Written by Alan Llyod
Shortly before her fortieth birthday on November 5th, 1953—a date she had always regarded as an ominous milestone in the retreat from youth—Vivien Leigh collapsed from nervous exhaustion while filming in America. Her doctors decreed that she should be flown home. Accordingly, she found herself being transported, under sedation, to Idlewild Airport, New York.
There she regained enough initiative to perceive that, whether or not for her own good, other people were momentarily ordering her fate.
A shivering sense that something was fundamentally wrong swept over her-culminating in a spasm of sobbing. “You’re all telling me what to do . . . I know what I’ve got to do . . . I’ve got to get back to work . . . “
As well-wishers tried to persuade her to board the Stratocruiser, she brushed away helping hands, but finally submitted to being half-led, half-carried on to the plane, which eventually got away nearly twenty minutes late.
At London airport it was a different picture. After a fourteen-hour journey, she fumbled for the exit, descended the steps of the aircraft in a daze and paused halfway. As the inevitable flash-bulbs sizzled every inch of her five-foot-three-and-a-half person strained into a graceful facsimile of composure-belied only by the pallor of her face, the wavering smile. Then, doctors and nurses hurried to take charge, and she was in an ambulance speeding to a hospital near Coulsdon, Surrey.
Here, in what for Vivien was the miraculously novel air of a place full of firm authority, kind wishes and peaceful reflection, she began to recover top form.
Defying advice to take things slowly, she returned to the hectic life. Within weeks, she was celebrating her birthday, opening in a new play, Terence Rattigan’s The Sleeping Prince, wading through a barrage of international cables and bouquets, and, in odd moments, scouring the land from Brighton to Edinburgh like a terrier to supplement a collection of antique china.
At Glasgow and Newcastle, box-offices sold out to people who clamoured to see her. Manchester put on its finery and rose in homage as she swept in for a charity opening.
Rhapsodically, a critic informed his readers: “The acting in this play, which marks Miss Leigh’s return to the stage after her illness, is the stuff that dreams are made of.”
The Queen of the British Theatre was back on her throne.
The sum total of Vivien Leigh’s achievements today amounts to a phenomenon beside which the professional efforts of the Bardots, Monroes and Lollos appear lethargic: quaintly modest in scope and inspiration.
It has been said of her that, in another age, her innate drive and determination could have swayed the fortunes of a kingdom. Instead, she took London by storm at twenty, intrigued the world at forty, is fussed over by ambassadors and heads of state.
She has been praised by producers of the calibre of Victor Saville, Tyrone Guthrie, Eric Pommer, and Cecil de Mille, admired and befriended by men of such stature as Churchill, Berensen, and Korda, painted by Simon Elwes, voted the best-dressed woman in Britain, awarded two Oscars, caressed by the warmth of a title, compliment by an international reputation for beauty—and deluged by more roses than any other woman of her time.
French admirers bestowed upon her the cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. An English admirer was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for trying to kiss her as she got out of a car. And an American theatrical magazine paid tribute to her supremacy in verse:
There was a young lady named Leigh,
An actress from over he seigh,
Who vaulted to fame
Over many a dame
In the land of the brave and the freigh.
Through all this, the depression have been a recurring factor—perhaps a necessary part of her genius for femininity. But they are soon forgotten. Looking back, she cannot explain her behavior at Idlewild, any more than on other occasions. The memory is erased from her conscious mind.
“When I get totally depressed and I’m really run down, I’m like a thing—an amoeba—at the bottom of the sea, “ she explains afterwards. But she doesn’t dwell on the subject, for that, she feels, would be to waste time.
Once nature has served its purpose by earning her a temporary respite from the rampaging compulsion to succeed, the challenge of living returns with double force. Vivien must rush forward again, brandishing her slogans—“Let’s be ON with it!” “Eagerness is ALL!” “Let’s cut the fuzz-buzz and DO!” –secretly swigging her philosophical stimulant: “Something wonderful will happen . . .” Life is short and one must live fast. The spectre of growing old haunts her bones.
“I can change and make up for the evening in ten minutes,” she boasts. But when the evening arrives, and she is waiting for her call, the doubts have crept in and she is shaking.
“Most of the time I think, ‘Oh God, how am I going to do it?’” And the answer is : “Show ‘em what you’re made of—fight!”
Not long after her marriage to Laurence Oliver in 1940, Vivien and her husband put their entire savings, L12,000, into a sumptuous New York production of Romeo and Juliet. Eagerly, they rented a large apartment and ordered crates of wine for the celebration. Everything was set for a triumphant opening at the Hollywood Theatre. But when their secretary brought in the paper next morning, they notice she’d been crying.
“The worst Romeo ever, “said one paper. Another commented that, if the audience was quiet, it was probably because it was fast asleep. The Oliviers couldn’t believe their eyes. But there was nothing unreal about the people demanding their money back at the box-office that day.
Vivien cancelled the wine and looked for smaller apartment. “Fate doesn’t like us,” Olivier told her despondently.
“I’ll make it like us!” retorted Vivien. “I believe in courage.”
Vivien Leigh weighs little more than seven stone, but a rare, dynamic quality seems to fill out her slender form; to glow from the sharp, intelligent face. She has a bold chin, high cheekbones and strikingly luminous eyes.
Walking, she heads an invisible army. Talking, she indulges a battery of emotions with a clear, unequivocal voice—with feeling and without fear or affectation. Resting, she curls the lower part of her legs under her thighs, refuels at high speed on spoonfuls of yogurt, and has been rumored, on favourable occasions, to purr.
There is that vibrant quality, that certain essence of the female spirit about Vivien Leigh that many people (not excluding Miss Leigh herself) have attributed to Cleopatra. Vivien is much at home with the character. She has saturated herself in both Shakespeare’s and Shaw’s Cleopatra.
“I don’t think Shaw grasped Cleopatra as deeply as Shakespeare did,” she maintains. “Shaw got the shrewdness, quickness and ambition of her character, but he just wasn’t taken with her passion, her emotion. And not only in love affairs. She was intense about everything. She was even intense about her dying . . .
“She would have prisoners brought before her, and she’d try out different poisons on them . . .
“Cruel? Well, of course they were condemned to die anyway. But the point I’m trying to make is the intense seriousness with which she tackled anything, whether it was
The passion behind the method—this strikes a vital chord in Vivien Leigh.
Thus, pale of face, small fists clenched in anger, she rose from her seat in the distinguished visitor’s gallery in the House of Lords during the fight to save several British theatres from closure in 1957, and shouted at the august assembly in the chamber: “My Lords, I protest against the St. James Theatre being demolished.”
Startled peers turned and tried to hush her to silence. Black Rod, Lieut-Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks, jumped to his feet. The Earl of Bessborough escorted her to the door.
But Vivien continued her protest in the streets. She led marches through London. She stood in the rain wearing an unbecoming mackintosh and pair of heavy shoes, and harangued a damp, rebellious meeting. She sped the two hundred-odd miles from Leeds to Cardiff between performances to rally provincial supporters.
She wrote to Sir Winston Churchill, who replied: “My dear Vivien, I hope you will succeed in your defense of St James’s Theatre, although, as a Parliamentarian, I cannot approve your disorderly methods . . . “
She was still protesting when the demolition men went in.
Even a day of serenity is pursued with passion. The reading of meditative literature may become a devotion; her afternoon rest, a sacred ritual. Parlour games exist to be excelled at. She arranges flowers with professional precision in beautiful vases. She hangs her chosen paintings by Degas, Sickert, Bonnard, Renoir and others, with her own hands. She chooses purple silk for the walls of the study, rose chintz for her bedroom, and likes her telephones green or white.
Unashamedly, Vivien revels in the rich things of life. “I am utterly and completely extravagant,” she exclaims. Once, when she fell in love with a Sickert painting she could not afford, she traded one of her bracelets in exchange for the picture. When she had the money to spend, she went to Victor Stiebel for her dresses, chose to ride in Rolls-Bentley and persuaded Olivier to buy Notley Abbey, Buckinghamshire, once occupied by Henry VIII.
She likes to eat the best food and drink the best wines. She once told a reporter that if she were cast away on a desert island with a choice of two books, the first would be Shakespeare. However, since Vivien would have no intention of staying for long, her second choice was the Guide Michelin of France.
The cost of indulging her tastes and ambition has sometimes been great personal loss.
Overworking in draughty back-stage conditions during the London blitz, she contracted tuberculosis. Forced, for the first time in her life, into prolonged inactivity, she found time for a reappraisal of values. One thing in her life was missing, and she wanted it badly.
“Since I cannot work, anyway,” she asked her doctor, “may I spend the time having a baby?”
She had to tell Olivier that the answer was an emphatic “no.”
But in 1944 Vivien became pregnant. Delighted, she rushed into the business of completing a film that had been scheduled before she began her family. Her energy was possibly misguided. She lost the baby.
Twelve years later, another was on the way. “My doctor has pronounced me fit,” she declared happily. When she was four months pregnant, she performed an exhausting song-and-dance number at the Palladium in aid of the Actor’s Orphanage. Then, as autumn approached, she left the theatre to become a full-time lady-in-waiting. She had even decided to name the child Katherine (for how could it be a boy?) when she had the miscarriage.
“It was one of the saddest moments of Vivien’s life,” her mother said later.
Even acting, into which Vivien threw herself with greater passion after each misfortune, is her tormenter as well as her salve. She has never found it easy. Renowned, in her early days, for what has been called her “Dresden-like beauty,” her radiance, rather than for natural dramatic talent, Vivien Leigh resolved to remedy the short-coming. For years she drove herself to this end.
One critic wrote later of her partnership with her husband in Macbeth: “Every time they appeared together, Olivier overwhelmed his wife, leaping on a line, seizing a telling gesture, while she followed him, doing with difficulty the things he did instinctively and with ease.”
Nevertheless, doing them at all costs—obtaining the results.
If Olivier was an inspired actor, Vivien Leigh was, in many ways, an inspired woman. Sheer determination achieved the rest.
Though her performances came to win praise from the world’s experts, she has never conquered her fear of the stage. About a week before she opens in a new show, she is racked with tension, afflicted with psychosomatic complaints.
But when a film or stage show is completed successfully, she hits the heights. She is spontaneously generous. When her first great triumph, Gone with the Wind, was finished, her dressing-room became littered with boxes and wrapping-paper as she busied herself packing gifts for every single member of the production team, from the producer to the most junior of the property hands.
Vivien’s enthusiasms are overwhelming. She tends not merely to like things but to adore them.
Thus: “I adore cats. I have Armando in London and two more in New York.” She has a crimson velvet scratching-pole mounted in her drawing-room. A volume on cats sta
nds besides School for Scandal on her book-shelf. Her friends are not surprised if she emerges from a lift with a Siamese cat on her shoulder. And, because she adores cats, she confesses to finding her corgi terrier a trifle “tedious.” Maybe, another day, Vivien will adore dogs.
Always, there’s a streak of unpredictability. During rehearsals for a recent production, she refused to get out of bed one morning, or to take any breakfast. All day, she seemed low and dispirited. Then, on some explosive impulse, she erupted, volcanic and uninhibited, in the evening to throw a gay party at which she sparkled all night.
Women may intuitively understand such behavior. But men are wary of the enigma.
“I sometimes think,” she reflects “that Englishmen dislike beauty and vivacity in their women. They seem to believe that if a woman is attractive, she cannot act or think.”
And perhaps because, after all, few men really do understand, the English husband who lived with her for twenty years eventually burst his self-imposed gag on personal comment to pronounce: “I’m married to a woman from outer space.”
Vivien Leigh (Born Vivian Mary Hartley) entered the world forty-seven years ago in Darjeeling, India—an infant charged with her mother’s drive and stamina and the optimism of her father, an exchange broker.
Mrs Gertrude Hartley, long since a widow, today runs a successful beauty salon in Knightsbridge, and still thinks nothing of working from nine to seven.
At three, her daughter had already acquired a formidable will of her own. Instructed to sing a nursery rhyme at a party, the little girl mounted the platform, thrust the chin of her delicate, heartshaped face in the air, treated her audience to a grave and intimidating glance, and declared: “I will not sing. I shall recite.”
Says Vivien: “I’ve never wanted to be anything but an actress since I was a child.”
In fact, as her school-friends were ready to testify, she had not merely decided to be an actress, but a great actress, and when in the salad days of her teens, her father celebrated his retirement from India by taking his wife and daughter on a prolonged tour of Europe—visiting Biarritz, Cannes, San Remo, Zurich, Kitzbuhel, Salzburg, and Paris—Vivien promised herself. “This is for me!” Nevermind if she had to become the leading lady of the world to do it.
At the impressionable and impulsive age of eighteen, however, she met a nice-looking young lawyer named Herbert Leigh Holman. The admiration of so worldly a beau made the teenage Vivien giddy with excitement. When he smiled, her heart sang; when he frowned, she felt miserable.
“Oh dear,” she told her mother one day, “I’m so much in love.”
At nineteen, she was married, and duly found herself confined in a cozy London flat—a housewife waiting the arrival of a baby.
There is a sad irony in the fact that, though she later wanted children so badly, and was denied them, Vivien’s only personal record of the birth of her daughter, Suzanne, was a hurried, penciled note in her diary: “Had a baby—a girl.”
But if Herbert Holman had usurped the place reserved in her heart for the stage, the months surrounding the birth provided time for the old theatre magic to fight back. Once again, the deep restlessness in her system was urging her on, and the business of running a home and rearing a child didn’t fit into the pre-ordained pattern.
Suzanne was switched from her mother to a nursemaid, from the nursemaid to her grandparents and, subsequently, to boarding school. She developed a sense of humour about the part-time mother for whom she now feels great affection and understanding.
“She used to see me at school about three-times a year,” she recalls. “I called her visits heraldic interludes. They had everything but the fanfare.”
Vivien Leigh’s first West End hit had everything—including the theatrical aspirations as frivolous, to let her try her hand on the stage, she opened as Henriette, a scheming street-girl in a play called The Mask of Virtue.
Any hopes Holman might have had that her ambition would now be nipped in the bud were smashed by the Press next day. Glowing reports of her debut mingled with such headlines as “Vivien Leigh on How I Did It.”
Suddenly producers started talking about contracts. Noel Coward described her as “The most exquisite person I have ever seen.” And, peering through the curtains of her flat at the reporters outside, Vivien perceived that the first great victory had been won.
The price was to be the beginning of the end of her marriage with Herbert Holman, and the loss of many joyous hours which might otherwise have been spent with her child. Both considerations led to conflict and anguish.
They were soon to be consumed in a greater fire.
Waiting for a taxi in the lobby of the Savoy Hotel one day, Vivien was introduced to a twenty-eight-year-old actor named Laurence Olivier. A little over middle height, trimly built with broad chest and shoulders, he gave her an immediate impression of depth and power.
He was no handsome in the conventional sense. His hair was too low on the forehead, his eyebrows shaggy, he had a cleft chin and the wide, wistful mouth of a Daumier clown. But his deep-set, grey-blue eyes were compelling. Lazily lowering the lids over a smiling glance, Olivier could somehow create intimacy at first sight.
A few weeks later she was invited to a house party at his home near Iver, Bucks. Meeting at other parties followed.
It was in 1936 that fate, in the person of Sir Alexander Korda, brought Vivien and Larry Olivier together in the making of a new picture, Fire Over England. Working on romantic scenes in the balmy days of late summer, they learned more of each other and grew closer and closer. “If it be love indeed,” Vivien asked herself in the words of her much-admired Cleopatra, “tell me how much.”
A year later, the Olivier-Leigh affair reached a climax at Elsinore, Denmark. Playing together in a magnificent Old Vic production of Hamlet set against the battlement of a historical castle, and relaxing together off duty. Vivien and Larry displayed their love publicly for the first time. Their romance became world news.
Now, when Vivien returned to England and Ealing studios for another film, she faced not merely the spiteful gossip of a few, but the disapproval of hundreds of thousands. For not only was she still married to Holman—Olivier was married to the actress, Jill Esmond. There was no way of obtaining their divorces quickly.
But the die was cast and that New Year’s Eve they raised their glasses in the little house Olivier had bought and drank to the future. She might know days of doubt and confusion, but about the ultimate outcome Vivien had no qualms. She was doing what she wanted most of all. Doing it the only way she knew how . . .
With every ounce of her passion and determination.
“If I were really and truly given the chance to live my life all over again,” Vivien Leigh confided after she and Olivier parted last year, “I would be certain of only two things. One is that, at an early age, I should become an actress. The other is that, at a not-much-later-age, I should marry Laurence Olivier—and do the proposing myself if necessary.”
Her addendum is characteristic of a woman dedicated to forcing the pace, to living urgently.
At forty-seven, her passion for life has ssured her a position in the constellation of notable women around which the younger stars of the sixties nerely glitter like so many satellites.
It is a passion which starts each morning with a glass of unsweetened lemon-water—a sort of ritual shocking of the senses awake; a rousing of a host of great expectations—and may lead anywhere during the day.
Vivien once described her hobby, in Who’s Who, as “serendipity” : the faculty of making happy and unexpected surprises.
She worships the sun, will find ecstasy in the first butterfly of spring, and swap a bracelet, on impulse, for a painting by Sickert. She has the gift of a child’s delight in simple pleasures, and a child’s reluctance to do things by halves.
She can complete the Times cross-word twice as fast as the average reader. She will throw an international cocktail party, speaking fluent French, German, and Italian; make a note, at the same time, to protest to the Prime Minister on a matter dear to her heart next morning, then dash off to a fun-fair, spinning on the rotor arm, rushing to the switchback, ecstatically submitting to centrifugal force.
“If a thing is worth doing,” she says, “it’s worth doing wholeheartedly.”
When she played Cleopatra, she studied not only the interpretations of Shakespeare and Shaw, but also Emil Ludwig’s Cleopatra, Cleopatra in the Tide of Time, Wilder’s The Ides of March and Plutarch’s chapter on Mark Antony in The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.
Like Cleopatra, she brings formidable intensity to whatever she tackles. It has been said of her that, in another age, her beauty, talent and thrust could have swayed the fortunes of a throne.
This, then, was the woman whose life was to collide with that of Laurence Olivier, perhaps our only living genius of the theatre.
Vivien was first introduced to him in the lobby of the Savoy Hotel and, shortly afterwards, invited to a party at his home near Iver, Bucks. She found him fascinating. His conversation, unlike that of many young actors, had point and depth; he was an intent and responsive listener, and he had a lazy, intimate smile that swept one into his confidence at a glance.
Once certain of her feelings, Vivien saw only one course of action.
Openly and unequivocally, she displayed her love for the man she intended to marry. And indeed, it was to be only a matter of time before she was divorced from her first husband, Herbert Leigh Holman, had lost the legal custody of their child, Suzanne, and had become Mrs. Olivier.
The marriage was performed at one minute past midnight on August 30th, 1940, in the little town of Santa Barbara, USA. In keeping with the unswerving Leigh policy of “Let’s get on with it,” it was a snappy affair. A little too brisk, as it happened, even for Vivien. She recalls: “The service was cut so short that all we did was to say the ‘I do’s’. I wanted to say ‘I love, honour and obey,’ and I kept complaining that the judge was cutting my best lines.”
Then, by lamplight, the newly-weds boarded the yacht on which they were to spend their honeymoon, and set sail on a moonlit sea.
Looking back, it seems inevitable that, having crossed paths, there should have been mutual reaction. Vivien and Larry Olivier were drawn by the bond of complementary opposites. She was vibrant, impulsive, delicately beautiful; the inspired woman determined to be a great actress. He was strong and dreamy-eyed with immense reserves of talent; the inspired actor anxious to be a successful man.
“I always knew I’d be a damn good actor,” he said. “But I’ve never been sure of making a living.”
Vivien had no such doubts. To her, it was only a matter of application, and she gave herself to it with the tireless pleasure of an ambitious young woman who is thoroughly busy.
After making her first film with Olivier, Fire Over England, she had swept on to a series of stage and screen successes—Dark Journey, with Conrad Veidt, Storm in a Teacup, with Rex Harrison, A Yank at Oxford, with Robert Taylor, and plays with the Old Vic company and in the West End.
Practice boosted her self-possession, and she began to know the exhilaration which belongs to skill.
She also knew her value. When she was asked to play the part of Isabella in Wuthering Heights, she turned down the offer on the grounds that it was not important enough. “I think you’re making a mistake,” Walter Wyler, the producer, told her. “You won’t get anything better than Isabella.”
Vivien was to remember that with a smile.
When Cecil B. de Mille offered her a contract, she told him she was not interested unless she had the right to choose her own parts. His refusal to agree left her undaunted. One had to fight for one’s rights. And the right part—the really big part—was yet to come.
When it did, she recognized it intuitively.
In Hollywood, David O. Selznick was testing one famous actress after another for the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in his monumental production of Gone with the Wind. Not convinced that any of them was perfect, he eventually started filming with the part unfilled.
Vivien judged that the time was right.
Spectacular preparations had been made for a gigantic bonfire to represent the burning of Atlanta by night. Flying to America, she drove out to the location with Olivier and his agent, and there, at one o’clock in the morning, her hair streaming in the breeze and the flames of “Altanta” in her eyes, Vivien made her bid for the part that brought her world-wide fame.
Once again, the duet of beauty and determination proved infallible. There were few things that couldn’t be done—with a fight.
Laurence Olivier was less sure. He saw popularity as a limiting factor in his work. In the early days, he didn’t much like his audience. He even felt that an actor had a certain connotation of absurdity. He was liable to hunch silently over his lunch while she chatted, his thought in another world.
“Things are apt to crowd in on one,“ he has said. “Then selfishness creeps in, and one keeps saying: I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”
But Vivien lived by the creed of “I can.”
When Olivier, in a bleak mood, told her, “Fate doesn’t like us,” she retorted, “I’ll make it like us.” And, usually, she got her way.
Her husband delighted and irritated her in turn by his loyalty and his abstraction.
On the one hand, he was capable of striking a critic who took his seat late during one of her shows; on the other, he could enter her dressing-room bearing a small box from a florist, carefully unwrap it in front of her, take out a single red rose—and dreamily fix it in his own lapel.
When it came actually to stepping on to the stage, Vivien’s confidence collapsed and she became a prey to black forebodings and psychosomatic illness. Now, she learned to gain heart from her husband. If Olivier could be moody and worried at home, on stage he was powerful, dominant, inspiring. The off-stage introvert became the one-stage extrovert, sometimes with a zestful, almost school boyish enthusiasm for physical action.
Filming Henry V, he climbed a tree, instructed two knights to ride underneath, then leaped on to them to show stunt-men what to do. He thought nothing of spinning cartwheels across a stage like a ten-year-old. Once h dived on to a professional strong-man who was standing in as Claudius, and knocked him unconscious.
At rehearsals he overacted wildly until he had exorcized his inhibitions in a new role.
Vivien drew strength from his example. In return, she lifted the burden of domestic details from his shoulders. If they went out to supper after an evening’s work, she would book the table. She arranged their weekends and holidays. Often, she dealt with the Press.
In 1946, Laurence Olivier presented a triumphant King Lear at the New Theatre. Although the rehearsals had kept him busy into the early hours of the morning, Vivien never failed to be waiting up for him when he got home.
“It’s time we had a great ‘Lear’,” she told him one night, as he sipped wearily at a cup of coffee. “And you are the man to do it.”
During the run of the show, she repeatedly hurried from the Piccadilly Theatre, where she was appearing, to watch his last minutes on stage.
She had immense faith in his artistic judgment. “I acknowledge him as the master,” she said. “He has done more for my career than any other single person. He is tremendous, dedicated, inspiring.”
And, with feminine tact, she refrained from alluding to the strength she brought to their professional partnership. When that strength occasionally expired in a state of nervous exhaustion under the relentless and compulsive will to succeed, Vivien fought back. Often she had to have medical treatment. Twice, it is probable, the paces of her life cost her the children the marriage so dearly lacked.
Instead, when she was thirty-three, and her husband forty, the great drive and faith she had brought to the partnership gained a different reward. Olivier, the actor, became Sir Laurence. Vivien wore black for the ceremony at the Palace. Her face, framed in the dark brim of her hat, had never shone with greater radiance.
The dynamic seven-stone woman and the quiet man the posters had once acclaimed as “The Great Lovers in Person” were now indisputably “The First Family of the Theatre.”
The years ahead seemed settled. For Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier there were a million-and-one admirers thoughout the world, a hundred-and-one talented and favoured friends, a stately twelfth-century home, Notley Abbey, and acres of idyllic, green-pastured lands in which even the peaceful cows echoed the fame of their owners with names such as Cordelia, Octavia and Perpetua.
Not event those who had once been bitterly provoked by her actions could fail to recognize Vivien’s prestige.
But there was little in Vivien Leigh’s make-up or history to suggest that she was destined to live long in the valleys of peace. Everything pointed to the peaks of intensity and passion—where footholds are rare and precarious.
She gave herself, more and more, to her vocation.
“Like everyone else,” she found herself saying on day a few years ago, “Larry and I have our flare-ups. But when we are working together, shaping a play or film, we work very well.”
Time passed. A new portrait of her husband joined an old one on her piano.
“Don’t you think he looks better now than he did eight years ago?” she said, her voice slow with memory. “I hope he’ll do Becket, the new Anouih play. There’s no part in it for me, but a marvelous one for him. Though it may keep us . . .”
She paused. “I was going to say, it may keep us apart. For the past few years our relationship has been strictly professional.”
As the rumours began to fly again, and the gossip columns became heavy with innuendo, Vivien accompanied her first husband, Herbert Holman, and their daughter, Suzanne, abroad on holiday. It was a typically convention-defying gesture. At the same time, Olivier took a vacation with his own son, Tarquin.
Nevertheless, it was a jolt when the separation was actually announced three years of fitful speculation later.
In New York, on May 21st, 1960 Vivien Leigh told the world’s Press that Laurence Olivier had asked her to divorce him so that he could marry Joan Plowright, who was twenty-nine.
“I miss him terribly. If you live with a man for twenty years, you don’t suddenly stop missing him,” she said. “We always told each other we’d serve our profession in the best possible way, and the price is sometimes a great personal loss. I haven’t many regrets. Only the things I have done and said that maybe have hurt people. And selling our house. We lived there for fifteen happy years. But that’s a good stretch, isn’t it?”
Now Vivien remarkable career surges on.
Those who once represented Olivier as her Svengali must think again in the light of her fresh initiative and vigour. It was never a likely thesis.
After all, she took London by storm before ever she met him, she won two Oscars in films with which he had no connection, she rehearsed the more recent, and much-acclaimed, Duel of Angels in England while he was in America, and in terms of hard cash, her box-office appear has always surpassed his.
“Vivien would have fought to the top of anything she had ever attempted,” says a friend.. “But her singleness of purpose does not derive from the lure of money, or material possessions, although she enjoys these as much as anyone.
“She is driven by an inner force of almost awesome intensity.
“In a profound sense, one might say she cannot help it.”