Vivien Leigh: An Appreciation

Article Donated by: Selina Chan

NOTE: On March 17, 1968 The Friends of the Libraries at USC chose to honor Vivien Leigh. From Anne Edwards biography: “No Academy Award ceremony ever had a more stellar audience. The Town and Gown dining hall of the university was decorated with three huge blow-ups of Vivien- two as the fiery Scarlett O’Hara and one from her final film Ship of Fools. A sense of good theatre pervaded the evening, and Vivien would have approved. Those who spoke- Gladys Cooper, Greer Garson, George Cukor . . . mainly told anecdotes.” Here is a transcript from that night. Partly edited.

Now, to start our program, I (Miss Edana Romney, member of the Friends of the Libraries), am delighted to introduce a fellow member of the Friends of the Libraries, who is also a distinguished journalist, critic, and editor, Mr. Charles Champlin.”

Mr Champlin:

“Thank you very much. If you were dreading a very solemn assessment, I hope you will relax. I think it’s too lovely an evening to get that solemn.

Let me begin. ‘Now she has glided away from us forever, and we, who are so much poorer for her passing, must always be thankful for knowing and working with her. Vivien Leigh will not be forgotten, for her magic quality was unique.’ So said Sir John Gielgud at a memorial service in London last summer for that enchanting lady who has gone from amongst us all too soon. And here we are tonight, enlivening the precincts of a great university to remember and remark and celebrate just that unique and magical quality of Vivien Leigh.

It seems altogether fitting that our tribute should occur under the auspices of a university. The ideals of the university found a notable expression in her life and work; I mean a passionate devotion to her craft, a consuming quest for perfection, wide-ranging achievement and surpassing abilities of priceless individuality. And what seems no less important and characteristic is very great bravery and persistence in the face of what surely was a disproportionate share of trials and afflictions.

Talking to a writer when she last worked here in 1964, she quoted George Bernard Shaw: ‘The theater is as important as the church was in the Middle Ages. It is a protector of conscience, an elucidator of truth, an armory against despair and dullness, and a temple to the ascent of man. I believe this’, she said. ‘That’s why I believe acting in general is terribly important, and thinking people should do their best at all times.’ She did.

She was already an adornment of the West End theater when she burst upon us as Scarlett O’Hara after that most conspicuous search to fill the most conspicuous role the movies had to offer. It was a staggering challenge in which at least half the country had turned film critic, eager to cry that an American actress could have done it much better. How triumphantly she met the challenge and won over the critics we can once again see for ourselves as GWTW makes it’s sixth visitation and yet another generation of filmgoers discovers the imperishable feats of all our histories.
Vivien Leigh was one of that small select company of performers who have combined consummate technical gifts with a vivid and original personality and so evolved a compelling and unforgettable style. Her roles were by no means repetitions of herself, and yet something of herself illuminated and enriched each of her portrayals. ‘What the actor or actress can contribute,’ she once said, ‘is to make people understand each other better. I believe in that.’

The stage and still more the motion picture continue to be evolving arts. Men and women of very great talent find in them new strengths, new subtleties, new capacities for speaking to the human condition. The frail, fiery, gay, tragic lady we honor this evening was one of those who has taken the acting arts to new levels of excellence, interest, and respect. Thank you.

Chester Erskine:

“I am your moderator for the evening, and my name is Chester Erskine. I was just thinking that the greatest tribute to Vivien Leigh tonight may be this splendid gathering honoring her at a non-alcoholic dinner. (Laughter) Friends of the Libraries, and friends of Vivien, when Stanley Musgrove, the muscle man for the committee, invited me, with my arm pinioned behind by back, to be the moderator at these proceedings, and slide-area Gavin Lambert, the velvet persuader for the committee, was purring into my ear, a wild thought passed through my mind, that this whole business was a joke dreamed up by Vivien to get my up here. She could be that way!

And, incidentally, while I was just coming up here, I thought I heard a rather familiar and mischievous laugh that could have come from her. My only qualifications, by the way, for being up here at all is that I was a friend of Vivien’s, a particular friend. We had language between us. Other people tonight will tell you that she was a great and gifted lady, and she was. But, for myself, if respect and affection weigh at all, they will perhaps excuse my limitations.

A brief chronicle: She was born in India to Ernest and Gertrude Hartley. Her name was Vivian…V-I-V-I-A-N. Later it was changed to V-I-V-I-E-N by Sydney Carroll, English producer. Her father was an exchange broker and, on the side and most seriously, bred race horses, and trained them. And her mother, Gertrude, at the age of 85, runs a chain of beauty shops in London. Last year she was teaching me a new dance step. She’s a vigorous and agile lady, and inherited Vivien’s good looks. (Laughter)

Vivien was educated in London, in Paris and in Germany, and spoke French and German fluently and took some acting lessons from a teacher at the Comedie Francaise; then she went to the Royal Academy in London- Dramatic Art- got out, and married Leigh Holman. Hence her name, Vivien Leigh. Thereafter, she went into the theater and motion pictures, playing small parts until she made an overnight success in a play called The Mask of Virtue, which Ashley Dukes adapted from a German play.

She was then signed up for the motion pictures by Alexander Korda, a brilliant producer in the English film industry at that time. And the first picture he put her in was called Fire Over England, and in that picture she played opposite a young actor whom she only knew casually by the name of Laurence Olivier. It was the beginning of a great moment for the English theater.

A brief footnote. I was doing a play in London shortly after Fire Over England was finished. Laurence Olivier was at the Old Vic playing in Twelfth Night, doing Sir Toby. My cast and I used to gather in a little restaurant in Soho called The Moulin Door. (I’m sure the English actors here will know what I’m talking about). It was a small place where actors gathered and gossiped and rested after a day’s work in the theater.
We sat there and noticed that two people used to come in very late at night, and they were LO and V. With the tact that all of us show on such occasions, we refrained from making any remarks about it, but we knew that something very big was brewing, as indeed it was. As partners in the theater, LO and V went on to cut a brilliant path across the stages of the world, doing many of the greatest classics of theater literature. Meanwhile, she came out here and did a picture called GWTW. She returned to London- she preferred the theater somewhat to motion pictures- and was doing The Skin of our Teeth when a doctor’s examination showed that there was a patch of tuberculosis on her lungs.

It was a spectre which never left her side. Death was her partner from then on, although she cleverly and successfully concealed it. It ravaged her body, her mind, her spirit sometimes and, in my personal opinion, her marriage as well. Thereafter, she went on to do plays- she did Duel of Angels- motion pictures, TRSOMS, Ship of Fools, the musical version of Tovarich on Broadway, for which she won the Antoinette Perry Award. The author of that musical is sitting at my table, Mr David Shaw. And finally her last play was Chekhov’s Ivanov, with John Gielgud, in which ironically enough she played a woman who dies of tuberculosis.

We used to exchange postcards, Vivien and I. She used to buy funny postcards, antique postcards, in the little byways of the streets of London, in the little antique shops. She would write brief messages, and we never lost touch with each other, wherever we were. I’ll try to describe these two postcards to you. On this one is a rather bucolic looking lady with a bovine smile; it’s a very old postcard. And this one is a lady who appears to have had a ‘night out’, and she’s now looking at herself in the mirror, and I guess she’s wondering why he didn’t kiss her at the door. Now, I should like to read these to you, which were received by me concurrently with news of her death, in June.

On the back of the one with the bucolic girl with the bovine smile she says, ‘Is my next role, don’t you think? They say it will only be three months…’ You see, she was about to do the Albee play, The Delicate Balance, when there was a flare-up of her illness and the doctors said she must wait three months. The producers decided to wait and give her a chance to recover. She says, ‘They say it will only be three months, and then the Albee, which I love but do not understand at all. However, I study it every day. What with…’ Now she goes to the other card, and I should say that at this time a friend of mine and Vivien’s had died- Spencer Tracy. In addition, LO was ill, and there had been a diagnosis of cancer. She goes on to say, ‘What with Larry and Spence and Kate, one’s mind is not easy. I miss you so much’ …etc. It was like Vivien, you see, to think of Larry and Spence and Kate when she, herself, was dying.

This morning I got a call from Katherine Hepburn who is in the south of France, at Nice, filming a picture. Katherine Hepburn was a great friend of Vivien’s, a very good friend of Vivien’s, and she called me to ask about these proceedings tonight. I told her something about it, and she sent a message in her own particular type of shorthand poetry, which I would like to read to you. ‘What to say…Vivien, dear Vivien…exquisite actress, thoughtful, fearless, gracious, and enormously kind…a lovely little pink cloud floating through the lives of all her friends, hovering over the setting sun, and thinking of everyone but herself. Katherine Hepburn’. (Applause)

Tonight, we are going to begin this program with two very dear friends of Vivien’s who are going to talk about how they feel and about how they felt about her. The first is a lady who to me is synonymous with theater. Not too long ago I was seated next to her at dinner, and I asked her how it felt to be in rehearsal in a Somerset Maugham play. How did Maugham act when he was rehearsing a play? She promptly proceeded to tell me, to my great delight. But what was more amazing, she said, ‘I’ll tell you now how it was to be in rehearsal with Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, the fin-de-siecle dramatist.’

This lady is still, as though the intervening years had not occurred at all, appearing in plays and producing plays. She is Dame Gladys Cooper. She is going to appear up here with George Cukor, that director who has directed nearly all of the great ladies of the theater and somehow or other, by some special alchemy or magic, managed to remain friends with them afterwards. How he does that, I’ll never know. George Cuckor and Dame Gladys Cooper. (Applause)

Both of you knew Vivien a long time, personally and professionally. You played with Vivien, Gladys, and I believe you must have known her in the early days around London when she was doing these small parts in plays and films. And, George, you knew her from the beginning of GWTW.”

Mr. Cukor:
“Everything has been very moving- the story of her life, the message from Kate Hepburn. It’s awfully difficult to follow her words. But, Dame Gladys, I would like you to tell, as you once told me, about when you first met Vivien.”

Dame Gladys:

“I first met Vivien when she was in her teens. She was a young wife and mother. She was not yet twenty, and she was allowed by her very kind, but rather strict first husband to go out once a week. I have a photograph of them taken in a field over a bridge, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen two more beautiful young creatures than they were then. I’ve never acted with Vivien, but I’ve known her since, as I say, she was eighteen- nineteen. We were always great friends because whoever had met Vivien would always be great friends with her. She was fun, she was wonderful to be with, and, as Mr. Erskine said, had such a capacity for friendship and love for friends. There are lots of things I can’t talk about- very intimate things. I don’t know what more I can say except to ask you, George, when you first met Vivien?”

Mr. Cukor:

“Well, I met her on an historic occasion. I was going to direct GWTW, which I didn’t complete- I was removed from the direction of it. But, I was shooting the burning of Atlanta, and Larry Olivier, Myron Selznick and David Selznick and others were watching this going on. With Larry was this beautiful, beautiful creature. And Myron Selznick said to David and me, ‘Here’s your Scarlett O’Hara!’

Well the notion of an English girl playing this most American part seemed absolutely outrageous. As everybody knows there had been a great, historic search for Scarlett O’Hara. I seemed to have interviewed and tested everybody from very distinguished actresses to very young girls. But the idea of an English girl playing it seemed outrageous. She was very pretty, though, and I had met Southern girls like her. My office was in the back of the Pathe lot, so I took her in and gave her one of the test scenes. I don’t think she had ever heard a Southern accent at all, and she began reading this thing very sweetly, and very, very clipped. I said to myself, ‘Here is a very precious, affected- I can’t say the word I really mean- little English girl.’ (Laughter) And so I struck her across the face with the rudest thing I could say. She screamed with laughter.

That was the beginning of our most tender, wonderful friendship. I think Vivien adored life. I remember her with the greatest pleasure, and emotion. It’s awfully difficult not to be gushing about her. Even now as I spoke I was terribly moved. There’s so much of her work you will see tonight, and others are going to talk about her, that I think I had better halt here. But I consider myself blessed to have known her.”

Mr. Erskine:

“There was a poem, a particular poem, which was very personal to Vivien, by Robert Louis Stevenson. It sort of sums up her attitude toward life. Dame Gladys will read you those few lines.”

Dame Gladys:

“It was a great favorite of Vivien’s.

Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind, Strength to encounter that which is to come, That we may be brave in peril, Constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, And in all changes of fortune. And down to the Gates of Death loyal and loving, One to the other.”


Mr. Erskine:

“I can’t think of anything that more sums up her own quiet philosophy than those few lines of poetry (referring to Robert Louis Stevenson from Vol. 3). There is an actor present tonight who, I guess, acted with as many great ladies as George Cukor directed. Mr. Brian Aherne was a friend of Vivien Leigh’s, and, I believe, saw her only a few days before she died. Mr. Aherne will introduce the picture, Fire Over England, and following that we will see an excerpt from it.”

Brian Aherne:

“May I say a word about seeing Vivien? I think it might interest her friends here. My wife and I were with her about four days before she died. We had visited her down at her beautiful place in Sussex about a month before, and she and Jack Merivale and my wife and myself had had a lovely time. Vivien had done the place with such taste. And there was a lovely rose garden running down to the lake, and some Sussex hills with trees on top- a most beautiful, idyllic situation. We were so happy, all together there.

About three weeks later we were horrified to hear she had been taken ill and would have to come out of the play with Michael Redgrave. We sent her some flowers. She called us up right away and said, ‘Come and see me, come and see me! Everybody’s coming to visit me in the afternoons.’ And we said, ‘Well, darling, shouldn’t you be in a hospital?’ And she said, ‘Oh, those silly old doctors all say that I must be in a hospital, but I won’t…I won’t! I am going to stay at home!’

So I called Jack Merivale on the side, and said, ‘Vivien says to come and see her. But you know Vivien…and do you think it’s all right?’ And he said, ‘Yes, old man, but twenty minutes. Remember…’ So we went to her apartment in Eaton Square and Vivien was sitting up in bed with a very pretty lace thing and she was looking as radiantly beautiful as she had ever looked at any time I have ever seen her. It was rather like a scene from Camille.

She was pink and white and very excited. Douglas Fairbanks was there too. Jack gave me the wink about twenty minutes after I got there, and I said to her, ‘Well, Viv, it’s very sad about the play. What has happened?’ ‘Oh’, she said, ‘you know, I had a physical last October and they said I was perfect…nothing wrong with me at all. And then for this play I had to go to a doctor about insurance. He examines me and says I’ve got a hole as big as this in my lung. But it’s ridiculous. They want to send me to a hospital at once, and I refuse to go. I’m not going to go; I’m going to be here and have a party every afternoon and all my friends are going to come and see me. Have a drink, have a drink.’ And so, it was a very gay occasion.

She said, ‘I’m not leaving the play. I’ve got to rest and stay here quietly in bed and take all of these ridiculous medicines. I’ll be perfectly all right. No, I’m studying the play.’ She had the manuscript there on the bed beside her, and she was very interested in it. We talked about the play a bit, and then I said to Jack Merrivale- dear Jack Merrivale, whom we all love very much. I said I had seen Vivien quite recently in Ship of Fools.

I told him, ‘You know, wonderful though Vivien has been in the theater, for my dough, she’s the most wonderful motion picture actress. Everything she does on the screen means something.’ And he said, ‘Exactly what I always tell her. This is one of the greatest motion picture actresses. Viv, see what Brian says? Just what I always say!’ She said, ‘No, no, no. I don’t like acting in motion pictures. I like the theater. And I want to be in the theater.’ So I said, ‘Viv, why? Why do you prefer the theater?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I suppose it’s because I’m kind of naughty. I don’t discipline myself, and I can’t stand discipline from other people. But the discipline of the theater I am prepared to accept all the way. When I am playing in the theater I am completely happy, because I wake up in the morning and I know what my day is, I know what my life is, I know what I have to do. I know I have a matinee and an evening performance. I know I have to go to a costume fitting. And then I’ve always got the performance. I’m never lonely, I’m never lost. I don’t call up friends to say, What are you doing? They know what I’m doing and they can come in my dressing room, because that’s my home and that’s where I live and that’s where I love to be.’ She said, ‘I just feel happy so long as I’m working in the theater and going to the theater every night.’ I thought that was rather interesting.

I don’t think…it may sound a little cold…but it’s not meant to be…I don’t think we should grieve for Vivien. You know her life seems to have been a bit like a surf ride. Up in the sunlight, riding on the crest of the wave, shimmering, and then, all of a sudden, she slips and disappears. I don’t think Vivien could ever have borne to be an old and perhaps unwanted actress. I think she made a wonderful and typical exit when she was right on the crest of the wave. That’s why I don’t think we should grieve for her.

But all of us who knew her will never forget her. (Applause) Fire Over England. My goodness. I knew her as long ago as that! Fire Over England was the first film in which she had a sizeable part. She had been put under contract to Alexander Korda, but his roster of stars at that time was larger than his roster of projects. And she had to wait her turn. It came in this story of Elizabethan England with Flora Robson and Larry Olivier.”

(Scene from Fire Over England)

Mr. Erskine:

“A sidelight of that film: when Laurence Olivier and Vivien met the first day of shooting they went to the commissary to have lunch and had their first conversation together. He said, “You know, before this picture’s over we’re going to be fighting. People who play together in pictures always get very sick of each other.”

I am going to introduce next an actress, one of those actresses whom George Cukor directed. Miss Greer Garson will read a poem applicable to Vivien. (Applause)

Miss Garson:

“Various things were suggested that might be read tonight. I had a dazzling choice. Well, this is familiar to you all, and it just seems somehow to suggest Vivien. It’s Byron’s familiar poem.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!”

Mr. Erskine:

“Thank you very much, Greer. The next scene we are going to show is from Sidewalks of London, a big film Vivien made shortly after Fire Over England. An actress with whom I had the pleasure of working some time ago, a very lovely, charming lady, Elsa Lanchester, who was married to Charles Laughton, the star of this film in which Vivien played, will introduce this scene.” (Applause)

Miss Lanchester:

“Vivien Leigh was in an English film called St. Martin’s Lane. Here is was called Sidewalks of London. St. Martin’s Lane is an alley between two theaters, famous for it’s buskers. Buskers are street entertainers who sing, dance, recite anything. They also juggle, play odd musical instruments. Oh, by the way, after Vivien finished Sidewalks of London, William Wyler saw a preview of the film, and he was impressed with her, and he offered her the part of Isabella, not Cathy, in Wuthering Heights. ‘You’re an unknown in America,’ he explained, ‘and for a first part in Hollywood, you can’t hope to get anything better than this.’ (Laughter)

Anyway, in Sidewalks of London, there is quite a remarkable pair of buskers played by Vivien and Charles Laughton, and in this clip you are going to see not only a remarkable twosome, but a remarkable threesome. The third person was Tyrone Guthrie.” (Laughter)

[Scene from Sidewalks of London]

Mr. Cukor:

“Chet, there’s some other unknown there. He looked rather familiar.”

Mr. Erskine:

“He looked to me like Rex Harrison, too. I don’t know how he got into that picture. He wasn’t there when I saw it yesterday.” (Laughter)

Mr. Cukor:

“I can see why they remained on the sidewalks, too. They weren’t all that good.

Mr. Erskine:

“Several books are being written about Vivien Leigh at the moment. I don’t know how many altogether, but I do know that one of them is by Gwen Robbins, an English journalist, and another by Alan Dent, a distinguished English critic.”

Mr. Cukor:

“Alan Dent? Yes, very distinguished. Very important. Very good writer. (Laughter) Gladys is muttering all this to me!”

Mr. Erskine:

“The third book is being written by Radie Harris, a newspaper woman who writes a column in the Hollywood Reporter, the Bible of our business. Radie was a very devoted and loyal friend to Vivien, and her devotion and loyalty has become famous in the theater. An excerpt from her book will be read by Joseph Cotten at her request.” (Applause)

Mr. Cotten:

“This is from Radie Harris’ manuscript. ‘It was the late Sacha Guitry who once said, ‘Memory is one paradise out of which we cannot be driven.’ No words could more epitomize the paradise given to Vivien’s friends throughout the world as some consolation for facing the world without her. There are many, many memories that evoke her image, everywhere I turn, that trying to catch them is like delving into a grab bag of assorted treasures. There was a time when she was playing on Broadway in Tovarich. An Actor’s Equity strike was on and all of the theaters were closed. Vivien immediately jumped at this opportunity to indulge in her favorite form of exercise, shopping at Bloomingdale’s. Riding down the escalator, she lost her footing and if Jack Merivale had not been there to catch her she might have had a serious accident. ‘If I had been hurt, I would have sued Actor’s Equity,’ she announced. ‘After all, if they hadn’t closed the theaters, I wouldn’t have been at Bloomingdale’s’. (Laughter)

Then there was the time that she was starring in Duel of Angels, at the Huntington Hartford in Hollywood. Among the close friends whom Vivien had invited to the opening were Mary and Hayley Mills. Hayley was only fourteen at the time, very much the Pollyanna image, so Mary felt the play was too sophisticated.

‘Nonsense,’ stated Vivien. ‘Hayley is quite old enough to be exposed to such a fine French playwright.’ And since no one could resist Vivien when she made up her mind about anything, Hayley went, accompanied by a very nervous mother.

The next morning, one of the local critics in his review also criticized Hayley’s presence at this adult play. Immediately there followed a steady barrage of wires from outraged women’s committees threatening to boycott the recently released Pollyanna. Mary was frantic. She called Vivien and said she shouldn’t have listened to her, but should have followed her own instinct. She added that Walt Disney was very upset too.

Vivien then asked Mary if she had noticed from where all these indignant wires had been sent. ‘No, why?’ Mary wanted to know. ‘Well, darling, every one of them was sent from the Beverly Hills Western Union,’ answered Vivien. ‘How could you possibly know that?’ asked the puzzled Mary. Vivien finally confessed with great glee, ‘Because I sent them all.’ ” (Laughter)

Mr. Erskine:

“Radie Harris, the authoress of that piece, is here tonight, and I should like to introduce her. She flew out from New York just for this dinner. (Applause) Next we are going to show a motion picture called Waterloo Bridge, which was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and before we bring Mr. LeRoy up I’m going to ask Miss Garson to introduce the picture. (Mr. Cukor falls from his chair.) You can imagine what George would have said to an actor who did that.” (Laughter)

Mr. Cukor:

“I was so busy thinking, ‘Let’s get the next person up so we don’t have a long wait’…that I fell right on my…back!” (Laughter)

Mr. Erskine:

“Miss Garson, if you can get here without falling over George Cukor, would you mind introducing the next picture?”

Miss Garson:

“I can’t think of anything spectacular to top that. (Laughter) I think George must have studied with the Guitrys for years. Well, if I may take a moment or two, it seems such a warm and wonderful atmosphere here tonight. How Viv would love it- does love it. I can’t claim to be a close friend of hers. Working actresses- somehow one’s working, the other’s free. You’re free, your friend is working. You don’t have much time together.

But I had a very nice rapport with Vivien, always. I think there’s probably nobody in this room here tonight who has know her longer than I have. Her debut in the London theater took place just a few months before my own, so naturally I watched her career progress with more than average interest. And I remember the lyrical reviews and the unanimous rejoicing over the newcomer’s beauty and grace, and the mingled cheers and groans when Alexander Korda snatched her from the legitimate theater to adorn his London Film Corporation.

I didn’t see her in The Mask of Virtue, her first important leading role in London, but I did see quite soon after The Happy Hypocrite, a delightful play based on an Oscar Wilde story, and in which Ivor Novello and Isabel Jeans also appeared. She played a rather similar role to her earlier great success, that of a maiden whose innocent charm and virtue confounded and reformed all evil doers. In Vivien’s stage presence the aura of sweetness and light seemed not a cliche caricature at all, but entirely natural and right, and completely convincing.

I lost sight of her then for about three and a half years, as by great fortune I had one of those lucky breaks that all young actors pray for. I had played my first London role opposite Laurence Olivier and I was straight after that careening madly and happily through a baker’s dozen of rather short-run plays in London while Vivien was appearing in a succession of Korda screen productions.

Incidentally, I heard that Korda came to see me several times, but always went away shaking his head because he decided- and I quite agree with him- that I was not photogenic. (Laughter) So I was not importuned to leave the live theater and go into cinema. Meanwhile, Vivien, by now engaged to marry Larry, was visiting him in Hollywood, where he was filming Wuthering Heights, and was quite by chance, or as I like to think, and as the song has it, ‘not really by chance,’ cast as Scarlett O’Hara and the rest is history.

As it happened, GWTW, in which she played her most famous role, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, in which I played my first screen part, were both released in the same season. So you see, once again we had each reached an important milestone on our separate paths. But soon after that our paths almost crossed. It was the Golden Age of Hollywood when all the big studios had their rosters of actors and directors and writers and they were able to shuffle assignments and names like dealing a deck of cards. Out at MGM Sam Behrman had written the script of Waterloo Bridge with Vivien in mind for the ballet dancer and Larry for the hero. At the same time George Cukor, that famous tumbler and acrobat, (laughter) who in his earlier years had quite a good career as a director, (laughter) was planning to direct Pride and Prejudice from a script by Aldous Huxley. And Vivien Leigh…”

Mr. Cukor:

“But Aldous did not write the script, nor did I direct it.”

Miss Garson:

“You’re spoiling my point again, George. (Laughter) Really! Anyhow, Vivien and Larry very much wanted to play Elizabeth and Darcy in that film with you directing, isn’t that so? The first thing that happened was that the studio definitely assigned Vivien to Waterloo Bridge with Robert Taylor opposite her and Mervyn LeRoy directing. Mervyn’s here tonight. Lovely picture, Mervyn, of course.

Vivi tried to get Louis B. Mayer to change his mind and replace her with Joan Crawford. I don’t know if Joan even knew about this little move in the card game. Failing that, she hoped to persuade him to let Larry play opposite her in Waterloo Bridge, but the studio decided that I was the one to play Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and Larry would be the ideal Darcy. The direction was handed not to George Cukor after all but to Robert C. Leonard. This does begin to sound rather like a TV Guide summary of a running segment in Peyton Place. (Laughter and applause)

That was the way things were done in those days, and we all could have used a few tranquilizers, I guess, out Culver City way, but they weren’t yet invented, so we just had to get on with it. I don’t know how things were next door on the Waterloo Bridge set, but I imagine there were days when Vivien was just as preoccupied as Larry was on our Pride and Prejudice set with plans and problems and preparations for the production of Romeo and Juliet, their theater production which they were to launch in San Francisco just as soon as shooting was over. Anyhow, both pictures turned out quite well.

Looking back on those days when it was customary, I must admit, for actors and others under contract to be strongly critical of the studio’s handling of their careers, I wonder if perhaps the moguls after all didn’t know really about what was right for all of us. Because, as far as Vivien was concerned, time has proved that although she was enchanting in light comedy- petite, composed, precise, a delicate creature a porcelain mischief- all those lovely things- her true quality and personal kind of artistry were best seen and will always be most tenderly remembered in her interpretation of romantic heroines, with their fragile dignity, their need for love, their vulnerability and inevitable heartbreak. She gave us a series of unforgettable portraits: Lady Hamilton, Blanche DuBois, Mrs. Stone and the lost lady of Ship of Fools. Here is the first in that series. Here is the young Vivien in Waterloo Bridge.” (Applause)

[Scene from Waterloo Bridge]

Mr. Erskine:

“The director of that picture, Mr. Mervyn LeRoy, who I think has directed something like 75 pictures, is going to come up and talk with us.” (Applause)

Mr. LeRoy:

“All I can say, ladies and gentlemen, is that there was an actress. You know, I’ve been very lucky with English people and English actresses. (He bows to Miss Garson). I made three movies with this beautiful lady: Blossoms in the Dust, Madame Curie, and Random Harvest. She, too, is one of the greats. I just had to say that. (Applause).

Everyone has said what I would like to say about Vivien. I can say I’m awfully proud that I made Waterloo Bridge with her. Thank you very much.” (Applause)

Mr. Erskine:

“The next actor I’m going to introduce is a friend of mine. The misadventures of the marriage of Vivien and Laurence Olivier are going to be read to you by Mr. Walter Matthau. (Applause) I’d like to say that Walter Matthau and Vivien’s father had identical hobbies. The both raised race horses and raced them. Mr. Matthau’s entire stable won a race on Friday at Santa Anita.” (Laughter)

Mr. Matthau:

“I only saw Vivien Leigh once in my life in person. That was at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. I got into the elevator, and she was there. And I got goose pimples. I got off on the third floor, like a fool. (Laughter) She went up higher. The goose pimples remained for ten minutes, which I am told, is a medical phenomenon. (Laughter) This concerns the secret wedding of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. It was on August 28, 1940, that Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were free at last to be married. It was shortly before Vivien was to appear in the film, That Hamilton Woman. They wanted to get it done before shooting began. Olivier got in touch with Ronald Colman, whose own marriage to Benita Hume had been managed with so little fuss and news coverage two years before. They wanted the wedding to be entirely private- no big noise on radio or in the press-! it must be kept a secret.

Colman told him that California law required a full three-day notification and registration for marriage. If this was done in Los Angeles, it would appear in all the papers in a few hours and he and Vivien could say goodbye to any chance of a quiet wedding. ‘The best thing you can do,’ he said, ‘is to go 100 miles away to Santa Barbara, register with the County Clerk, who will have no interest in informing the press, and then go back there in four days’ time and be married by a judge. Why not have the ceremony at my cottage on the ranch?’

Ronald Colman and his wife decided not to attend the actual marriage, which was fixed for Friday, August 30th, but arranged to meet them both after the ceremony at San Pedro where his schooner, Dragoon, would be waiting in the harbor to take them on a few day’s honeymoon. Vivien Leigh said she wanted to have a pre-wedding party for all their friends. Then, even if they couldn’t be told what was afoot, for fear of a leakage, at least they wouldn’t feel slighted. At the end of the party, Olivier and Vivien Leigh mystified their guests by wishing them the best of luck when they came to say goodbye. With Garson Kanin and Katherine Hepburn, who were close friends, they started on the three-hour drive to Santa Barbara.

When they arrived, it was discovered that the three days’ notice did not expire until midnight. But the local judge agreed to perform the ceremony at one minute past twelve. It was a brilliant, moonlit night, and when at last the time came the two walked out into the moonlight and with a deliberate gesture, stood facing east- facing towards England. The judge, perhaps unused to being robbed of the benefit of daylight, said he was going to keep things short, very short, indeed.

He was as good as his word. After only one quickly murmured ‘yes’ from Vivien, he said, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’ Then, the ceremony at an end, he gave a sudden and unexpected and unexplained cry of ‘BINGO!’ (Laughter)

Meanwhile, the other partners in the other carefully prepared plot, the Colmans, were at work in the Dragoon transforming the one small stateroom for guests into a bridal suite, complete with gardenias, lace-edged pillows and champagne. On deck, where they sat trying to keep awake until the revival- the arrival of the Oliviers…(Laughter) I studied at the Actor’s Studio. (Laughter) I don’t talk so good. (Laughter) At any rate, there they were on deck, awaiting the arrival of the Oliviers, with a little white wedding cake and a large bottle of champagne. It was not until sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. that a car appeared out of the darkness.

The Colmans watched their chauffeur take elaborate security precautions before allowing the Oliviers to climb from the back of the car onto the quay. Secrecy had triumphed. They embraced, and toasts were drunk. Ronald Colman told the captain to weigh anchor and for half an hour or more, they all stayed on deck, laughing and talking until the San Pedro light at the entrance to the harbor was past and the Dragoon headed for the open sea and Catalina Island.

They awoke to a glorious morning and found the schooner anchored in the small, quiet bay. After a swim, they lay on the deck, drying in the sun and once again raised their glasses to the success of their plan. It was just about then that, quite unmistakably, reaction set in. The plan had been almost too successful. A hoax is not much fun unless one can see the discomfiture of the hoaxed. Ronald Colman recalls a sense of anti-climax: ‘We’d just finished lunch when Larry asked if we had a radio on board. I said that he had and we might just catch the two o’clock news. ‘That would be interesting,’ said Vivien. ‘Wouldn’t it?’ said Benita. I turned on the news. Fifteen minutes and no mention of any wedding. ‘Wonderful,’ said Larry. ‘Ronnie, you really managed it superbly.’ ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ I said modestly, ‘but the four o’clock news has the most important events.’ ‘Indeed,’ said Larry, stretching himself out on a deck chair. It was, of course, only by coincidence that at four o’clock Larry pulled himself out of siesta. Benita said, ‘Would you two mind if Ronnie and I listened to the news?’ ‘Not at all, but keep it down, won’t you?’ said Larry, rolling over a little closer. (Laughter) ‘It’s a pity to spoil the quiet of this idyllic spot,’ said Vivien, coming over and sitting by me. I turned on the radio- still no news of the Oliviers. ‘Of course,’ I said quickly, ‘you can’t expect it to escape Winchell at 6 o’clock. He gets everything.’ ‘Oh, yes, he’ll have it,’ said Benita hopefully. ‘Have what?’ said Vivien innocently. And then, ‘Oh darling, you can’t think for one minute that we are in the least bit interested in the news!’

Larry interrupted this with a laugh. ‘Not much,’ he said. This relieved the rest of us and we all laughed and openly admitted our anxiety at having perhaps been too successfully secret. After all, there’s not much point in having a secret when the other fellow doesn’t want to know. ‘We certainly pulled it off, didn’t we?’ I said, ‘Not a word on the radio or anywhere.’ ‘We certainly did,’ said Larry gloomily. At ten o’clock the story finally broke and relief was plain on every face. ‘Too bad it got out,’ said Larry heartily. (Laughter) ‘Yes,’ sighed Vivien happily. Next day, the press moved in and things got back to normal again.” (Laughter and applause)


Mr. Cukor:

“Well, I think at this hour we should just be awfully brief and see them. They can explain themselves. But in the scene with Douglass Montgomery- that was before Leslie Howard was cast- you can see why she got the job.

As all these actresses here tonight will tell you, it’s an absolute agony to stand there and be photographed and turn around this way and that. Am I right, ladies? Yes.

[Tests of GWTW, including silent makeup hair-style and wardrobe tests, in Technicolor with Clark Gable and dialogue scenes with Hattie McDaniel, Douglass Montgomery and Leslie Howard.]

The voice of Emlyn Williams:

“Three hundred and fifty years ago a great English poet, John Donne, wrote a poem, which might have been written yesterday and dedicated to Vivien Leigh.

Look upward; that’s towards her, whose happy state
We now lament not, but congratulate.
She, to whom we celebrate, is gone before.
She, who had Here so much essential joy,
As no chance could distract, much less destroy.

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.

Look up with love.

She to heaven is gone,
Who made this world in some proportion
A heaven.