Category: book news

Collections cataloguing: Box 5 (and Vivien Leigh in Chinese)

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Collections cataloguing: Box 5 (and Vivien Leigh in Chinese)

Has spring arrived where you are? We still seem to be stuck in the doldrums of winter here in Northern England. There was a metaphorical bright spot about a week ago when I learned that my book, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, was translated into simplified Chinese and published in China! They’ve apparently changed the title to something like Vivien Leigh: Forever Gone With the Wind (because sure, why not!) and the cover is different as well. But the photos and, I’m assuming, the content remain the same. I quite like the design!

What do you all think?

  • Vivien Leigh in Chinese

In other news, the weather is horrible today, a perfect excuse to say in with a cup of tea and a box of Viv and Larry ephemera. Work on digitising and cataloguing the Richard Mangan Laurence Olivier Collection continues apace. I’m currently finishing up with box 7 and have repackaged 11 boxes of material, thanks to the support and generosity of the Viv and Larry Patrons. Some people may find cataloguing archives to be boring and tedious, but I actually really like getting stuck in with this sort of work. It gives me an opportunity to carefully look at and consider each photograph, playbill, etc. Plus, it’s kind of soothing. I do it all the time during my day job. Just stick my headphones in, turn on Spotify, and off I go.

Here are some highlights from Box 5. As of this writing, I’m up to 1947 in Olivier’s stage career and have catalogued 784 individual pieces of ephemera.

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Talking Vivien Leigh and The Future

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Talking Vivien Leigh and The Future

A couple weeks ago I was contacted by a youtube user called Jim Junot, who has started a web series called The Junot Files where he interviews authors of books related to old Hollywood. On Sunday we sat down to chat via Skype about Vivien Leigh and the research that went in to Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, why I didn’t shy away from writing about mental illness, and what’s coming up next in work and life. (About that: I can tell you that after many years of nail biting anxiety and low level depression, followed by about 8 months of proper “me time” during which I had to move back to California, got a new therapist, a proper diagnosis, went on medication, and spent last summer and fall getting to know me, the ball is finally rolling again and I feel stronger and ready to tackle the uncertainty of the future.)

The biggest news is that I’m happy to officially announce my next book, which I’m co-writing with my dear friend Anthony Uzarowski. We’re giving Ava Gardner the illustrated biography treatment! Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (working title) will be published by Running Press in October 2016 and will be of the same format as the Vivien Leigh book. I’ve even requested the same designer who I thought nailed it on the first go around. What excites me about this project is that it’s a chance for me to learn about someone I didn’t know much about already, and to be able to branch off from Vivien Leigh in a professional way. This is not to say my interest in Vivien or Laurence Olivier has waned–in fact it’s only grown as more information and archives become available and there’s a lot of potential for future projects (including one I’m collaborating on at the moment). However, my goal is to be Kendra Bean: Historian rather than just Kendra Bean: Vivien Leigh Expert Lady, you know? So I’m eager to expand my knowledge in different areas of media history. Anthony and I are currently hard at work so if you enjoyed my first effort at book writing, we both hope you’ll stick around for the second!

The other big news is that I’m moving back to London in the fall to rejoin Robbie and Lulu the kitty, and also to pursue another MA – this time in Museum Studies at University College London as training to become a museum curator. After co-curating the Starring Vivien Leigh exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, followed by a Photographs Dept. internship under the guidance of Terence Pepper and Claire Freestone, I felt like I’d finally found an area of work where I feel “at home.” Subsequent involvement with goings-on at the Victoria and Albert Museum has added to my desire to go down that road. I’ve learned that the museum/archives sector is a tough area to break in to, especially with the economy (in the US and UK) being in shambles at the moment, so I’m trying to build up my CV.

Luckily, I was given a wonderful opportunity back in January to assist the estate of photographer James Abbe in digitizing and cataloguing his photographic archive. It’s been a very interesting experience so far and I’m proud to be involved with this large-scale project from the beginning. Abbe was a portrait photographer as well as a very active photojournalist from the 1910s-1930s. His subjects ranged from Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplin to Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. His work has been exhibited a few times in museums, including a landmark show put together by Terence Pepper at the National Portrait Gallery in London back in 1995 that really brought Abbe back into the public consciousness. There is infinite potential for this material and we are working on ways to harness it. The first step is getting it all organized, so that’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of the summer.



Year-end wrap-up 2013

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Year-end wrap-up 2013

Another year over, but what a year it was! 2013 was definitely the Year of Vivien Leigh – at least around here. The events that occurred this autumn to celebrate Vivien’s centenary proved that her legacy hasn’t been forgotten. She was brought back out into the much-deserved spotlight as people from around the globe descended upon London to pay tribute to this unique artist and woman.

On a personal level, 2013 was one of the most fulfilling years of my life. It was also a year of many firsts: I moved in with the person I love, we got a cat, and of course, there was all that business with Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. When I signed that book contract for Running Press last year, I could never have foreseen the rich experience that would follow. I’ve travelled, met a plethora of extraordinary people, had many discussions revolving around a shared appreciation for Vivien Leigh, and had the honor of collaborating with the National Portrait Gallery, the British Film Institute, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I’m really excited to see what 2014 will bring. But first, here’s a round-up of things that happened this year:



2013travel2Devon  // Notley Abbey // Rome // Shaw’s Corner // East Sussex // Conwy and Chatsworth // Barcelona // Paris 

Book Launch

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait book launchPhotos by Jodie Chapman

October 10, 2013 saw the culmination of five years of dreaming and working. Daunt Books in Holland Park hosted the launch party for Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. Emotions ran high (I cried!) as I was overwhelmed by the turnout and support. So many friends, fans, and distinguished guests came along to toast the publication of my first book. My mom and her sister made their first-ever trip to London just for the occasion. My friend Marissa travelled from New York. Someone even came from Finland to join the party! Imagine my surprise when Claire Bloom walked in the door! I’d offered to take her to lunch a few times since she agreed to pen the foreword, but she always had something else going on, so it was an honor to finally meet her in person.

Writing a book is only half the journey. Once it’s published, there’s still promotion to do. That in itself has been an interesting adventure. The overall reception has (thankfully) been really positive and I’ve learned so much along the way. Here’s the full list of press mentions and interviews.

Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration

Starring Vivien Leigh

I never thought I’d be asked to co-curate an exhibit at a museum, let alone a show about my favorite actress. So you can imagine my surprise when I received an invitation over the summer from curators Terence Pepper and Clare Freestone to help with the Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. I’d been a fan of Terence’s photography books for years (Beaton Portraits, anyone?). Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time working on this project and helping out in the Photographs department. It’s been a wonderful learning experience. Thank you for reaching out, Terence and Clare!

New Friends and Old

Vivien Leigh fans

Without a doubt, one of the best parts of this year was connecting with so many fellow Vivien Leigh fans. You guys are dedicated! Whether I’d met you before, had “known” you for years and only now got the chance to meet you in person, serendipitously met you at an event, or have only corresponded with you via email, I’m glad to call you my friends. All of the hard work in putting a book together and maintaining this website and the associated Facebook page isn’t worth much without other people to share in this passion. I’m sure Vivien would be happy to know she’s still loved by so many!

Thank you for your support and continued interest throughout this long and challenging journey. I hope 2013 has been fulfilling for all of you and wish you the best for 2014 and beyond.

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Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to give a lecture about Vivien Leigh at the National Portrait Gallery here in London to kick off the opening of the “Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration” exhibit, which I was also invited to co-curate. Vivien proved to be a very popular subject last month, with a hugely successful BFI film retrospective, some of the V&A items going on display, and now the NPG show. There have been numerous articles and mentions of her life and work in newspapers, magazines, on the radio, and across the web. I feel honoured to be involved and to have been able to contribute to the resurrection of Vivien’s memory in some way.

Needless to say, the free lunchtime lecture at the NPG (they have them every week, usually to coincide with one of the exhibitions) was hugely popular. The house was completely full, and apparently about 50 people had to be turned away due to lack of space. This was my first-ever big lecture, and I was terrified. Kind of like Vivien used to do before her performances, I was shaking and grasping my boyfriend’s arm with ice cold fingers before I went on stage. But once I got into it, I felt a lot better and was glad that the audience was so responsive. It was a wonderful learning experience and it has given me confidence for my next major talk in February at the Victoria and Albert Museum, as part of a Vivien Leigh symposium (more on that soon).

I really enjoyed speaking about my love for Vivien, and I hope you enjoy it, as well. If you’re in or around London between now and the end of July 2014, I highly encourage you to stop by the NPG to see the Starring Vivien Leigh display. It’s free and it’s a great selection of photographs and ephemera showcasing her unique career.