By Kendra On August 25, 2012 · Leave a Comment · In articles
The Old Vic Company with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier has given the New Theatre the national character of Drury Lane in Nell Gwynne’s Day
February 10, 1949
This evening (Thursday) the Old Vic has another first night at the New Theatre.
After a curtain-raiser – AntonChekhov’s Proposal – the serious business of the evening will begin: Jean Anouilh’s modern dress version of Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone, with Vivien Leigh as the highborn Cadmean maid and Laurence Olivier as Chorus.
At first by purring beauty, but increasingly by merit and then by marriage, Vivien Leigh has become part of the finest theatrical constellation in the world.
“I’ve been awfullylucky,” she said thoughtfully last week, adding with a laugh: “I’m half-waiting for some blow to fall.”
At 35, Vivien Leigh is a star by technique, and some say by temperament. But none of the quirks of a prima donna accompanied her quiet insistence on a softer lace cuff when she was being costumed for Sheridan’s Lady Teazle. Miss Flora Campbell, of Hardy Amies, in Saville Row, where she gets mostof her clothes, thinks “she’s delightful to deal with.”
Petite, she weighs 8 stone, has 34-in. bust, 22-in. waist, 35 ½-in. hips. Miss Leigh drapes her 5 ft. 3 ½-in. in voluminous mink (“Call is sable. I won’t mind”), in which she sparkles like a white diamond. There are red lights in her hair, green lights in her eyes.
She was born in Darjeeling, India, on November 5 1913, and was christenedVivian Mary. Her father, Ernest Richard Hartley, was an English stockbroker of French descent; her mother, Gertrude Robinson Hartley, was Irish.
Wherever they went in those first five years they took young Vivien. But in 1918, a sensitive, imaginative child, she was boarded in at Roehampton’s Sacred Heart Convent, where she carried the fairy’s wand in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Only Vivianseemed to realize history had been made. She solemnly announced her intention of becoming a great actress. ‘I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else.”
Fame is the Spur
All through her finishing in Paris, San Remo and Bavaria, her enthusiasm was for the stage, dancing and elocution. She studied dramatics with Mademoiselle Antoine of the Comedie Francaise, in Paris: at 16 she enteredthe Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Vivian Hartley was 19 and Herbert Leigh Holman was just starting his career as a barrister when he met her at a county hunt ball. Two years after they married, Suzanne (now 15) was born.
But fame was still the spur. Vivian ran her home by remote control, went back to RADA, to voice production at Elsie Fogerty’s, and singing with Baraldi.
She altered avowel in her Christian name, took her husband’s middle name, and became Vivien Leigh.
Since her first role as a spindly-legged schoolgirl in a British film Things Are Looking Up, Vivien Leigh has played every part she could lay her tongue to. Her first stage part was in The Green Sash, at the “Q” Theatre, Richmond.
On May 15, 1935, Sydney Carroll starred her as the wanton Henriette in The Maskof Virtue.
“I was in Fleet Street at 4 am to see what the critics said,” she admits. Every notice was a rave, though the more discerning agreed that it was her saucy, wispish beauty rather than exceptional acting ability that had won her plaudits.
Whatever it was, Vivien Leigh was in – with a five-year £60,000 film contract from Sir (then Mr.) Alexander Korda.
For three years she appearedin stage and screen roles “no one of which,” wrote one critic, “was good enough to stamp her as a star, nor bad enough to suggest she had nothing to offer but her looks.
She played the queen in a Gielgud-directed Richard II, Anne Boleyn in an outdoor Henry VIII, and Ophelia to Olivier’s Hamlet in Denmark in 1937.
As a lady-in-waiting to Flora Robson’s Elizabeth in Fire Over England she was...