Showing posts with label Magazine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Magazine. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Double Life of Vivien Leigh

Tops Magazine
February, 1955

The London audience that jammed the theatre to see Vivien Leigh enact the role of Blanche in the sizzling play version of A Streetcar Named Desire will never forget her starkly realistic portrayal of a sex-ridden woman.

Playgoers sat silently in rapt attention as she went through the uninhibited sexual gyrations of a nymphomaniac.

"Miss Leigh's lust," wrote one critic, "rolls off the stage like a tropical storm cloud, causing vague stirrings in old codgers far past their prime."

But it was the closing minutes of the play that would later be regarded with such deep significance-- when the sex-mad heroine, unable to satisfy her craving for more and more lascivious adventures, suffers a complete mental breakdown. Vivien Leigh's real-life breakdown, years later, seems to parallel her Streetcar role in more ways than one.

On the London stage as Blanche Dubois

Even at the height of her success in this play, close friends of the actress were already noting how fervently she was throwing herself into the part. In gesture, in voice, in other ways, Vivien was even acting out the role of a tormented woman off the stage.

That Vivien Leigh was leading a strange double life first came to public notice a few months ago, when it was learned that the actress had made a trip to Paris in the company of playwright Terence Rattigan.

But Vivien's Parisian adventure was not the only incident that has kept London's West End tattlers gossiping about the actress' dual personality.

Actually, it all began when she landed a part in a new play co-starring with one of England's most rapidly rising young stars, Laurence Olivier.

Although Vivien was already married and the mother of a beautiful little girl, she was unable to resist the attentions of Olivier. During the successful run of the play, Fire Over London [Fire Over England], the most torrid love scenes undoubtedly took place backstage.

Friends of Vivien, aware of what was going on, were worried about her. They already knew that for her, love was an all-embracing and overpowering emotion. If sufficiently aroused, she could kick over the traces of her past life.

She did. She divorced her husband, bade her daughter a tearful farewell, and ended the first act of her real-life drama by throwing herself into Olivier's eager arms.

For a while, all was serene. Olivier rapidly became England's greatest actor, culminating in his remarkable production of Hamlet. For his superb artistry, he was knighted. And Vivien automatically became Lady Olivier.

But by now there were ugly rumours in Piccadilly that she was not conducting herself in a lady-like manner.

There were more rumours to the effect that Sir Laurence was keeping a tight rein on his lady-love in a desperate attempt to hold her on the straight-and-narrow.

The public got its first inkling that storm clouds were raging within the Olivier household when Paramount Pictures wired the couple an offer to co-star in Elephant Walk, which would be filmed in Ceylon.

Olivier glanced at the script and instantly turned it down. There was nothing unusual in this -- Olivier had always made the decisions about what plays or scripts they would do.

But then Vivien rebelled -- and accepted the female lead in the film!

Did her action stem from a genuine desire to play the part? Or was it a ruse to place herself beyond the watchful eye of her husband?

Olivier himself was the one who gave credence to this suspicion by insisting that a mutual friend, Peter Finch, be assigned to the picture-- to keep an eye on Vivien.

Vivien Leigh, Peter Finch & Laurence Olivier

Finch obviously took his extracurricular job with a large grain of salt. Dana Andrews, who replaced Olivier in the co-starring role, was seen everywhere with her. And Vivien acted like a changed woman-- happy, carefree, bent on having fun.

Then, something happened. The exact details may never be known, but it is reported that Andrews, her constant companion, was deeply concerned about her behaviour. He urged her to see a psychiatrist. Vivien turned up her beautiful nose at the idea.

"Psychiatrists cause more trouble than any other people in the world. I don't believe in them," she snapped.

At this stage, Peter Finch apparently decided matters had gone too far. He finally told the facts to Sir Laurence, who wasted no time in flying to Ceylon.

What transpired in the privacy of the room where Sir Laurence and his Lady conferred is another aspect of this drama that may forever be shrouded in mystery. The end result was that Vivien, Dana Andrews, and the rest of the company went off to finish the film in Hollywood. Sir Laurence took a plane back to England alone.

And now the scandal-sheets and rumour mongers really had something to go to work on.

One peep-hole artist literally crowed his discovery that, although Vivien was supposed to be living alone in a rented home, actually she was spending most of her time in the apartment of none other than Olivier's trusted pal, Peter Finch!

Another discovered that Vivien was also seeing quite a lot of John Buckmaster, an English actor who was once married to Jan Sterling. Buckmaster and Vivien, so the story went, spent hours together while he taught her the mysteries of Yoga.

It was obvious even tot he technicians at the studio that Vivien's real-life drama was fast nearing its climax.

The breakdown occurred on the set, where she collapsed in hysterics. A psychoanalyst was summoned. And Vivien Leigh's condition became public knowledge. She was forced to withdraw from her role in Elephant Walk, and was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor.

Arriving back in England

What the public did not know was that Vivien's derangement had the effect of erasing her identity as Vivien Leigh. She had become the nymphomaniac in A Streetcar Named Desire -- right down to the sultry southern accent.

The double life of Vivien Leigh merged into a nightmare single entity --that of sex-ridden Blanche of the play.

Fortunately, the real-life drama of Vivien Leigh has a typical Hollywood ending. The actress is now completely well --thanks, mostly, to the devoted love and affection given her in her darkest moments by her husband, Laurence Olivier.

But it is unlikely that Vivien Leigh will ever forget the horrible weeks she spent living a fantastic double life.

Back cover of Tops Magazine

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Screen Album, 1940

The 1940 summer edition of Screen Album promised to have 100 new pictures and 1,000 new facts, inside its covers, of the day's leading actors and actresses. Both Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were featured. They each received one full page, which contained one photograph and a biographical article.

I've typed up both articles, which are definitely products of their time, so they should be read with a big grain of salt. Enjoy!

Vivien Leigh on the cover of Screen Album

~~~Vivien Leigh~~~

Vivien Leigh was the 29th, and last contestant, in Selznick's two year search for Scarlett. Two weeks before, she'd arrived in Hollywood, a modern version of the scarlett woman opposite Laurence Olivier... The story starts on Guy Fawkes Day in Darjeeling, India, with the birth of Vivian Mary Hartley, November 5, 1913. Mother Hartley was on vacation from Calcutta's heat. Her stockbroker husband stayed behind to watch the market.  At six, Vivien was transported to a convent near London. The Indian climate's no recipe for an English complexion. After eight years of British fog, she crossed the channel to a French convent. At sixteen, she was graduated, stage struck, from Mlle Manileve's School for Young Ladies in Paris. She underwent at eighteen months of finishing at Baroness von Roeder's Bavarian seminary before entering the Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

A lighter moment at a hunt ball produced Barrister Herbert Leigh Holman. In three weeks, Miss Hartley was Mrs. Holman. Three more weeks and she was back at the Academy to finish her course. A year later, daughter Suzanne was born. Herbert made a good living, augmented  by a private income. Herbert's wife could afford to harass the agents til she got the right roles. So, as Vivien with an E and, because she loved her husband, surnamed Leigh, she visited agents. Two small film roles got her a part in a play, which led to discovery in the mask of virtue.

She was Vivien now, with the 'e' for glamour and the Leigh for the love of her husband. Hollywood shoved contracts at the most talked about actress since Bankhead. Vivien politely declined in favor of two films per year with Korda. The Holmans, meanwhile, were as happily married as an English lawyer and London celebrity could be. Then came Korda's Fire Over England and-- Laurence Olivier. They'd met a year before in mediocre film. Nothing happened. Now Leigh forgot home and husband to be Shakespeare's mad heroine to Olivier's melancholy Dane. Under love's stimulating influence, their careers went soaring swiftly skyward.

They kissed and parted when the Gold Coast lured Larry in the fall of '38. Vivien languished-- but not for long. December 1st saw them reunited in Hollywood. Sly Larry took her to dinner with agent Myron Selznick, brother of producer David. The brothers Selznick saw the spittin' image of Scarlett O'Hara-- 5'3", 106 pounds, reddish-brown hair that photographs black and green eyes. The identity of Scarlett was revealed to the world. But were their faces scarlet when they discovered the scandal to be hidden from the newshawks! The lovers were warned never to be seen together. A watchman patrolled Leigh's home. It was no use. Neither made any effort to keep their love affair secret. Inseparable, Larry coached his Vivien, taught her how to outwit Gable, the scene stealer.

Atlanta premiere time came and Leigh's ultimatum that she wouldn't join the fun unless Larry came, too. Larry went. Mysteriously absent from New York's premiere, Leigh was with Olivier. News of her divorce broke soon after GWTW. Holman named Olivier co-respondent in an uncontested suit, January 5, 1940. He was awarded custody of Suzanne, now in a convent. On January 29th, Vivien Leigh was named as co-respondent in the Olivier case. Simon Olivier was given to his mother. And it's off with the old, on with the new.

~~~Laurence Olivier~~~

Like so many Britons of talent, Olivier is not really English. The first Olivier in England was French Huguenot. Since then the loyal Oliviers have married French and the name is pronounced O-leev-yay. To make your flesh creep, Olivier tells you his father was a priest, legitimizes himself then by adding "Episcopalian." Priest Gerard Olivier had three children: Gerard, Jr., Larry and Sybille. When his childish treble still had a five year future, Larry was stuffed into an Eton collar and sent after Gerard to choir school. Here they studied catechism, singing and frivolously enough, acting.

At 10, Larry was Brutus to Gerard's Caesar. Four years later, at Stratford-Upon-Avon, the school celebrated Shakespeare's birthday with a presentation of The Taming of the Shrew. Then, at an exclusive public school, Larry had Heathcliff pummeled into his personality. The boys distrusted this choir school exotic who recited catechism and poetry with such fine feeling. Larry's mother had just died and the sensitive kid needed sympathy. He got beatings. His father's remarriage was another bitter blow. Larry went on the stage, resolved never to take another penny of his father's money.

Like any self-made man, Larry speaks proudly of his first humble job. "We called ourselves the Lavatory Players," he says. "We toured God's country. Dressing rooms were scarce and lavatories gave you privacy." Larry soon quit the lavatory squad, but there were those among his new associates who would gladly have kicked him back-- and locked the door. This was Larry's jinx phase. If he took a part, then the play folded, and vice versa. Ruefully, he recalls quitting Journey's End to contest the Beau Brummel role with Maurice Evans. Laurence won and Evans stepped into Journey's End. Brummel folded in a week and JE was a two season sensation.

His unholy talent expanded in America. He made a picture with Ann Harding. She folded. Same thing happened to Elissa Landi. Finally, they gave him Garbo in Queen Christina. Garbo sulked like a girl whose parents have picked her a distasteful bridegroom. Finally, she walked out on him altogether, saying, as she departed, "Life is a pain." She wanted and got Gilbert as a leading man. But at the same time, she'd not only saved herself from the hellbent Landi-Harding path, but broken Olivier's spell.

The last act in this jinx drama was Olivier's expiation. He produced a show himself. Despite a Priestly script and stellar performances by Ralph Richardson and Greer Garson, it flopped-- and the ghosts of plays and players were laid forever from Olivier's conscience.

In '36, he made Fire Over England with MRS. Vivien Leigh Holman. Together they journeyed to Denmark, he to be Hamlet and she to be Ophelia, at Elsinore, original site of the play. On broadway, he met another girl, Miss Jill Esmond. It was lightning love, hitting hard and burning out quickly. Wooed back to Hollywood for Wuthering Heights, his Juliet joined him to do Scarlett opposite Gable. They played Romeo and Juliet on Broadway-- to a poor press and a packed house. With Vivien as Juliet, he really meant that balcony scene. Ordinarily though, this 33 year old professional goes about love scenes thoughtfully. "Kissing," he says, "is a job." By marrying Leigh he'll achieve a very happy medium between business and pleasure.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier on the cover of Plays and Players, October 1955.

Plays and Players was a theatre magazine that began publishing in the 1950's. The magazine deals primarily with the London stage, but mentions noteworthy plays in other major cities. In 1955, Vivien played Viola in Twelfth Night, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. All three plays co-starred her husband, Laurence Olivier.

There is a half page review of Vivien as a Shakespearean actress. It ends with these words: Let nobody say then that Vivien Leigh is a beauty who cannot act, when she is prepared to risk her reputation in parts for which she is physically unsuited, playing them better than most people would have expected. Vivien Leigh is an actress and an adventurous spirit in the theatre, who is prepared to extend her range at a time when most leading ladies are content to go on playing the same type of part over and over again.

How truly amazing it must have been to see Leigh onstage in these roles. It's a shame that none of these plays were ever filmed, so that decades later, other generations could enjoy them.