Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Knight Was Made For Love

Confidential
March, 1961
by John Blough

About the only thing missing in the recent divorce of Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh to make it the most adroit comedy of manners in many years was a credit line for Noel Coward.

For here, observers are generally agreed, is a matrimonial mix-up that screams for the classic Coward coolness, where everybody was very nice, old chaps, even if there was a deuced lot of cheating going on. The kind of stuff, in short, that has made deah Nuhl's plays tops in weird love situations.

Conditioned to seeing such things on the stage, the general public nevertheless sat bolt upright when the Olivier-Leigh design for living and loving was revealed recently.


Sir Larry, it seems, chaps, admitted adultery with a gal named Joan Plowright in a London hotel and Lady Olivier, so help us, said she had been a bit more than indiscreet. In fact a bit more than once; two times, to put it succinctly, once in Ceylon and again in London. Like a true blue British Lady, though, Vivien didn't name the gentlemen involved in these far off Broadway personal productions of Twice Upon a Mattress. 

Triangles, of course, are nothing new, offstage or on, and therefore you can't be blamed for asking: "So what's unusual about this situation? Here's Larry, a handsome gent, going for another girl? Blimey, it's done more times than you can shake a private eye at."

And of course it's done, chums! But what makes his case even curiouser is the fact that the lass Larry lolled about with happened to be married to a TV actor named Roger Gage. Yet Roger, to everyone's surprise, admitted he had committed adultery, too. In, of all places, Helsinki, which seems like a long way to go for a roll in the hay.

There you have it, a four way adultery tablet, which the Court seemed to swallow as easily as a cold tablet with the same quadruple benefits. Only in this case it would have been cheaper for Sir Larry to stick with the bottle instead of the babe, because the Court assessed him the cost of both cases; to wit, Olivier vs. Olivier; and Gage vs. Gage.

Joan Plowright, with her first husband, Roger Gage
Thus, as Time might put it, after 20 years of marriage, no children, came divorce to Sir Larry and Lady Olivier.

But if Time put it that way, friends, they would have missed a pip of a story, because the saga of Sir Larry and his Lady is a lulu. In the first place, the recent divorce action brought Larry's love life to full circle, a coincidence generally missed by the raised eyebrows set.

It started with a kiss and ended with a kiss. Only the women were different.

At the time he met Vivien, Larry, then without that impressive Sir subsequently appended to his name, was very much married to a good looking actress named Jill Esmond. They were rapidly gaining distinction as a husband and wife team; but at the time Vivien blew into Larry's life he was playing solo at a London theatre, the star of Fire Over England.

Well, sir, faster than you could say Hamlet's soliloquy, Larry was rhapsodizing over his new costar, who happened to be beautiful, charming and all those things a guy sees when he first gets that way over a dame. The girl, natch, was Vivien and the fact that, in addition to being desirable, she was also married seemed not to bother Larry. In no time at all, the Fire Over England being acted onstage, was a pitiful glow compared to the roaring blaze Larry and Vivien were generating backstage.

As the conflagration spread, fanned by the winds of gossip, Vivien's husband, a London lawyer named Herbert Leigh Holman, got downwind of it and what he smelled seemed more like something out of Denmark than out of a Chanel bottle. Mrs. Olivier, the charming Jill, also sensed that more was in the wind than dramatics, but before any action was taken, Jill found herself jilted and Holman found himself minus a wife.

Because when Fire Over England folded, Larry and his new-found love loaded their make-up kits on a Cunarder, crossed the Big Pond, and set up housekeeping in Hollywood. Behind them they left Larry's son, Tarquin, and Vivien's daughter, Suzanne.

To romantic souls, only great devotion could have caused two such notable public figures to commit desertion. Certainly the love they bore for one another served to prove it. They were so enslaved by Eros that three years passed before either of them appeared to notice they hadn't been married. In the meantime, Larry had introduced Vivien to David O. Selznick, who was then on a talent hunt for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind; she tested for the role and the rest is history. Both Vivien and Larry went onward and upward with the Arts, success dogging their every footstep.

To Hollywood they were a perfectly matched couple; they were both talented and easy to look at, even if they did seem, at the time, to have eyes only for each other.

I never saw a happier couple, Katharine Hepburn, echoing the sentiments of the Oliviers' circle, remarked when the couple were finally married. The wedding, which caught most of Hollywood by surprise, took place at Ronald Colman's ranch at Santa Barbara, long a favorite spot where the British elite wold meet to eat, munch crumpets and compare bankbooks.

The honeymoon was scarcely over when Vivien, a ball of fire on screen as well as off, was stricken with TB and sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland. During the years she remained there, Larry visited her regularly and, to all appearances, was a perfect model of an upright husband.

But he also had his career to consider. Triumph followed on triumph for him and, as always happens, beautiful women heaved themselves whole-heartedly at him. They got short shrift for all their short breaths. Larry seemed determined to surround himself with males for protection and for companionship. Thus, if Vivien did hear stories of the way sirens schemed to play offstage Juliet to her romantic Romeo, Larry's friends could assure her it was just so much nonsense.

Naturally, Vivien had her fears for Larry, a friend of the couple recalls. What woman wouldn't worry about another female taking her man away from her? But when she realized that Larry welcomed the company of men-- when he didn't have her around-- she was persuaded their marriage was still valid.

Once she was released from the sanitarium, Vivien again fitted perfectly into the pre-togetherness picture the loving couple had conjured up for themselves. When WWII broke out, they worked tirelessly in the war effort, entertaining British troops anywhere they were sent. These laudable patriotic efforts, however, taxed Vivien's strength and prevented her full recovery, something that was not immediately evident.

At cessation of hostilities, the Oliviers resumed their separate careers, Larry to make it big with his movie and stage version of Hamlet and Vivien to soar to triumph as a nymphomaniac in the film rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire. 

Playing the role of a pathetic woman whose sexual desires eventually bring her to an insane asylum was no easy part for the actress. A thing like that called for consummate skill and Vivien, doubtless realizing this, threw herself feverishly into the role. The ways it absorbed her was the wonder of the Oliviers' circle, many of whose members commented on how Vivien lived with it. She often startled friends with the gestures, voice and lines of Blanche, the lady who couldn't leave sex alone, When the picture was released, Vivien was established as one of the finest actresses in Hollywood.

Instead of resting on her laurels, and unaware that she was not fully recovered from her TB bout, Vivien meekly consented to go on tour with Larry in two Caesar plays, Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.


Vivien was always ready to do anything Larry wanted, a friend recalls. Although she knew she was an accomplished actress, she meekly accepted his direction. He picked her movie roles and in general told her what to do. Vivien always felt that the male partner should dominate.

Surprisingly, she did a complete about face. When the tour of the two Caesars ended, Paramount asked her to do a movie with Larry based on the book Elephant Walk, a story of a faded beauty who rules a Ceylon plantation.

Olivier turned thumbs down on the deal, and intimated that his refusal included Vivien also. For once, she defied him, but not completely. Although Olivier became reconciled to Vivien's rebellion, he insisted that an old friend of the couple, a young actor named Peter Finch, go along to keep her company. Olivier's attitude had one Hollywood wit wondering whether Larry thought that Dana Andrews, Vivien's co-star, and a herd of elephants featured in the picture, weren't enough to keep her from feeling lonesome. Less charitable people called it just plain jealousy on Olivier's part.

Whatever the actor's misgivings, trouble brewed, bubbled and boiled over.

Although Finch was on hand as family friend and protector in Ceylon, Vivien soon showed him he was only one of a number of handsome young men who could offer solace on their own. She began to be plagued with insomnia, and when her fears and tautness became evident to Andrews the star suggested that Vivien see a psychiatrist, I don't believe in them, she said curtly.

It soon became evident that what she preferred was Yoga, and we don't mean Berra.

It was Eastern philosophy. The guy who introduced it to her was an actor friend of Peter Finch named John Buckmaster.

Buckmaster taught Vivien the finer points of the Oriental cult and also spent many nights sitting outside her bedroom in a trance. Some unsung wit on location once had the presence of mind to snap a memorable picture of Vivien, legs crossed in traditional Yoga posture, with a snake curled around her shoulder.

Larry could have saved himself a lot of heartache if he'd seen this picture earlier, a press agent says, but he was sure that with Finch chaperoning her, Vivien was in good hands.

The only trouble was that Finch, Buckmaster and Vivien made it a very cozy threesome. And, meanwhile, Vivien's ordinarily sunny disposition turned to arrant rudeness and temper tantrums.

She cried on the set. Twice she forgot her lines. On several occasions she locked herself in her dressing room and refused to come out. Behind the closed door, she listened impassively to the importunities of the company manager, while outside, his face a placid mask of contentment, Buckmaster sat cross legged, lost in Nirvana. But then the day arrived that Vivien began answering conversations in Elizabethan English, the company knew the end was near. Before long Vivien collapsed, sobbing and screaming.

When Olivier flew over to take her home, he found that Finch had long since left town after refusing to talk to his friends of the press, and that Buckmaster had suffered a breakdown the day after Vivien's collapse.

Hollywood's great, shrivelled, golden heart went all out to Larry and Vivien in this moment of dire distress and every studio wondered anxiously whether Vivien would work again. After all, she was box-office. Their fears were groundless. Six months later Vivien was her happy self again and had returned to the London stage where she played opposite her husband, now Sir Larry, in The Sleeping Prince.

Then an unfortunate recurrence of her old malady sent her back to the Swiss sanitarium. When The Sleeping Prince became a movie, retitled The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn Monroe played the role created by Vivien. It was one of Larry's most disappointing productions and, definitely, the biggest turkey Monroe ever turned in in the name of Art. As if Larry didn't have enough woe trying to forget his mishaps with MM, Vivien was released from the sanitarium, but, instead of rushing to her husband, she headed for America where she made a sensational announcement.

She was, she told the press, expecting a baby. Whether this news- which proved erroneous- had a jarring effect on Sir Larry, busy pitching cinematic woo with Monroe, has never been recorded. Later, after Vivien had discovered she wasn't pregnant, another slight touch of unusual domesticity brought the wrath of the British press down on her head.

To everyone's astonishment except Sir Larry's (who later claimed he sanctioned the arrangement), Vivien got in touch with her ex-husband, Barrister Holman, and went vacationing in Italy with him and their daughter Suzanne, then 23.

Proper Britishers fumed at the scandalous holiday and a lady member of Parliament huffed that it was a terrible example for people in high places to set before our children.

If anyone expected Vivien's informal vacation to break up the Oliviers, or introduce what the French call a ménage à trois to proper British households, they were disappointed. The Oliviers were in business as usual. This was obvious when Larry finished a walking tour of Scotland with his son and returned home.

He and Vivien embarked on a Shakespeare kick in the Bard's birthplace. Togetherness seemed in order again, even when Vivien returned to the States to star in the Broadway production of Duel of Angels. Prior to departure, however, she incurred Olivier's displeasure, and aroused the delight of the British press, when she slipped on a red satin bathing suit and black mesh stockings and made her TV debut as Sabina, the talkative, never-say-die seductress in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.

Chortled the London Daily Herald: Well, it if isn't granny in tights.

More circumspectly, the London Daily Mail gasped: Legs!

Olivier just subsided into moody silence, an obvious picture of a man conditioned to problems. Besides, he had another problem, no one seemed to know about, Vivien in particular. Larry, it seems, was in love again.

The object of his affection was a shy English actress with dark, close cropped hair and round, rag doll eyes. Her name was Joan Plowright and she came to Sir Larry's attention as the bright hope of the English Stage Company. He promptly signed her to play his daughter in The Entertainer. This was followed by a role opposite him in Rhinoceros. The daughter of a Lincolnshire newspaper editor, Joan broke into show business as an amateur, got into the Old Vic on a scholarship and then toured the countryi n repertory.

Vivien Leigh and Jack Merivale
Just as he had with Vivien, Sir Larry saw her on a stage and flipped. Vivien, meanwhile, appearing in New York, was keeping busy after hours with one of her co-players, a handsome young actor named John Merivale, son of the noted Gladys Cooper and the late Philip Merivale.

Then Vivien got the word that Sir Larry wanted to wed Joan Plowright. Keeping the traditional stiff upper lip, Vivien announced: Lady Olivier wished o say that Sir Laurence has asked for a divorce in order to marry Miss Joan Plowright. She will naturally do whatever he wished.

Said Sir Larry: It is too private an affair to discuss just now. I must think.

Still thinking, Olivier came to New York in Becket hard on the heels of his lady love who had arrived a week earlier to open in A Taste of Honey. Finally, what he had been thinking about came out in court: Vivien had cheated in Ceylon (with a person unnamed) and in London with another person also unnamed; Larry had cheated with Joan, who had cheated on her husband, who had cheated with another person, unnamed, in Helsinki.

Obviously, a four way confession of sin like this, if made earlier, would have prevented Olivier from obtaining a knighthood, whatever his merits as an actor. But since it happened after honors had been granted to him, there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

The recent turn of events may have left Sir Larry in a daze, but there'll always be the Knight.






Friday, January 27, 2017

Fashion Friday: Laurence Olivier's Knighthood

In 1947, while Laurence Olivier was filming Hamlet, he received a letter asking him if he’d be interested in a knighthood. Even though he wasn’t suppose to mention the letter to anyone, he couldn’t resist and called his wife, Vivien.

Vivien was in Paris, being fitted for her costumes for Anna Karenina. Felix Barker, in his book The Oliviers, summed up their exchange:  "You won’t take it, of course?" she asked with mock innocence. "Of  course not!" he answered, and promptly sat down and wrote to say that he would be honored to accept.

Olivier’s impending knighthood was officially announced on June 11, in the King’s Birthday Honors List, for his stage and screen contributions. In his appointment book for July 8, he marked the upcoming investiture as the following: Buckingham Palace, 10:15. He drew a sword on the page beneath the date.

The Oliviers, photographed at Durham Cottage
The ceremony took place on Tuesday, July 8, at Buckingham Palace. Afterward, Olivier shared with the reporters, covering the event, that being knighted had unnerved him more than a first night.  I was nervous. I like to have a 'dummy run' before I do anything. There wasn’t any rehearsal [for being knighted]. Olivier's nervousness did not show. In fact, he looked very confident as he walked up to the King and knelt down on one knee.

Sir Laurence Olivier and his friend, Sir Malcolm Sargent, were knighted at the same ceremony.
It's kind of strange to consider, but Olivier did not own a proper morning suit for the occasion. Luckily, two friends pitched in to help him out. Anthony Bushell lent him his morning jacket and Ralph Richardson lent him the waistcoat. However, as Olivier would later joke, his pants were his own!

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
The black morning jacket featured black-braiding, which is a silk trim. The braiding can be seen around the jacket's collar, lapels, front pocket, sleeves and tails. The interesting thing to note is that the silk trim, at the bottom of the sleeve, gives the appearance of a turn-back cuff, for an extra touch of elegance. 

Vivien dressed quite elegantly in simple black. She wore a wide-brimmed hat with a veil that covered her face. Her black suit featured a nipped in waist, slanting pocket flaps and oversized pearl buttons, at the jacket's closure and cuffs. The frilly, ruffled collar of her white blouse peeks out from the suit's jacket. Vivien and Larry's biographers report that she wore no jewelry for the occasion, but as we can see in these pictures, that's not true. Vivien wore small earrings, which look flower-shaped, and a strand of pearls. 



       Here's a list of 5 Cool Things About Olivier's Knighthood:

  1. Olivier was a blonde when knighted. He was in the middle of filming Hamlet, so his hair had been bleached blonde for the role.
  2. Alexander Korda closed down the Anna Karenina set for the investiture.
  3. Olivier, at 40, was the youngest actor to be knighted. 
  4. He'd been skipped over the Honors List before, due to his divorce and subsequent remarriage to a divorced woman.
  5. Olivier was the fourth most popular British actor when knighted. The top three actors were James Mason, Stewart Granger and Ray Milland. 


Thanks for joining me for today's Fashion Friday post!




Friday, January 20, 2017

Fashion Friday: That Hamilton Woman

That Hamilton Woman! is a 1941 movie about the real-life romance of Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. René Hubert, the man tapped to be the costume designer for the film, was no stranger to Vivien. He had previously worked with her on three movies:  Fire Over England, Dark Journey and A Yank at Oxford. René was born in Switzerland, in 1895.

Vivien Leigh and designer René Hubert
When it came to fashion, René's motto was that a woman should dress her personality, then everything else would fall into place. Your clothes must never overshadow you. You must triumph over them, for beauty's greatest asset is the lack of self-consciousness. René designed many sets and costumes for revues/plays in Europe, including designs for Max Reinhardt. By the age of thirty, his most famous client was Gloria Swanson, whom he began designing for in 1925. During his career, Rene received two Oscar nominations for costume design: Desiree, 1954 and The Visit, 1964.

That Hamilton Woman! opens at the British Embassy in Naples. We catch our first glimpse of Vivien as the young Emma as she arrives in Naples, along with her mother, at the home of Sir William Hamilton.

Vivien Leigh and Sara Allgood 
Vivien wears a large hat, based on one from a George Romney painting of Emma Hamilton. The hat features oversized black bows on top and a streaming, grey chiffon, scarf wraps around Vivien's chin. She wears a floor-length grey cape, with a multi-tiered capelet. Beneath the cape she wears a matching grey, chiffon dress cinched at the waist with a black sash. The close-fitting, long sleeves of the dress end in a small ruffle at each wrist.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh


Sir William arranges to dine alone with Emma on her first night in Naples. The costume for this scene is a sweet dress made from a light, pink organza. The dress features elbow length sleeves, with banded ribbon midway through the sleeves and a low, ruffled collar, which extends to the shoulders, covering the bodice. A large, pink bow sits in the center of the ruffled collar.


Vivien wears a super-cute, three piece, sailor outfit, which reflects the colors of the British flag (red, white and blue). The gown features a long, pleated, chiffon dress. The skirt portion is highlighted by light blue stripes. The dress is topped off with a red, double-breasted waistcoat made from red moire (a silk fabric with a wavy pattern). Over the waistcoat, Vivien wears a short, bolero jacket made from blue silk.


Brass buttons are lined up in neat little double rows, running down both the vest and the jacket. The nautical theme continues with Vivien's jewelry. She wears an anchor necklace and anchor earrings. Her white collar also features gold anchors; one pinned to each side.  Vivien's curls are crowned by a straw hat, with an upturned brim, trimmed in blue ribbon.




Next up is the costume I've dubbed the opera gown. This particular ball gown is only shown briefly as Emma and Nelson attend the opera. Later, at an inn, we catch a fleeting glimpse of the dress beneath Emma's cape. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a full length photograph of the gown by itself.


The ball gown is made from blue satin, which is draped over side hoops, leaving the front and back more or less flat (which I'm sure Vivien appreciated after wearing those wide hooped skirts in GWTW!). Pink chiffon roses are sewn onto the dress, contrasting with the blue satin. The leaves and stems for the roses are embroidered directly onto the gown's fabric in a silver thread and are embellished with tiny rhinestones. The underskirt is a heavy satin, with diamond shapes studded with more rhinestones. The entire outfit is topped off by an enormous hat, adorned with pink chiffon roses and ostrich feathers.


Vivien stuns in this next costume, which is another glamorous ball gown. The gown features a tight fighting, silver bodice with short sleeves. The skirt flounces out over side hoops for a dazzling effect, especially when Vivien, as Emma, runs through the palace in search of Nelson! The black chiffon skirt features a large, silver pattern with an overlay of black netting, studded with diamantes.




The Now I've kissed you through two centuries ball gown was auctioned off a few years ago by Christie's, selling for $7,800 USD.  From Christie's website: A full-length formal gown of black velvet, the v-shaped neckline trimmed with black lace, the bodice and skirt embellished with rhinestones and bugle beads in the form of feathers and bows. The dress was subsequently adapted for later use.


Eugne Joseff was the jewelry designer for That Hamilton Woman. In the movie, Vivien wears this gorgeous, faux diamond and emerald necklace. The necklace was originally created by Joseff for Greta Garbo to wear in the 1936 movie, Camille. Greta complained that the weight of her cape caused the leaves of the necklace to pierce her skin, so she refused to wear it. Joseff brought the piece out of storage for Vivien to wear as we see in these pictures.


Another of Vivien's costumes that went on the auction block is this gorgeous overcoat. The outfit was sold at Sotheby's in 2002 for around $8,000 USD. Looking at the black and white photos, one would never guess that the coat was a gorgeous green color.


The top of the coat features a multi-tiered capelet, while the sleeves end in oversized cuffs. The extra large, black buttons run almost the entire length of the overcoat. A black belt is cinched into place around the close fitting waist. In the picture above, a frilly cravat stands its ground, held in place with a large cameo brooch.


One part of the publicity campaign for That Hamilton Woman! were costume reproductions. These modern day replicas were available to the general public at fine department stores.


One of my personal favorites, from That Hamilton Woman!, is this gorgeous gown. I don't have a description of the dress as viewed in the movie, but I do have a description of the replica made for the public. The replica gown was made from white crepe. The crepe drapes over the bodice Grecian style and the shoulders feature toga like knots. The bodice and the detachable shawl feature an embroidered design, embellished with diamantes.


And finally, we come to a costume worn by Laurence Olivier as Horatio Nelson. This costume went on the auction block in 2011, selling for $19,000!


As Nelson, Olivier wears several different naval uniforms. This particular one can be seen, in the movie, when Vivien comes aboard Nelson's ship. It's a long, navy colored jacket with a cream vest and white shirt beneath. The white shirt features ruffles in the front and at the wrists. The jacket, as pictured above, is missing its gold epaulettes from the shoulders.


This last picture shows the real Nelson's naval uniform. Nelson wore it in the Battle of Trafalgar, where unfortunately, he was killed by gunfire. The gentleman in the picture is pointing to the bullet hole in Nelson's jacket.


From Napoleon.org: Nelson had lost his right arm at Santa Cruz de Tenerife on 22 July 1797, and accordingly the right sleeve of the jacket is only lined to the elbow, and is equipped with a small loop that allows it to be crossed over the breast and fastened to a button. On the left sleeve and tails there are visible bloodstains, probably those of John Scott, Nelson’s secretary, who was killed just before him. The uniform and a number of other effects were given to Lady Hamilton, who gave them away to settle a debt in 1814. Prince Albert acquired them later for 150 pounds and donated them to Greenwich Hospital. As for the bullet that killed Nelson, it is now kept in the Royal Collection at Windsor.


Thanks for joining me for today's Fashion Friday post!


For more on That Hamilton Woman!, please check out this previous post:
 21 Cool Things About That Hamilton Woman!








Thursday, January 12, 2017

21 Cool Things About "That Hamilton Woman!"

Here's a list of 21 cool things about That Hamilton Woman, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, that I have put together in celebration of the film.

1. The movie's based on the real life love affair of Emma Hamilton (April 26, 1765 to January 15, 1815) and Horatio Nelson (September 29, 1758 to October 21, 1805). The two first met in 1793, two years after Emma's marriage to Sir William Hamilton.

Portraits of Emma, Lady Hamilton and Admiral Horatio Nelson
2. That Hamilton Woman wasn't the first (or last) time that Emma and Nelson’s story would receive the big screen treatment. In order of year, the films are:
1919, The Romance of Lady Hamilton, with Malvina Longfellow and Humberston Wright
1921, Lady Hamilton, with Liane Haid and Conrad Veidt
1929, The Divine Lady, with Corinne Griffith and Victor Varconi
1941, That Hamilton Woman (also known as Lady Hamilton), with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
1968, Emma Hamilton, with Michele Mercier and Richard Johnson
1973, The Nelson Affair (also known as Bequest to the Nation), with Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch

3. In The Nelson Affair the part of Nelson was played by Peter Finch, whom Olivier had discovered in Australia, in 1948. Finch repaid Olivier by cuckolding him. He was also Vivien’s co-star in Elephant Walk, a movie in which she, unfortunately, wasn’t able to complete. 

4. They agreed to do That Hamilton Woman for monetary reasons. In the spring of 1940, Leigh and Olivier invested heavily in their stage production of Romeo and Juliet. The play was not a success and had many difficulties, including harsh reviews from critics. The play opened in San Francisco, traveling to Chicago and New York, where it finally closed, leaving Leigh and Olivier broke.

Laurence Olivier & Vivien Leigh as Nelson and Emma in That Hamilton Woman
5. That Hamilton Woman was Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s first movie together as man and wife. It was also their third and final screen pairing. Their first two movies were Fire Over England and 21 Days.

6. Upon returning to Hollywood to film That Hamilton Woman, the Oliviers rented a house on Cedarwood Drive, which came with a giant sheep dog named Jupiter. Jupiter was lucky enough to accompany them to the set on an almost daily basis.

Vivien Leigh and Jupiter on the Hamilton set
7. During one of the fight scenes, Olivier's wig caught on fire. A flame from one of the torches dropped down from an extra, landing on top of his head. Luckily, Henry Wilcoxon (playing Captain Hardy) was able to snatch the wig from Olivier's head and put out the fire before any damage occurred to Olivier.

Henry Wilcoxon in action as he whips the wig from Laurence Olivier' s head.
8. When asked about Olivier playing a character with only one arm and one eye, Vivien replied, What does it matter? Larry can do more with one eye than most men can do with two!

9. Gladys Cooper played Olivier’s wife in the film. In real life, Gladys was married to Philip Merivale, Jack Merivale's father. Jack would later become Vivien’s post-Olivier boyfriend. 

10. Hazel Rogers styled Vivien's hair for That Hamilton Woman. She also worked on Vivien’s hair for Gone With the Wind and would later work with her on A Streetcar Named Desire.


11. Vivien’s costumes were designed by Rene Hubert. During the publicity campaign leading up to the various premieres, the costumes could be seen decorating the windows of department stores such as Hudson's Bay and Bonwit Teller. They were then housed back in Hollywood, where they would either be rented out or re-used in other movies. 


12. Another part of the publicity campaign included Vivien dressing up as Emma based on the portraits of George Romney. Romney painted the real Emma Hamilton somewhere around the two dozen mark. Vivien recreated at least five of these portraits; however, she wasn't the first actress to do so. Corinne Griffith also recreated a few of Romney's paintings of Emma for her film, The Divine Lady, back in 1929.

Emma Hamilton, Corinne Griffith and Vivien Leigh
13. Vivien wears this gorgeous, faux diamond and emerald necklace (pictured below) in That Hamilton Woman. The necklace was originally created for Greta Garbo to wear in the 1936 movie, Camille. Greta complained that the weight of her cape caused the leaves of the necklace to pierce her skin, so she refused to wear it. Eugene Joseff, the jewelry designer for both Camille and That Hamilton Woman, brought the piece out of storage for Vivien to wear.


14. The set designer was Vincent Korda, brother of Alexander Korda and the interior designer was Julia Heron. Artwork, tapestries and statues were imported from overseas to decorate the lavish sets. Vincent's creations included the British embassy in Naples, which took up an entire sound stage and featured a courtyard; Emma's bedroom, with that gorgeous bed she reclines in; the royal Naples palace; and Emma's London home. 

15. Joesph Breen, of the Production Code Administration, refused to give his approval to the movie as it didn't show Emma and Nelson sorry for their adulterous lifestyle. Korda added the scene of Nelson's father lecturing him, to satisfy Breen and receive approval.

16. The Oliviers missed the premiere of That Hamilton Woman as they’d left the United States for England at the end of December, 1940. On leaving the U.S., Vivien said, I know London is not the safest place in the world right now, but it is still my home and that's where I want to be.

Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton Woman
17. The Hollywood premiere was held at the Four Star Theater on Wednesday, March 19, 1941. Tickets for the sold out show were $5 each, with the proceeds going to the British Royal Air Force Development fund. Many members of the production and cast attended the premiere, including: Vincent Korda, Alexander Korda, Merle Oberon (who was married to Korda at the time), Sara Allgood, Gladys Cooper, Alan Mowbray, Halliwell Hobbes, Henry Wilcoxon and Norma Drury.


Many of Hollywood's big names also came out for the premiere, including: Sonja Henje & husband Dan Topping, Olivia de Havilland, David Selznick, Samuel Goldwyn, William Wyler, Claudette Colbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, Joan Bennett, Charlie Chaplin, Greer Garson, Buddy Rogers and Mary Pickford.

Mary Pickford, Sam Goldwyn, Sonja Henie and Dan Topping attend the Hollywood premiere of THW.
18. That Hamilton Woman premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 3, 1941. It broke the box office record for Easter Week.

That Hamilton Woman opens at Radio City Music Hall and all 6,000 seats were sold out!
19. England was at war with Germany and Alex Korda's number one motive for making this movie was propaganda. For doing this, Korda was ordered to appear before a Senate committee on charges of attempting to incite America into war. The hearing was cancelled and a second one was scheduled for December 12, 1941. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, on December 7th, Korda's hearing was dismissed.

20. The movie was reportedly one of the favorite movies of two world leaders: Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. According to one of his assistants, Churchill had watched the movie approximately 6 times by the end of 1941.


21. That Hamilton Woman received four Oscar nominations, winning for Sound Recording, at the 14th Annual Academy Awards, held in 1942. The nominations were for the following :
Art Direction (Black & White) -- Art Direction: Vincent Korda; Interior Decoration: Julia Heron
Cinematography (Black & White) -- Rudolph Maté
Special Effects -- Photographic Effects by Lawrence Butler; Sound Effects by William H. Wilmarth
Sound Recording -- General Service Sound Department, Jack Whitney, Sound Director (Winner)


Sources:
Screen Guide, February 1941
Charmed Lives by Michael Korda
Various newspaper articles
Oscar info from AMPAS







Saturday, November 5, 2016

Seven Things About Vivien Leigh

To celebrate Vivien Leigh's birthday today, I've put together this fun list of seven general things in regard to Vivien Leigh and her work.

Conrad Veidt and Vivien Leigh in Dark Journey
1. When it came to the lead female role in Dark Journey, Vivien Leigh wasn't the first choice to play Madeleine. Miriam Hopkins was originally scheduled to play the French spy opposite the sly role of Conrad Veidt. She dropped out due to differences with the film's director, Victor Saville. Instead, Miriam starred in, Men Are Not Gods, which Vivien was rumoured to have been the lead actress.

Ivor Novello and Vivien in The Happy Hypocrite
2. Vivien Leigh and Ivor Novello treaded the boards together, for the first time, in The Happy Hypocrite, in 1936. But they also appeared onstage together, for a second time, for a one week performance during the Annual Garden Theater Party.

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind
3. Vivien Leigh hated tea! Even though she was British and born in the tea capital of the world, Darjeeling, Vivien didn't enjoy the drink. She even remarked once that she thought the tea-time ritual was a waste of time!

A scene from Sidewalks of London showcasing the borrowed jewelry.
4. In Sidewalks of London, Vivien's character, Libby, gets to wear some awesome jewelry. The bracelet, earrings and ring were on loan from Boucheron of Bond Street. The cast and crew (including Vivien) all thought these pieces were costume jewelry. They didn't know they were the real thing until after the movie was finished. Producer Erich Pommer and Boucheron didn't want the jewelry to disappear during filming.


5. While Vivien was in Hollywood making Gone With the Wind, she learned how to play the accordion. According to Hugo Vickers' biography, she became proficient enough to play Swanee River and Banjo On My Knee.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in That Hamilton Woman
6. Most Vivien Leigh fans already know that That Hamilton Woman was one of Winston Churchill's favorite movies. By the end of 1941, Churchill had purportedly watched it approximately half a dozen times. Coincidentally, it was also one of Joseph Stalin's favorite movies.

A studio portrait of Vivien Leigh
7. While Vivien Leigh was in Hollywood, she developed a fondness for college football, American-style. Her favorite team was UCLA. When they didn't make the Rose Bowl tournament that year, Vivien was very disappointed. One Hollywood magazine even called her a demon fan when it came to football!


Thanks for joining me today in celebration of Vivien's 103rd Birthday!



Friday, October 14, 2016

Fashion Friday #13: The Lady of the Camellias

In 1961, Vivien Leigh embarked on a world tour, leading the Old Vic Company in three different plays with stops across three continents: Australia, South America and North America. One of the plays performed was The Lady of the Camellias.

In The Lady of the Camellias, Vivien plays a nineteenth-century courtesan named Marguerite Gauthier. The play was based on the book La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas fils (the son of Alexandre Dumas, writer of novels such as The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask). The character of Marguerite was based on Marie Duplessis, a real life courtesan that Dumas knew and loved. Sadly, Marie died of consumption (tuberculosis) at the young age of 23.

Over the years, La Dame aux Camélias has been adapted for the stage, ballet and film. The story also inspired Verdi's opera, La traviata. It's most famous film rendition is Greta Garbo's Camille, made in 1936 and co-starring Robert Taylor.

The costumes and sets for the Old Vic's production in 1961 were designed by Carl Toms. Mr. Toms really did his research. The time-frame of the play was moved from the 1840s to 1865. This put Vivien back into those hooped skirts she wore as Scarlett O'Hara in that little movie called Gone With the Wind. For The Lady of the Camellias, Vivien wore six different costumes.

Vivien Leigh with her co-star, Jack Merivale (Photo by Anthony Buckley)
The play opens in April, 1865, and in Act I, Vivien makes a stunning entrance on stage in a white opera cloak. One first hand account says that  A gale of admiring gasps always sweeps through the theater as Miss Leigh enters in a floor length cloak of frothy white ostrich feathers over her billowing white ball gown. I think I'd gasp out loud, too!

Vivien Leigh as Marguerite (Photo by Athol Shmith)
Beneath her opera cape, Vivien wore a hooped, white ball gown. The gown was adorned with ribbon and white camellias. The white flowers meant that Marguerite was ready to receive her gentlemen callers.

 Vivien Leigh in The Lady of the Camellias by Athol Shmith, 1961
The upper part of the bodice, or corsage as it was called in the 19th century, is trimmed in silk, ending in a tied bow. The bodice also features short, puffed sleeves, while the scooped overskirt is caught up with flowers and bows. All in keeping with ball gowns of the mid-1860s. The bottom of the dress ends in cartridge pleats.


The next costume, from The Lady of the Camellias, is a two piece ensemble with a short jacket. Jackets were actually very common in the 1860s. There were many different styles of ladies' jackets, which all came with their own names, such as the Pauline, the Senorita, the Zouave, the Eustache, the Robe, the Home jacket and many more.


Vivien's jacket is made from black velvet. The collar and lapels are turned back and trimmed with an ivory gauze featuring what appears to be a fluted ruffle. The same ruffle is also seen on the jacket's cuffs. The coral coloured, silk vest and jacket are made together as one piece. The second piece of the ensemble is the pleated, hooped skirt, which is also made from the same pink silk as the vest.


Vivien's dress as it appeared on the auction block. The dress was actually auctioned off twice. It made its auction debut back on December 17th, 1993, selling for just $459. Then it hit the auction block once more in 2012 as part of the Hollywood Legends sale. This time it sold for $3,200.

Label inside Vivien's gown
Next on the list is this black and white, evening gown. The dress features a low scooped bodice trimmed in a white, fluted ruffle, with an overlay of sheer, black material. The bodice's white sleeves are short, with pleated, black, sheer layers covering them. The top of the sleeves are caught up with tiny flowers at the shoulder.




The pictures above and below are drawings of Vivien as Marguerite, by the costume and set designer, Carl Toms. Here we can see the entire dress from the front along with a partial view of the back. Ball gowns in the 1860s were adorned in many ways (lace, ruffles, pleats, flowers, ribbons, bows, etc).  I can't really tell, from this bottom image, if those are suppose to be white ruffles or pleats, cascading down the backside of the gown. Either way, it's a stunning effect!


Next, we have another masterful example of Carl Toms' creative genius for Vivien in the role of Marguerite. He's imagined Marguerite in a summer dress, also consistent with the time period of the play.


Vivien shines in this lovely gown. Note the difference in color between Carl's illustration and Vivien's actual dress. Either the color of the dress was changed to the yellow pictured below or the photo below was colorized.

Photo by Anthony Buckley
The gown features long, puffed, bishop sleeves made from a semi-sheer material. The sleeves originate in pleats at the shoulder and end in cravat cuffs at the wrist. At the top of the dress is a cravat (necktie) collar. The collar and cuffs were made to match each other. The gown also features a floral/leaf design, repeated throughout the fabric. The print is more visible in the color photo, than in the black & white ones.


Bobby Helpmann, Vivien's good friend, directed her in The Lady of the Camellias. On Vivien playing the role of Marguerite, he said: It has come just at the right moment in her career. Edwige Feuillère and other French actresses are apt to overstress the grande dame aspect of the character and forget that she was a great courtesan. Miss Leigh blends the two aspects to perfection and has never looked lovelier than in the costumes Carl Toms has designed for her. She is a far greater actress than many people are ready to admit. Once she has made The Lady Of The Camellias her own on this tour, I want to see her play it in the West End, and score what may well turn out to be the most spectacular success of her career.



Thanks for joining me for this week's Fashion Friday post!


Paragraph 5 quote:
Elizabeth Reeve, New Zealand, Autumn-Winter 1962