vivien leigh, gertrude hartley, suzanne farrington

articles vivien leigh

Article – The Woman of Tickeridge Mill

by Shirley Gott

New Idea (Australia), December 25, 1963

**Thanks to Judy for sharing this article.

Vivien Leigh recently celebrated her 50th birthday at her country home, Tickeridge Mill [sic], in Sussex, with the two people who are closer to her than anybody in the world — her mother, Mrs. Gertrude Hartley, 74, and her daughter, Mrs. Suzanne Farrington, 29.

Also at the family party were the three most important men in Miss Leigh’s life these days — her grandsons Neville (aged five), Jonathan (three) and Rupert (one) Farrington.

Since she left the London nursing home she was admitted to at the end of September, she has been living more quietly than she has for years.

As all the world knows, Vivien Leigh, suffering from nervous exhaustion after a triumphant six months on Broadway as the star of the hit musical Tovarich, was brought home on a stretcher by plane from New York.

In the seclusion of Tickeridge Mill, a lovely old farmhouse in several acres of grounds, she spent her days resting, reading, pottering around in overalls in the old-world garden and playing with her grandsons.

The little boys, with Miss Leigh’s daughter and mother, were her only regular visitors.

Mrs. Hartley, famous in her own right as one of Mayfair’s top beauty specialists for 30 years, says:

“Vivien, Suzanne and I are terribly close. I think the reason we get on so well together is because our lives are so different and we work in separate worlds.”

Mrs. Hartley’s vitality, sparkling blue-green eyes (which both her daughter and grand-daughter have inherited) and pink and white skin belie her age.

When she flew to New York last March on the day Vivien Leigh opened in Tovarich on Broadway and then danced gaily for hours with actor Emlyn Williams at the champagne supper to celebrate its success, a New York newspaper columnist described her as “the chicest, trimmest, brightest-eyes septuagenarian I’ve ever met.”

Since her husband, stock broker Ernest Hartley, died two years ago, Mrs. Hartley has lived alone in a Kensington flat, concentrating on the beauty culture school she runs at her Dover St. salon for girls from all over the world — Persia, Africa, Australia, America and several European countries are represented by the current bunch of pupils.

Always, when she had been asked about her passionate and headstrong daughter at some headline-making point in her career, Mrs. Hartley has said: “I don’t think a mother should give advice unless she is asked for it.”

When Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were divorced, she merely commented: “This does not concern me. I have done my best to keep out of it.”

Mrs. Hartley obviously revels in her work as a beautician. “I didn’t take this up until I was middle-aged,” she says. “One has to have an interest to keep in touch. One cannot help getting old, but one can help getting old and ugly.”

Serene, composed, self-sufficient, she has very definite ideas on beauty care, as on everything else.

“Going to bed with a greasy face ought to be grounds for a divorce. It’s horrible, most unattractive and quite useless,” she said. “I use soap and water on my face — I never feel clean otherwise.”

She has also said often: “My daughter, like myself, is a great believer in fate. If something is going to happen, it’s no use trying to go against it.”

After visiting Vivien in the nursing home on her return to America ill and exhausted, Mrs. Hartley said sadly: “Vivien’s trouble is that she has never been able to relax.

“But now she must, because the body gives in.

“I have always been so proud of her success as an actress, but what a strain it all is. The more the success, the more the stage fright you suffer every first night. When I see her then, I suffer for her terribly.”

Vivien Leigh’s daughter, Suzanne, is the child of her first marriage, to barrister Mr. Leigh Holman.

Vivien Leigh was helped back to health by Mr. Leigh Holman.

She spent a restful week as a guest at his home in Wiltshire.

Mr. Holman, a retired barrister of 63, has never remarried since he and Miss Leigh were divorced in 1940 so that she could marry Sir Laurence Olivier.

He has always been very close to his daughter, Suzanne, and there was a stir in British newspapers a few years ago when Vivien Leigh, Mr. Holman and Suzanne spent a holiday together in Switzerland.

“Just because we’re divorced, it doesn’t mean we can’t be good friends.” the actress said at the time. “And our getting on so well together makes things so much pleasanter for Suzanne.”

Suzanne has been happily married since 1957 to Lloyd’s underwriter Robin Farrington.

As a teenager she longed to be a famous actress, like her mother, and studied for two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

But now she is utterly contented with her life, running a town house in Hyde Park Gate, visiting her mother’s home in Sussex and looking after her three small sons.

Looking back, Suzanne Farrington feels that a major turning point in her life came when she was 19, about to graduate from RADA, and her mother was flown home to England suddenly from Ceylon, where she had been making the film Elephant Walk, suffering from physical and nervous exhaustion.

Because of this illness she was unable to attend the Royal Academy’s graduation class performance, when Suzanne made her stage debut; Mrs. Hartley was the only member of the family there.

Suzanne said afterwards: “Only sheer collapse has forced Mother to give up acting temporarily. I am going to think very hard about my future now.

“Shall I keep on with trying to become a great actress, or settle for a career with no triumphs, but fewer heartaches and tears?”

In the end, Suzanne plumped for the latter.

She trained at her grandmother’s beauty culture school, and then worked as a beauty writer for a glossy magazine until her marriage.

Her mother was happy about this. “I don’t recommend a career in the theatre,” she said, after Suzanne had given up her acting ambitions.

“I wanted Suzanne to be sure she was desperately keen to become an actress, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to take the disappointments she was sure to meet in such an over-crowded profession.”

It was a revealing comment from an actress who has been celebrated for her talent and beauty since 1939 when the world fell in love with her as Scarlet [sic] O’Hara in the film of Gone With The Wind.

The London theatrical world is speculating now about her future.

On her doctor’s advice she had to withdraw permanently from her role in Tovarich on Broadway, and there are rumours that she may retire for good and settle for the peace and quiet of her Sussex farm.

But for a woman who has courageously beaten severe illness, tuberculosis, several times to return to acting, this seems unlikely.

She said ruefully the other day: “I suppose it was madness for me at my age to be knocking myself out every night on stage dancing the Charleston in Tovarich — but I loved it.”

This was her first dancing and singing role, and Broadway critics adored her in it. She won the stage equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscar for it and became the toast of New York society.

Whatever course Vivien Leigh’s life takes now she has joined the ranks of the “glamorous fifties”, among actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, one thing she can rely on — the love and support of her mother and daughter.

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 (4)

  1. An interesting insight into the three generations of women with Vivien in the centre.The three women were also different in looks and temperament .Of course Vivien was gifted with great beauty and took after her handsome father although mother had good looks ,was not a beauty As for Suzanne ,she was plain and realised she would not succeed as an actress therefore decided to settle for a life of domesticity and Motherhood which seemed to make her happy .Gertrude also pursued a a successful career with her own beauty school in a fashionable part of London . Vivien “s life was hectic with long periods of illness which curtailed the films and stage work she could do. Having said that ,Vivien was one of the best actresses of her time Proof of that in her two academy awards. It is noteable that she had a fairly short life whereas Gertrude and Suzanne boyth lived to a good age.

  2. Thanks for posting this article. I thought it was very insightful from Gertrudes and Suzanne’s perspective regarding the high price they perceived Vivien paid for being an international beauty and famous, talented film and stage star. It showed great caring and restraint on both their parts. It’s clear they let Vivien live life on her terms but were their to love and support her.

  3. It is interesting how little the public and press really new about the true nature of her illness.People then were far less intrusive about forcing the issue out into the public in all it gory details…The total opposite of how things operate today..

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