Vivien Leigh born Vivian Mary Hartley, and styled as Lady Olivier after 1947, 5 November 1913 – 8 July 1967) was an English stage and film actress.
She won two Academy Awards for Best Actress, for her iconic performances as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a role she had also played on stage in London’s West End in 1949. She also won a Tony Award for her work in the Broadway musical version of Tovarich (1963).
After completing her drama school education, Leigh appeared in small roles in four films in 1935 and progressed to the role of heroine in Fire Over England (1937). Lauded for her beauty, Leigh felt that her physical attributes sometimes prevented her from being taken seriously as an actress. Despite her fame as a screen actress, Leigh was primarily a stage performer. During her 30-year career, she played roles ranging from the heroines of Noël Coward and George Bernard Shaw comedies to classic Shakespearean characters such as Ophelia, Cleopatra, Juliet, and Lady Macbeth. Later in life, she performed as a character actress in a few films.
At the time, the public strongly identified Leigh with her second husband, Laurence Olivier, who was her spouse from 1940 to 1960. Leigh and Olivier starred together in many stage productions, with Olivier often directing, and in three films. She earned a reputation for being difficult to work with, and for much of her adult life, she suffered from bipolar disorder, as well as recurrent bouts of chronic tuberculosis, which was first diagnosed in the mid-1940s and ultimately claimed her life at the age of 53 Although her career had periods of inactivity, in 1999 the American Film Institute ranked Leigh as the 16th greatest female movie star of classic Hollywood cinema.
Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on 5 November 1913 in British India on the campus of St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling. She was the only child of Ernest Richard Hartley, a British broker, and his wife, Gertrude Mary Frances . Her father was born in Scotland in 1882, while her mother, a devout Roman Catholic, was born in Darjeeling in 1888 and may have been of Irish and Armenian or Indian ancestry. Gertrude’s parents, who lived in India, were Michael John Yackjee (born 1840), a man of independent means, and Mary Teresa Robinson (born 1856), who was born to an Irish family killed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and grew up in an orphanage, where she met Yackjee; they married in 1872 and had five children, of whom Gertrude was the youngest.Ernest and Gertrude Hartley were married in 1912 in Kensington, London.
In 1917, Ernest Hartley was transferred to Bangalore as an officer in the Indian Cavalry, while Gertrude and Vivian stayed in Ootacamund. At the age of three, young Vivian made her first stage appearance for her mother’s amateur theatre group, reciting “Little Bo Peep”. Gertrude Hartley tried to instill an appreciation of literature in her daughter and introduced her to the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling, as well as stories of Greek mythology and Indian folklore. At the age of six, Vivian was sent by her mother from Loreto Convent, Darjeeling, to the Convent of the Sacred Heart (now Woldingham School) then situated in Roehampton, southwest London. One of her friends there was future actress Maureen O’Sullivan, two years her senior, to whom Vivian expressed her desire to become “a great actress”. She was removed from the school by her father, and travelling with her parents for four years, she attended schools in Europe, notably in Dinard, Biarritz, Sacred Heart in San Remo on the Italian Riviera and Paris, becoming fluent in both French and Italian. The family returned to Britain in 1931. She attended A Connecticut Yankee, one of O’Sullivan’s films playing in London’s West End, and told her parents of her ambitions to become an actress. Shortly after, her father enrolled Vivian at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.
Vivian met Herbert Leigh Holman, known as Leigh Holman, a barrister 13 years her senior, in 1931. Despite his disapproval of “theatrical people”, they married on 20 December 1932 and she terminated her studies at RADA, her attendance and interest in acting having already waned after meeting Holman. On 12 October 1933 in London, she gave birth to a daughter, Suzanne, later Mrs. Robin Farringto.
Merivale proved to be a stabilising influence for Leigh, but despite her apparent contentment, she was quoted by Radie Harris as confiding that she “would rather have lived a short life with Larry [Olivier] than face a long one without him”. Her first husband Leigh Holman also spent considerable time with her. Merivale joined her for a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Latin America that lasted from July 1961 until May 1962, and Leigh enjoyed positive reviews without sharing the spotlight with Olivier. Though she was still beset by bouts of depression, she continued to work in the theatre and, in 1963, won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in Tovarich. She also appeared in the films The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and Ship of Fools (1965).
Leigh’s last screen appearance in Ship of Fools was both a triumph and emblematic of her illnesses that were taking root. Producer and director Stanley Kramer, who ended up with the film, planned to star Leigh but was initially unaware of her fragile mental and physical state. Later recounting her work, Kramer remembered her courage in taking on the difficult role, “She was ill, and the courage to go ahead, the courage to make the film – was almost unbelievable.” Leigh’s performance was tinged by paranoia and resulted in outbursts that marred her relationship with other actors, although both Simone Signoret and Lee Marvin were sympathetic and understanding. In one unusual instance during the attempted rape scene, Leigh became distraught and hit Marvin so hard with a spiked shoe that it marked his face. Leigh won the L’Étoile de Cristal for her performance in a leading role in Ship of Fools.
In May 1967 Leigh was rehearsing to appear with Michael Redgrave in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance when her tuberculosis recurred. Following several weeks of rest, she seemed to recover. On the night of 7 July 1967, Merivale left her as usual at their Eaton Square flat to perform in a play, and he returned home just before midnight to find her asleep. About 30 minutes later (by now 8 July), he entered the bedroom and discovered her body on the floor. She had been attempting to walk to the bathroom and, as her lungs filled with liquid, she collapsed and suffocated. Merivale first contacted her family and later was able to reach Olivier, who was receiving treatment for prostate cancer in a nearby hospital. In his autobiography, Olivier described his “grievous anguish” as he immediately travelled to Leigh’s residence, to find that Merivale had moved her body onto the bed. Olivier paid his respects, and “stood and prayed for forgiveness for all the evils that had sprung up between us”, before helping Merivale make funeral arrangements; Olivier stayed until her body was removed from the flat.
Her death was publicly announced on 8 July, and the lights of every theatre in central London were extinguished for an hour. A Catholic service for Leigh was held at St. Mary’s Church, Cadogan Street, London. Her funeral was attended by the luminaries of British stage and screen. According to the provisions of her will, Leigh was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were scattered on the lake at her summer home, Tickerage Mill, near Blackboys, East Sussex, England. A memorial service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields, with a final tribute read by John Gielgud. In 1968 Leigh became the first actress honoured in the United States, by “The Friends of the Libraries at the University of Southern California”. The ceremony was conducted as a memorial service, with selections from her films shown and tributes provided by such associates as George Cukor, who screened the tests that Leigh had made for Gone with the Wind, the first time the screen tests had been seen in 30 years.Agency.