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Vivien Leigh makes her debut on TV

Vivien Leigh and George Devine in The Skin of Our Teeth 1959

Making my bow on TV

by Vivien Leigh (as told to D.H. Cousins)
TV Times, March 13, 1959

Television is like a tinder-box that fires imagination, and to an actress this can only be a challenge.

Though, of course, it will never oust the theatre, television has the advantage of reach, and brings to acting the immediacy, the now or never, the win or lose inevitability of, say, the Wimbledon tennis finals, the Derby or the Cup Final.

Unlike film-making when, if a scene is not quite right the director orders a re-take, in a television performance the director can no more call “cut” than a tennis umpire can sponge out the score. In both tennis and television, the play goes on with all the excitement of immediate, concentrated effort.

Fortunately, the comparison with Wimbledon ends here – the actors are not (or should not be!) competing against one another.

There is no denying, though, that to an actress television is a challenge, and who could resist a challenge?

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Studies in Scarlett

Vivien Leigh Scarlett O'Hara

Studies in Scarlett

by Gavin Lambert
The Sunday Times, December 30, 1973

Early in 1936 David Selznick received from his story editor in New York a long synopsis of a long forthcoming novel. It was called Gone With the Wind and nobody had ever heard of the author. The story editor, Kay Brown, strongly urged him to buy the rights at once.

He didn’t. Although tempted by the material, he knew that movies about the Civil War were usually commercial failures. He turned it down, then had second thoughts for six weeks. Finally he made an offer which was accepted, went to Hawaii for a vacation with his wife and read the novel he’d bought. He returned to Hollywood to find it a runaway best seller and already part of the national psyche.

Having decided that George Cukor should direct the picture, Selznick’s first thoughts about casting were directed toward Rhett Butler, not Scarlett O’Hara. He wanted Clark Gable, but the star was under contract to MGM. His father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer, was still angry because Selznick had previously left the studio to form his own company and refused a sumptuous offer to go back. Reluctant to deal with this difficult potentate again, Selznick fell back on his second choice, Gary Cooper. He approached Sam Goldwyn, to whom the actor was under contract, and met an unblanketed refusal. He next thought Errol Flynn, at the time the movies’ top swashbuckler. Warner Brothers, who owned his contract, offered a package instead of a refusal. Bette Davis, also owned by the studio, had began an ardent campaign for the part of Scarlett the moment she heard Selznick was going to produce the movie. Jack Warner was prepared to make her part of the deal.

Selznick was seriously tempted, but not Davis. Desperate though she might be, she wouldn’t play Scarlett to Errol Flynn’s Rhett. Jack Warner broke off negotiations; Selznick, after considering Warner Baxter and Ronald Colman for a few minutes, reluctantly admitted to himself that gable was a necessity. He went back to MGM, faced his triumphant father-in-law, and was met by some not unexpected stiff terms. MGM would lend Gable at a figure considerably above his usual salary, and provide half the financing in return for world distribution rights and half of the total profits.

Since Selznick’s company had a contract with United Artists to distribute all his pictures until the end of 1938, Gone With the Wind could not be released by MGM until after that time. It was not October, 1936. Selznick’s next problem was how to keep public interest alive in his project for the next two years.

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Vivien Leigh: Adorable Vixen

Vivien Leigh at Durham Cottage London 1949

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

News Review
February 10, 1949

This evening (Thursday) the Old Vic has another first night at the New Theatre.

After a curtain-raiser – Anton Chekhov’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 awfully lucky,” 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 most of 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 christened Vivian 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 Vivian seemed 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.”

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Vendetta Against Vivien

31 days of Vivien Leigh and Laurence OlivierI have a bunch of magazine and newspaper articles left over from my dissertation research, so I’ve decided to do “31 Days of the Oliviers.” Each day I will post a new article or blog post, ending with Vivien Leigh’s birthday on November 5. These articles (most of which have Vivien as the main subject) span the years 1937-1967 and come from both American and British sources. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do!

{Day 8} Picturegoer weighs in on the casting of their own Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind and wags their finger at Hollywood actresses who may have been jealous of their biggest export. The competition between the British and Hollywood film industry is clearly evident in this article.


Vendetta Against Vivien

Picturegoer, February 18, 1939
Submitted to by Chris

Vendetta Against Vivien Leigh, Picturegoer