinating than herself.

A woman of great contradiction and determination, Vivien was born in India, raised in England, and remembered as a Southern Belle. She liked to toss back a gin and tonic with the boys and curse like a sailor, but always carried herself with grace and demanded that she be treated like a lady. One of the most gorgeous women to grace the silver screen, she actually despised the words "Beautiful" and "Pretty." She was loving, caring and gracious to all of her friends, but she possessed within her a hunger for personal fulfillment and success, which did not include the trappings of fame but the simple ability to work on her craft. A spitfire, Vivien always got what she wanted, including the role of Scarlett O'Hara, which was a long-shot for any actress, let alone an unknown, English one. It seemed that there was no battle that she could not win!

Sadly, the true "battle" Vivien was constantly waging took place within. The manifestation of her latent Bi-Polar Disorder did much to rupture an already complex and contradictory human being and nearly tore her apart from the inside out, as well as endangering her personal and professional relationships. As she grew older, Vivien's nerves and emotions were out of control, tugging her violently back and forth between moments of hysterical anger and fits of obsessive sobbing. She suffered from insomnia and used to slap her beloved, and startled, Laurence Olivier awake in the middle of the night. Even on film sets, Vivien, the consummate professional and perfectionist, was sometimes unable to control her manic vacillations, and would lash out irrationally at co-stars, crew members, and the all-mighty directors she worked with. When the dark cloud in her eyes lifted, she would supplicate herself before her victims, ashamed and embarrassed at her behaviors, which she was unfortunately unable to control. Her deep grief and apologies touched those around her and made it impossible for them to refuse her forgiveness. Many would remark on her great courage and lack of self-pity. Vivien, in her later life, would go in for her regular ECT treatments, which left burn marks on her temples, and still go onstage at night for a performance. She refused to lie down and die. She battled her demons constantly, and-- though she died young of a tubercular infection-- I believe she conquered them.

Many remark today that she is overrated, perhaps because they remember her only for her two most famous roles, Scarlett and Blanche DuBois, both of which garnered her Academy Awards. Perhaps she is under-appreciated because some of her best work was on the London stage, which we obviously cannot appreciate now. Perhaps her talent, as it was in her lifetime, remains overshadowed by the legendary talents of her 2nd husband, Mr. Olivier, against whom any would pale in comparison. Finally, it may be that her acting style seems outmoded after the emergence of the Method actors, who elevated film acting to a whole new level, as Vivien and her Larry Boy had done a generation before. This is truly criminal, for Vivien remains the most fascinating part of any film she appeared in, even when the ravages of her mental and physical illnesses were apparent. She always possessed a great stillness that bottled a raging inner passion. In her eyes, one can see the wheels spinning, the emotions forever swimming. In watching Viv, it is the little things that make her power enormous. From Gone with the Wind, to That Hamilton Woman, to Ship of Fools, she remains a force to be reckoned with. So, don't fight it! Just sit back and enjoy!!!

Happy December!!!


  1. Great bio! I'd never heard about her bipolar disorder but you can definitely see a strong sense of passion in her expressions, even behind the demure ones.

    P.S. I tagged you with an award at my site:

  2. My parents saw her on stage: at "Titus Andronicus" and at "La Dame aux Camelias". Unforgetable, the yused to say...

  3. Emma: Thanks as always for your comments. And Thank You for the award! I am very flattered and glad that you are getting something out of my pieces.

    Tertulias: I am so envious!!! I would give anything to have been able to see her on stage. You parents are very lucky! "Unforgettable" seems to be the best of possible words to describe Viv.

    Have a great weekend guys!!! ;)

  4. Great bio!
    Vivien Leigh is my favourite actress. She was so beautiful and talented, but it pains me to know what she went through in her private life.

  5. So true, Nicki. I still think she is the most gorgeous woman ever. I am impressed with her acting more and more every time I see anything she did. There are so many subtle, little things that make each performance unique and brilliant. Thanks for the comments :) Have a great week!!!

  6. Vivien Leigh is amazing, it saddens me when people say she's overrated because she actually deserved the praise she gets as an actress, and she was a very brave and admirable person. I adore her and Olivier, I think they were fascinating as a couple. I'm so glad i ran across this post! there can never be enough Vivien Leigh love!

    Your blog is fascinating by the way. I live near LA, and love going sight seeing for old movie star locales :)


  7. Kendra, I totally agree. Whenever someone says they think she is overrated I stare at them wide-eyed and think: "Are you out of your mind?!?!" With two sites devoted to her and Larry, I can see you are a true fan. I think that is lovely. I look forward to digging into both of them and learning new things. Take care, and thanks for reading :)

  8. Elia Kazan in his amazing, nearly 1,000 page autobiography "A Life" wrote that he didn't think Leigh was a great actress, but he followed that statement with the acknowledgement that she possessed an inner determination like no other, as you have also pointed out. Kazan saw her complete commitment to getting a great performance, and she did that as Blanche DuBois.

    I just discovered your blog last night and love it!