Monday, July 7, 2014

In Memoriam 1913 - 1967

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Vivien Leigh, who passed away at the young age of 53, from tuberculosis. She worked hard her entire life to be successful at her craft. For myself, and many others, she is the world's greatest stage and screen actress.

From the child who announced she would not sing, but recite; to the starlet who captured the world's imagination as Scarlett; to the award-winning actress who gave herself completely to each of her roles; today, we mourn the world's loss and celebrate the life Vivien lived.

Vivian Mary Hartley and her mother Gertrude Hartley
Vivien was born in India in November 1913 to British parents. At the age of 6, she was sent to a convent school in England and only saw her parents sporadically over the next few years. It was here that Vivien made the decision to one day "become a great actress."

Vivien on her wedding day to Leigh Holman
Vivien married a barrister, Leigh Holman, at the age of 19. She gave birth to her only child in 1933, a daughter she named Suzanne. Shortly after her daughter's birth, Vivien returned to the acting world. Her breakout role came from the play The Mask of Virtue as the courtesan, Henriette, in 1935. Her uncommon beauty and mesmerizing performance turned the critics on their ears and they dubbed her the Fame In A Night girl. Film companies took note and the offers poured in to sign her. She accepted an offer from Alexander Korda's company, London Film Productions, for 50,000 GBP for five years.

The Mask of Virtue
Shortly after this, she began a torrid affair with a married actor named Laurence Olivier. This affair culminated with the two of them leaving their respective spouses in 1937, so they could move in together and live as a couple. In August 1940, after obtaining divorces, and after they each had made cinematic history, Larry as Heathcliff and Vivien as Scarlett, the two married quietly in California.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
World War II broke out and the Oliviers, being very patriotic, returned home to England. In 1943, Vivien went on a North Africa tour for the troops, even performing for a visiting King of England.

The Doctor's Dilemma
In addition to her film roles, Vivien often portrayed characters on the stage and tackled numerous plays, including a few by Shaw and Shakespeare. She said she preferred being on the stage to making movies, a sentiment shared by Olivier.

Duel of Angels
Larry and Vivien remained married until 1960. After her divorce, Vivien continued to act and made her final two movies, "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" and "Ship of Fools." She also went on a world tour with her companion, Jack Merivale. Marriage rumours circulated around the two, but those rumours were in vain.

Jack Merivale and Vivien, 1961
Late Friday night, on July 7, 1967, Vivien was found in her bedroom by her partner, Jack Merivale. He recalled, "And I... looked in the bedroom and there she was, asleep, with Poo Jones curled up beside her. And I went into the kitchen to make myself some soup out of a tin. I had that and I went back into the bedroom, and she was lying on the floor. So I tried to wake her, with no result, and then she wasn't breathing so I tried mouth to mouth resuscitation, what I knew of it, and no result whatsoever. Then I was pretty sure she was dead." She had passed away, leaving this world far too soon, at the age of 53.

Vivien Leigh, 1965
Saturday night, July 8th, London's theater district went dark for an hour in tribute.

At her memorial service, her good friend Emlyn Williams read the following lines from John Donne:

She, to whom all this world was but a stage.
Where all sat hark'ning how her youthful age
Should be employ'd, because in all she did
Some Figure of the Golden times was hid.
Who could not lack, whate'er this world could give,
Because she was the form, that made it live.

Rest in Peace, Vivien.