5 astonishing facts about actress Vivien Leigh that you might not know

By SSPDaily editionJan 25, 2024 15:31 PMShowbiz
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5 astonishing facts about actress Vivien Leigh
5 astonishing facts about actress Vivien Leigh. Source: latimes.com

On November 5, the renowned English actress Vivien Leigh would have celebrated her 110th birthday. She gained worldwide fame and won an Academy Award for her iconic roles in the films "Gone with the Wind" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." Vivien Leigh has captivated millions with her beauty and talent, becoming a symbol of femininity and grace.

However, her personal and professional success was tragically cut short by tuberculosis, leading to her premature death at the age of 53. Therefore, SSPDaily has compiled key facts from the life of the famous actress.

The beginning of her career

Vivien Leigh adopted her stage name at the age of 22, previously known as Vivian-Marie Hartley. She received a good education at a convent school in the suburbs of London and then at Catholic schools in Europe. However, her rebellious nature was never tamed.

Talented in various disciplines, Vivien spoke several languages, played the violin and piano, and had a deep knowledge of history and literature. However, her biggest dream from a young age was to become an actress. There was no question of which path she would choose - she continued her studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Concerned about the prospects of their wayward daughter's marriage, her parents often took her to social events in the hope of finding a suitable husband. So when Vivien married lawyer Herbert Lee Holman at the age of 19 and gave birth to a daughter, their happiness knew no bounds. But the joy was short-lived. The birth was difficult, and Vivien swore she would never have children again.

Moreover, the role of a housewife that her husband had assigned her did not suit her at all. Thus, she entrusted her daughter's upbringing to a nanny and pursued a theater career. At the age of 22, Vivien Leigh made her film debut and took the name we know her by - Vivien, not Vivian. After her first role as an actress, film critics announced in the press the birth of a new British star.

Personal life

Vivien Leigh always got what she wanted. Her first husband was engaged to another woman before she met him, but this did not bother the actress. Similarly, when she met the famous actor Laurence Olivier, he was also married. However, this obstacle and their marriages could not stop them from continuing their love affair.

They played star-crossed lovers in movies, and their on-screen romance quickly turned into a real-life relationship. In 1937, Vivienne left her husband, leaving the care of her daughter to her grandmother. She and Laurence moved in together, never breaking up with their former partners. When Olivier set out to conquer Hollywood, Vivienne followed him.

"Gone with the Wind"

Vivien Leigh was invited to audition for the movie "Gone with the Wind." She managed to beat 1,400 competitors who were vying for the role of Scarlett. The demanding producer David Selznick turned down many famous actresses at the time. Filming had already begun without an actress approved for the role of Scarlett.

The fact that the relatively unknown British actress Vivien Leigh was eventually chosen to play the American heroine impressed many people. However, Margaret Mitchell, the author of the novel, immediately approved of Vivienne. When she saw the ambitious Englishwoman, she said that she had imagined Scarlett to be just like that - an energetic woman.

By the end of filming, Vivien Leigh was so emotionally and physically exhausted that Selznick had to send her to her favorite Laurence Olivier for a few days to prevent a nervous breakdown. Vivienne returned vigorous and full of energy, allowing her to complete the film. It was her finest hour - "Gone with the Wind" won 8 Oscars, and Vivien Leigh gained worldwide recognition.

Mental health problems

Vivien Leigh's success overshadowed all of Laurence Olivier's creative achievements, fueling his envy of her fame. This was the root cause of their disputes. Later, another reason for their disagreement emerged.

All of their colleagues and acquaintances in the acting industry spoke of her unbearable temper and claimed that she suffered from manic-depressive psychosis. She took her mood swings and erratic behavior out on her partner, as well as on directors and actors.

In 1940, when Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier finally broke up with their former partners, they had a wedding ceremony, but their marital happiness was short-lived. Four years later, doctors diagnosed the actress with tuberculosis. After a two-month course of treatment, she returned to the set.

During the filming of "Caesar and Cleopatra," Vivien Leigh became pregnant but lost the baby after tripping and falling in one of the scenes. After this incident, she experienced severe depression.

Vivien Leigh began to have uncontrollable fits of rage, during which she brutally attacked her husband and even repeatedly hit her head against the wall, but the next day she remembered nothing about it. Soon, scandals between the couple began to occur not behind closed doors but in public. Later, it turned out that her TB treatment had affected her mental health, as the medication had side effects.

Despite her mental struggle, the actress continued to perform on stage and act in films for some time, although offers from directors began to come less frequently after she turned 35 - her beauty was fading, and rumors about her unstable behavior put people off.

The end of her career and life

Vivien Leigh's last significant success before the decline of her film career was "A Streetcar Named Desire," for which she received her second Oscar. However, this role finally undermined her health and led to physical and moral exhaustion. After 40 years, the actress played only three roles in movies.

In 1953, she had to be admitted to a psychiatric clinic. At that time, manic-depressive psychosis was treated only with electroconvulsive therapy. She had to cope with her illness on her own - her husband found another woman, although he asked for a divorce only seven years later.

At the age of 47, one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood was left alone, fighting a serious illness. For the last seven years of her life, Vivien Leigh found solace in alcohol and smoked several packs of cigarettes a day, which only worsened her condition.

In May 1967, her personal physician informed her that both her lungs were affected by tuberculosis. Her condition was critical, and she urgently needed hospitalization, but the actress resolutely refused - she was exhausted from treatment.

On July 7, 1967, Vivien Leigh was found dead in her bedroom. The next day, all London theaters dimmed the lights on their stages for an hour in memory of the legendary actress. She was only 53 years old.

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