Gertrude Hartley Vivien Leigh's mother


Gertrude Hartley: Making a career of glamour

Gertrude Hartley photographed in 1958

While helping a good friend sort through some of the vintage magazines in his collection recently, I spotted this unique article in a 1958 issue of the The Tatler & Bystander, a weekly magazine catering mostly to upper-middle class and wealthy British women. It profiles Gertrude Hartley’s Academy of Beauty Culture in Knightsbridge, an institution mentioned several times in Hugo Vickers’ Vivien Leigh biography. This was not the first time the Academy of Beauty Culture had been featured in the media. In 1953, British Pathe recorded newsreel footage of Gertrude and her students at work (those laser treatments look painful). What I find most interesting about this article is the lack of mention of Vivien Leigh (except for the caption relating to the photograph of Suzanne Farrington, below). Perhaps Gertrude wanted readers to know that it was her business and didn’t need or want the endorsement of her famous offspring in order to draw attention to it? What do you think, readers?


Making a career of glamour

by Jean Cleland
The Tatler & Bystander, 23 April 1958

A career which is becoming very popular with the young is that of beauty culture, and I find that requests for advice on it are rapidly increasing. My correspondents ask what opportunities it offers, how long the training takes, and what sort of things one has to learn.

To get a reliable and comprehensive answer I went along to see Gertrude Hartley, who has just moved in to a new premises where her already famous “Academy of Beauty Culture” functions under ideal conditions. Since there is more space than formerly, there are more opportunities than ever for students to gain a wide and sound knowledge of this absorbing subject.

“Let us,” I said to Gertrude Hartley, “start at the beginning. Tell me what, in your opinion, are the most important assets for a girl who wishes to take up beauty culture as a career?” The reply was prompt and decisive. “First and foremost she must have sympathy and understanding, and be willing to give a great deal of herself. Many women who come in to have treatments for the first time are shy, and perhaps a little apprehensive. This makes it difficult for them to relax, and that is why the personality of the treatment girl is so important. She need not be glamorous to look at – indeed if she is too beautiful and sophisticated this may tend to be a little ‘off-putting’ – but she must have warmth, and the intrinsic kindness that puts people at their ease. In addition, she must have good hands for massage; strong, yet with a sensitive touch. She must, too have intelligence and the will to learn and to tackle a carried curriculum.” Mrs. Hartley went on, “Beauty culture is a wide subject requiring considerable study, and the mistake some girls make is in thinking that it can be learned without much trouble. They don’t know that to give a good and reliable facial, and a really effective massage, one must understand the principles of anatomy and physiology, and have a knowledge of bone formation and underlying muscles.”

I asked if I could see the school, and we went upstairs to a large airy room, where a number of students were busy writing and doing the theoretical part of their studies. Subjects include anatomy and physiology, already mentioned, correct massage, vitamins and dietetics, for which on certain afternoons a doctor comes to give lectures. The practical side of the course – which lasts five months – takes in both facial and body massage, make-up, ray therapy, and a number of other subjects.

Suzanne Farrington Academy of Beauty Culture


Suzanne Farrington demonstrates massage to students at the Academy of Beauty Culture

To develop the expertness which is essential to facial massage, students practice first on dummies, then on each other. Finally, when they are really good and only lack salon experience, they go to a special treatment room upstairs, where they give facials to clients for half the cost of the ones given downstairs. This is excellent both for the girls and for those people who want a good treatment for a modest price.

As I said goodbye to Mrs. Hartley, I asked one last question. “When the course is finished, what are the prospects?”

“For girls who have taken their training seriously, and done well,” she replied, “there are plenty of opportunities. They can set up on their own, or work for other beauty firms, or even work up a private clientele, going to people’s houses. My greatest pride is the number of girls who have trained in my Academy of Beauty Culture, and are now making a success of their profession, not only in this country, but in other parts of the world.”

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Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (8)

  1. Very entertaining! Didn’t Gertrude have an assistant who had a fling with her husband, and later branched out on her own as a competitor?

    Tennessee Williams mentions a witty comment from Gertrude in a letter somewhere. When he asked what her treatments might do for him, she replied, “Well, if you were seventy, I could make you look sixty-nine.” Something to that effect, anyway.

    Do you know the French movie “Venus Beauty Institute”? A chick-flick, “guilty pleasure” sort of thing. Bulle Ogier would be the Gertrude figure.

  2. Suzanne Farrington is Vivien Leigh’s daughter by her first husband Herbert Leigh Holman. VL was very young when she married him I think he was quite a lot older than VL when they married. I don’t know that much about Gertrude Hartley but I do know some information about her glamour business. I often wonder if VL ‘s mother was an Anglo Indian as her single name sounded foreign. A friend said she thought she may have been of an Armenian background. VL I think looked a bit foreign also . Laurence Olivier VL’s 2nd husband was of French background but his forbears came over to England in the 16th century. I know VL was born in India and lived there with her parents. Gertrude Hartley is said to have been a very good looking woman in her younger days VL inherited her looks I think. I have read in LO’s confessions of an actor that VL’s parents reflused to accept VL’s illness bio-polar and LO became quite annoyed by this . VL was a good actor I think but her health was very bad really especially her mental health issue which sadly never really left her .

  3. I was a student at Gertrude Hartley’s College in the early 60’s. It was an excellent training and the students were from many different parts of the world and we all worked extremely well together and had an excellent training with two very good tutors, doctors, make-up artists plus the very well known make-up artist from MGM Mr. Charles Parker himself ! Gertrude was a very beautiful and interesting lady and made quite certain all of her students reached the correct standard and personally used her own face to make quite certain the movements were carried out professionally before she would pass them with pressure points and general massage. The anatomy and physiology was given is great depth and was vital to the training covering all the systems of the body. I made a very successful career out of Beauty Therapy as the training was second to none. My work has taken me all over the world teaching and examining as Beauty Therapy really came into it’s own with many colleges opening up all over England and indeed Europe. The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology is now I believe in over 60 countries of the world and I am proud to say I was one of it’s founder members and examined many colleges all over the world in the 80’s and 90’s. I used my training to the best of my ability covering cosmetic chemistry and electrotherapy plus make-up in great depth. It has been a very long and great journey for me as the Academy Of Beauty Culture in London’r Dover Street was a stepping stone I used to the best advantage for a successful career. The picture of a teacher giving massage lessons you have here is not Suzanne, it is Jackqueline Duval as I was there at the time myself when that picture was taken.

    1. Hello Carole,

      Very informative comment, thank you so much for sharing! I hope you don’t mind if I email you personally. I’d love to hear more about your time at the Academy of Beauty Culture. Perhaps I worded the caption poorly, but I meant Suzanne was the one in the chair.

      1. Hi Kendra,
        Thank you for contacting me. Regarding the one in the chair that was one of the students who did her training with me it was not Suzanne. Suzanne did come to our presentation event at the Brown’s Hotel but I never saw her at the college. I have recently retired but am still very much involved with the profession as after close to 54 years it is not easy to just come to a halt!. I worked in Paris for Germaine Monteil and the I returned to become the head Therapist at Fortnum and Mason’s in London. I did teach at a school in Cobham for quite a few years after my daughters were born, and then went on to develop a skin care range which eventually went out to over 70 countries containing fresh Royal Jelly. My company Lotionfield Ltd blended products for many companies to a very high standard using high quality ingredients. Gertrude was a lovely lady and the students were also extremely good to train with and the chemistry working nd learning together was excellent! I am actually giving a lecture this Thursday for our local Hospice. I shall explain how B.A.B.T.A.C. came about as it all began back in the very early 60’s. The Association was amalgamated with a few other associations and re-launched back in 1977. I believe that B.A.B.TA.C. is now in over 60 countries and I was one of it’s founder members.

  4. Dear kendra,
    I actually have a picture of all the students who trained with me on the Therapy Course. I can see the girls in the picture clearly and it seems as if it were just yesterday and here I am now 73 years old! I did get the impression Gertrude thought that my hands were very good for the work. I was at Trinity College studying the violin when I changed direction completely to take the beauty therapy course. I found that my music ability was a great help when learning the movements for the facial and the body treatments and this also was a great help when I myself became a teacher, as rhythm and co-ordination is a great help when delivering massage as this helps regarding complete relaxation. I think Gertrude was very fond of classical music as we discussed this when I had my interview with her in great depth. Having a mixture of students from other parts of the world was another real bonus as we could study the different skin types and colours which enriched the studies. I remained a very close friend of the student Manju Jaggia who was from Bombay India. Manju sent me a cutting from the Times regarding a very good position in Paris. I applied for that interview and got the job with Germaine Monteil which was excellent and a great stepping stone for my career. I believe many of those students made a success of their careers after their training at the Academy of Beauty Culture. Within a few years salons sprung up almost everywhere and now there is a salon or two in almost every town in the UK as you know and many in London. I later became an Examiner for B.A.B.T.A.C. and this took me all over the world including the Far East and Australia. However old you may be, a major contribution to a healthy life is looking and feeling good about yourself………

  5. This was a very informative website. Being a great fan of VL all my life, I would like to add that she was indeed an Anglo Indian. I live in Geneva, Switzerland, and an old neighbour/friend of mine from India told me his mother was related to Gertrude. They had British, Indian and Armenian blood. I’m of pure Indian origin but had won 2 Scarlett look-alike contests (I have her face, features and lips but obviously not her colouring, as I’m pure Indian). Just wanted to reconfirm the theory that Gertrude was partly Indian!

    1. Armenian and Indian is not the same thing. And it’s not unbelievable to find Armenians if you go to Calcutta. Of course, they are very few, but they are still there. They’ve also intermarried by now. I read somewhere that Vivien’s Armenian grandfather directly came from Armenia so I don’t know which Indian part you’re talking about.

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