Monday, November 5, 2012
All You Need to Know About Vivien Leigh on Her 99th Birthday
The 5th of November is usually a day where people go and buy some sticks of colourful delight and light them of fire so they can look up at the sky being ignited for about five seconds. Since I've never really relished in seeing fireworks go off in the sky (it hurts my neck and ears...I prefer to watch from a distance), Guy Fawkes might as well mean something else for me. On this day in 1913, my favourite actress, and generally my favourite person who ever walked this Earth, Vivien Leigh was born in Darjeeling, India.
If you've seen either Gone with the Wind or A Streetcar Named Desire, you'll know just how amazing she was. If you haven't seen either of them, do Vivien a favour on what would have been your 99th birthday: get out from under your rock and see what you've been missing. While you're at it, check out Waterloo Bridge, one of my absolute favourite films, which you can find on YouTube. Honestly, you'll love me forever.
I thought that I may as well dedicate an entire post to my love for Vivien Leigh, which started when I was a mere 12 years old. Because I had the tendency to get over obsessed with things back then, I read around five biographies on her, and then wrote my own (honestly, it was just one of the biographies condensed down...all of the quotes and everything were from one of those biographies that I'd read). Since I can't share the entire thing with you - and nor do I want to, I was an awful writer at age 13 - I thought I'd just throw together a random birthday appreciation post, filled with lots of facts that you likely didn't know. I dedicated a whole period of my life to this woman, so hopefully you will find some interest in it. Alas, here we go:
-When she was at school, future actress Maureen O'Sullivan (probably best known for her involvement in the Tarzan films) asked Vivien what she wanted to be when she grew up. Vivien replied "an actress...a great actress."
-It is all because of Laurence Olivier that she got the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. As you probably know, producer David O. Selznick poured about $50,000 into his three year search for his perfect Scarlett. Vivien literally came in at the last minute. Originally, Vivien had wanted to star opposite Laurence in Wuthering Heights as Cathy, but the producers were set on Merle Oberon. They offered Vivien the role of Isabella, but she declined it. When it came time for Laurence to shoot it, Vivien missed Laurence terribly so she went to America to be with him.
In the lead up to finding his Scarlett, David O. Selznick asked the public to vote for their ideal Scarlett. The most votes went to people like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck, but one guy from New Zealand sent in a vote for Vivien. Yeah, us NZers have good taste.
That lone NZ vote didn't exactly do wonders, and Selznick said himself that he had "no interest in Vivien Leigh" when her name was put forward again in 1938. When Vivien came to America, Bette Davis had dropped out of contention as she played a similar character in 1938's Jezebel (which also won her an Oscar), and Paulette Godard was the main contender.
Vivien signed with Laurence's boss, Myron Selznick, who was also David Selznick's brother. He took her onto the set of Gone with the Wind, where they were already filming the 'Burning of Atlanta' scene (using stunt double for the unnamed Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett) on December 10th. Myron introduced Vivien to his brother by saying "Hey Genius. Meet your Scarlett O'Hara". She was instantly given a screen test.
The only actresses left in the race were Vivien, Joan Bennett, Jean Arthur and Paulette Godard. Bennett and Arthur were denied, leaving Godard and Leigh. They were given Technicolour screen tests, which sealed the deal for Vivien. Another factor in Godard's failure to get the role was about her relationship with Charlie Chaplin, as no-one was really sure about how that was going down. Vivien was given the part on Christmas day, which was a great shock to her, as she thought that Katharine Hepburn had got the part.
-Waterloo Bridge was her favourite film that she'd done.
-In 1944, Vivien started filming Caesar and Cleopatra. She was also pregnant at the time. While filming, she slipped and fell heavily, resulting in a miscarriage two days later. It was here when she contracted tuberculosis and her manic-depression started developing.
-One of the reasons I love Vivien so much is because she loved NZ. In her own words: "This must be the most subdued place in the world. The quiet is unearthly...Nevertheless much more couth and better mannered all round than the Australians and a much better audience."
-In 1949, she was introduced to the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, as she took the role for a London stage production. The show ran for 326 performances, and clearly took its toll on Vivien as she'd often be seen shaking and distraught at the end of it, but she received rave reviews for her performance. It wasn't too long before a film adaptation was in the works. Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden were all a part of the stage production in New York, with Jessica Tandy playing Blanche. Kazan and writer Tennessee Williams favoured Vivien, so she was ultimately cast in the role. The role won her a second Oscar.
-She was going to star in Elephant Walk, which sent her to Ceylon, India. There, she started an affair with her co-star Peter Finch. She also suffered a mental breakdown, which resulted in her losing the role and being sent home. In one episode, she began reciting lines from A Streetcar Named Desire, and became so involved with that role again that when a nurse tried to calm her by saying "I know who you are, you're Scarlett O'Hara", she replied "I'm not Scarlett O'Hara! I'm Blanche DuBois!" She was deemed unfit to go back and finish Elephant Walk, so Elizabeth Taylor took the role.
-In 1963, Vivien won a Tony award for her performance in Tovarich. This was quite a remarkable feat as Vivien had never needed to sing before, and her voice was failing because of her tuberculosis.
-Vivien died on Friday July 7th, 1967, aged 53. She died of a severe tuberculosis attack. Many years later, Laurence Olivier was found watching one of Vivien's old films on TV. He had tears in his eyes, and he said "This, this was love. This was the real thing."
Vivien Leigh had a pretty tough life, which is why her story is so fascinating. Seriously, if you ever want to know any more about her (this was a pretty brief overview), I know just about everything there is to know. But for now, a huge Happy Birthday to the most beautiful, interesting, talented woman who ever lived (in my opinion). May she go on in our hearts forever.
What do you think of Vivien Leigh? Got any favourite films/performances from her?