A Tribute to Vivien Leigh
For all her acclaim and popularity as a star, Vivien Leigh, born Vivien Mary Hartley on November 5, 1913 in Darjeeling, India, made only 20 films from 1935 to 1965. Most of them were made in the 1930s. Ms. Leigh’s relatively short life (and career) was indeed a series of ups and downs, strangely mirroring the manic-depression (now known as bipolar disorder) with which she was diagnosed.
On the “up” side, she married the great love of her life and one of the world’s finest actors, Sir Laurence Olivier, and acted with him on the British stage for 20 years. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in one of the most popular films ever made, Gone With the Wind, a role that she basically “lucked” into as a relative unknown, beating out several of Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses. She won a second Oscar for her role in A Streetcar Named Desire, appearing opposite another of the world’s great acting talents, Marlon Brando, in only his second film. She was widely considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses in the world.
On the “down” side, she spent much of her childhood in a convent school, where she was reportedly quite lonely (though she developed a friendship with Maureen O’Sullivan), then suffered a failed marriage that began at a too-early age. Her second marriage, to Olivier, also ended in divorce, in 1960. She struggled with alcoholism and mental illness most of her life, was a heavy smoker, and died of tuberculosis at the young age of 53.
Still, Vivien Leigh left us with some very memorable performances, and was voted among the top 20 classic actresses in 1999’s American Film Institute’s 100 Years 100 Stars poll. Be sure to visit the tribute sites listed in Part II (all of which present her life and career much more enjoyably than I could in this limited space). You’ll find movie reviews, video sources, photos, books, and posters in Parts III and IV.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Books, Photos, Art, and Posters