Category: the oliviers

classic film events the oliviers

Mad About the Boy

The Star Quality: The World of Noel Coward exhibit at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was fascinating!  It documented Coward’s life from a boy actor to a playwright, famous friend, producer, etc.  Artifacts found in the exhibit included Noel’s stage make-up case from the 1950s complete with Max Factor compacts, brushes, lipstick, and a cracked mirror, several of his silk dressing gowns, letters to Noel from both Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, an original annotated script from Brief Encounter (quite possibly my favorite item in the whole exhibit), photos from his stage productions, hand-written lyrics for his famous song Mad Dogs and Englishmen, his Oscar for In Which We Serve, and much more.  They even had a running video of his home movies from the 1930s that showed people like Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, etc.  It was so amazing.

The Oliviers and Mary Mills attend a performance of Noel COward's Cabaret at the Cafe de Paris in London

As I said in a previous post, I discovered Noel Coward through my fascination with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and quickly grew to love him.  His collaborations with David Lean in the 1940s produced two of my favorite films: Brief Encounter and Blithe Spirit, and I think his songs are hilarious and so very Cole Porter-ish.

Noel was a very close friend to both Vivien and Larry for many years, including the whole length of their marriage to one another.  They often confided in him with their marital problems and he acted as a sort of middle man at times, and he meant a lot to both of them.  They would often go visit him at his home in Jamaica when he was a tax exile.  The letter from Vivien that was in the exhibit was to thank Noel for taking her in during Christmas of 1959 (she stayed with him at Les Avants, his house in Switzerland).  It was a very hard time for Vivien because she was going through the divorce with Larry.  Her letter read:

Oh darling dear–I can never thank you enough for being so angelically kind to me.  You made Christmas & the New year so much more than possible than I ever thought it could be.  You are so wonderfully generous in every way, Noellie darling & I shall never cease to be grateful to you.  Your wise and kind advice is in my mind & I shall try to follow it.  You know well how difficult that is, but I am sure you are right.  Thank you dear dear for your unfailing friendship and thought of me.  I do hope you are going to have the greatest joy from the new house.  You have made it so lovely & goodness how thrilled I am to have been your first guest.  Next time I think I shall be a gayer one.  I also trust that you will beat the hell out of me at baccarat & Backgammon. Of course it was only your masterly teaching that enabled me to achieve those stunning results!–Oh darling my loving loving thanks.  You are so good as well as being the very prettiest & very best.

Your ever devoted

Vivien

Vivien at Les Avants, Christmas, 1959

In his diaries, Noel wrote of how he felt when Vivien died, which I think gives a clear indication of just how close their friendship was and how much she meant to him in return.

Sunday 16 July

I can’t even remember the date of the morning that Coley came into my suite at the Savoy, suffused with tears, and told me that Vivien had died.  The shock was too violent.  I mind too deeply about this to go on about it very much.  She was a lovely, generous and darling friend, and I shall miss her always.  Apparently Jacko [Marivale] came back from his theatre, saw her sleeping peacefully and went to warm up some soup for himself in the kitchen.  When he came back a few minutes later she was laying on the floor in a welter of blood, having had a haemorrhage.  Jacko, with almost incredible courage and tact, cleaned up all the hideous mess because he knew that she would hate anybody, even the doctor, to see her like that.  Then he telephoned for the doctor.  Jacko is a good and kind man.  A day or two later he rang me up and asked me to read the address at her memorial service, which is, I believe, to be on the twenty-fourth.  I lovingly but very firmly refused.  I truly do not believe I could have done it without breaking down and making a shambles of it.  I know this was cowardly, but I cant regret it.  The emotional strain would be ghastly, and as I am not feeling any too well at the moment it would possibly cause me great damage.  All my own loved ones agree and I can only hope that they’re right.  if it could have helped Vivien in any way I would have done anything, but it couldn’t because she’s gone forever…

I could probably write an entire post about Noel’s friendship with Larry Olivier (hmm, maybe I will at some point).

The Oliviers with Noel's mother Violet at the premier of In Which We Serve, 1942

Anyway, I seem to have gotten off track there.  The exhibit was great, and I really enjoyed seeing so many artifacts from one of the greatest personalities ever to come out of England.  Noel’s star waned in the 1950s but made a great revival in the 1960s.  He was the first living playwright to be invited to the National Theatre to direct one of his own plays (Blithe Spirit).  It really seems like if you weren’t friends with Noel Coward, you weren’t anyone, and he had a lot of famous friends.

The exhibit runs through the middle of April, so if you get a chance to go and see it, I’d highly recommend it.

You can also purchase the Noel Coward Diaries on Amazon. Great read!

classic film general discussion laurence olivier the oliviers vivien leigh

Missed Connections

A while back, my friend Tanguy, knowing my love for foreign epic amazingness, recommended I watch a film called The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), starring Alain Delon, Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinalle, and directed by Luchino Visconti.  I finally got it yesterday via Netflix, and decided to google it to see if I could find out any interesting facts.  Landing on the wikipedia article about the film, I was surprised to see this:

When Visconti was told by producers that they needed to cast a star in order to help to ensure that they’d earn enough money to justify the big budget, Visconti’s first choice was one of the Soviet Union’s preeminent actors, Nikolai Cherkasov. Learning that Cherkasov was in no condition, health-wise, to take the part, Visconti then set his hopes on getting Laurence Olivier, but he already had another commitment.


How many times have I read that Laurence Olivier was offered a part, or the director had him in mind, but he was doing something else at the time and so another actor ended up playing the character?  A lot.  The same goes for Vivien Leigh.

This got me thinking about Larry and Vivien’s missed connections, i.e. parts that they were offered or planned to do, but it just didn’t work out.  Here’s a little list I put together:

Clive Candy in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Clive Candy in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).  Director Michael Powell, who had worked with Olivier on the 1941 film 49th Parallel, wanted him for the role of Clive Candy.  Larry was in the navy and couldn’t get leave to do the film.  The part was eventually played by Roger Livesey.  Livesey actually played Larry’s father in The Entertainer (1960), even though he was only a year Larry’s senior.

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classic film general discussion laurence olivier the oliviers vivien leigh

Revealing David Niven’s “Missie”

David Niven wrote two of the best “autobiographies” out of anyone in show business.  His first book, The Moon’s A Balloon, is a straight autobiography.  His second book, Bring on the Empty Horses is a compilation of stories about his famous friends.  In Bring on the Empty Horses, Niven tells the story of a famous girl named “Missie” who had a terrible breakdown in Hollywood (there were actually two ‘Missies” in his book but we’re focusing on the second one today).  Whenever I check the stats for vivandlarry.com, it’s amazing how many people land on the site through a google search for “David Niven Who Is Missie?”

The cat’s out of the bag; “Missie” was Vivien Leigh.

Vivien Leigh aka Missie

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classic film general discussion laurence olivier the oliviers vivien leigh

Vivien Leigh and the Search For “Rebecca”

One of the things Vivien Leigh did after finishing filming on Gone with the Wind was test for the role of the second Mrs. DeWinter in the film version of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.  The film, being directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by David O. Selznick, was set to star Laurence Olivier (Vivien’s then fiancee) in the lead as Maxim DeWinter.  Vivien wanted the part because she’d be acting opposite Olivier, but not many people were enthusiastic about her getting it.  It wasn’t because they doubted her acting ability, it was because her personality was deemed too strong for such a weak character.

Vivien and Alan Marshall

Even in the book, DuMaurier’s heroine is shy, plain, meek, and “gauche,” as she describes herself.  Vivien, even without make-up and silly blond wigs, is anything but gauche and plain.  Her eyes have a fiery intensity in the screentests, and opposite Alan Marshall, she seems more Scarlett in a cardigan than the weakling the part called for.  Her test opposite Laurence Olivier is very interesting by contrast.  Vivien plays it down but puts forth obvious love and intensity for “Maxim.”  When the two tests are compared, I think it is easy to tell that she and Larry were in love with each other off-camera, and this is something that Hitchcock did not want.  He thought it would not be believable to audiences when everyone knew they were together in real life.  Larry shared in this sentiment as well.  In Charlotte Chandler’s book “It’s Only a Movie,” Larry is quoted having said:

“When they called to say someone named Joan Fontaine had been given the role opposite me, I can’t say I was thrilled. I’d certainly never heard of her. When I met her, what I noticed was how young and skinny she was. I didn’t really understand what my character, Maxim DeWinter, could see in her. As I understood Max better, I decided that she was just what he wanted–someone exactly the opposite of Rebecca. He’d had enough of Rebecca, and he was looking for docile, even wilted.

“I admit I was prejudiced from the start. I’d exerted my influence to persuade Selznick that the best possible choice for the part was Vivien. Vivien had her heart set on playing opposite me, and she loved the part, which she tested for. She was a very good actress, and it was rather mortifying for me not to have been more influential. It affected our personal lives for a while…

“I didn’t like having to plead Vivien’s case, but I couldn’t say no to her. Hitch was very decent about it. But the worst part of it was I really didn’t want to have her get the part. There was already so much strain in our personal life, our divorces, leaving a wife and a child, and a husband and child in England, the European situation, the war. It was perhaps better for us to have a little vacation from constant togetherness.

 

 

“Vivien thought I didn’t try hard enough for her with Hitchcock for the part in Rebecca. Well, I didn’t. I hadn’t felt she was right for that part, truth be told.

“Vivien was exactly the opposite of Scarlett O’Hara, who said something like, ‘I’ll worry about it tomorrow.’ She worried about everything–yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But she was so beautiful.”

Despite Vivien being thought of as totally wrong for the role of Mrs. DeWinter and was thus denied the part (which eventually went to Joan Fontaine, who happened to be blond, in true Hitchcockian form), there was a role Alfred Hitchcock, at least, thought she’d have been perfect for: the ghostly, yet ever-present Rebecca.  When Hitch was interviewed by Henri Langlois, the director of the Cinematheque Francais, he spoke of the perfect Rebecca.

“But there WAS an actress to play Rebecca. A perfect Rebecca. And she even wanted to be in the film, only she wanted to play the wrong part, that of the cringing, meek girl with rounded shoulders who was totally lacking in self-confidence.

“The actress was Vivien Leigh, who was born to be Rebecca, as she was to be Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett shared many characteristics with Rebecca. Vivien Leigh had the requisite beauty. She and Rebecca were both uniquely strong women who knew that they wanted and how to get it, if not how to enjoy it. They were not girls; they were women.

“Vivien Leigh was absolutely right to play Rebecca, but Rebecca never appears in the film, so neither does Vivien. And for people who knew about the real life affair between Olivier and Leigh, that would have intruded on any illusion.”

I have to say I agree with Hitchcock. Although it’s a shame she and Hitch never worked together, I think Vivien would have been much more believable as Rebecca than as “I” in this film. Apparently the people who design Italian movie posters thought so, too.

Watch Vivien Leigh’s screentests for Rebecca in the vivandlarry.com Cinema Archive