Category: vivien leigh

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Summer Days Drifting Away

Summer is officially upon us.  In one week I’ll be leaving Southern California, and in two months I’ll be heading overseas to start my graduate program in London.  I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by, and I know the coming year will be very busy for me.  This might mean some changes for because I know I won’t have time to update the site quite as regularly.   Focusing on and doing well in school is very important to me, as is using the opportunity of being in London to try and capitalize on a book project I’ve been working on for the past 2 years.

Over the course of the next couple of months, I plan on scanning/screencapping any photos that I have yet to upload to the gallery so that I have them to easily upload overseas, putting as many videos in the Cinema Archive as I have time to upload, scan any articles, upload pages, etc.

One thing I can promise is this: I will not abandon

I may ask if anyone would like to be my co-webmaster, though. 🙂

Anyway, look for a lot of new things on the site in the upcoming months, and if you have any photos, articles, or videos you’d like to share with your fellow Larry and Vivien fans, please send them in to vivandlarry {at} gmail {dot} com.  While overseas, it is likely that this blog will be the most frequently updated part of the website, and if you’re going to be in London at any point over the next year, and would like to meet up to go Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier sight-seeing, be sure to get in touch.  I love meeting fellow fans!  Depending on my schedule, it might be possible to organize a larger fan meet-up next spring.

Please stay tuned!

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I Can Read!

I love the library.  More specifically, I love the Newport Beach Public Library, because it’s got the best selection of photography and film books in Orange County.  Combine their books with the ones at Huntington Beach, and you’ve pretty much got every old movie book you can think of.  Okay, that’s not true.  To get every movie book you can think of, best head north to LA and check out the reading room at the Margaret Herrick Library.

Newport did good for me today, though.  I was surprised when I found out a couple years ago that they carried Vivien A Love Affair in Camera by Angus McBean.  I’ve always wanted to own a copy, but I can nver bring myself to spend $100+ on it on ebay or wherever, so the library works fine because, you know, it’s free!  I’m probably the only person who has checked it out in years and years.  This is such a fabulous book,  and the photos are of course gorgeous (you can see them in the gallery at  What I love most is that it’s an intimate portrait of Vivien Leigh’s (primarily theatrical) career, but Angus McBean was also a fairly close personal friend of hers and Laurence Olivier’s, so the text is great, too.

I have so much love for photography books.

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Buried Treasures (Part 2)

The recent Criterion restoration of Gabriel Pascal’s 1945 epic Caesar and Cleopatra starring Vivien Leigh and Claude Raines, and based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, reminded me of another buried treasure in my Vivien Leigh/Laurence Olivier collection. Meeting at the Sphinx by Marjorie Deans is a book that was published in 1946 as a supplement to Pascal’s film. We see a lot of these types of film books today, and I’m not sure how common it was for them to be published for classic films, but I think this one is fairly rare. I got it for quite a steal on ebay a couple years ago.

Marjorie Deans was the script supervisor on the film, which lends credit to her placing herself in the narrative of the book. She talks of Vivien Leigh and Claude Raines behind the scenes, and how their personalities effected their characters (nothing negative, of course!). She also talks about the difficulties of making the film: air raids happened often, bombs were dropped quite close to Denham Studios, Vivien Leigh fell on the set and had a miscarriage (not mentioned in the book, only that she fell ill for six weeks), among other setbacks. Luckily for director Gabriel Pascal, the film was backed by producer J. Arthur Rank, who supplied the funds to import real Egyptian sand, to build such lavish sets, and to drag out the shooting schedule.

My favorite parts of this book are the amazingly vibrant Kodachrome plates by Wilfred Newton, the still photographer on the film (Cecil Beaton did the publicity portraits). They almost look like paintings.

Sadly, the film itself failed to live up to its hype and was considered a failure. Due to the pain of her personal loss, Vivien, who had wanted the part of Cleopatra as she had wanted the part of Scarlett O’Hara, would not see the film until the early 1950s.

Despite not being a huge fan of the film, I think Meeting at the Sphinx is quite a gem because we get the inside story on what was then the most expensive and lavish British film ever made.

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Review: Waterloo Bridge (1940)

I always get excited when I have the opportunity to introduce my real life friends to my favorite films, especially when those films also introduce them to Vivien Leigh and/or Laurence Olivier.  Not many of the people I know in real life are as into old films as I am, and certainly no one in my close circle of friends knows as much about the Oliviers as I do.  However, most of my real life friends were fellow film studies majors, so it’s surprising to me that there isn’t more old movie love.  Even so, most of them are willing to watch some of these films with me on occasion. Today, felling bored, I decided to go hang out at my friend Cathy’s house.  She told me to bring some movies or tv shows because she still had some homework to finish.  I chose Waterloo Bridge, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Talyor.  Cathy had only seen Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, and confessed to not having cared much for Blanche DuBois, but she was interested in seeing a different side of my favorite actress.

Waterloo Bridge is my second favorite Vivien film (Gone with the Wind being #1).  Directed by Wizard of Oz producer Mervyn LeRoy for MGM, it stars Vivien as Myra Lester, a sweet and charming ballerina in WWI London who has a whirlwind romance with a “Scottish” soldier named Roy Cronin played by Robert Taylor (I put Scottish in quotation marks because Taylor makes no attempt at any sort of accent what-so-ever).  When Roy is called to the front the day before their wedding, Myra goes to see him off at the station and misses her performance at the theatre, for which she is promptly sacked by the tyrannical Madame Kirowa (Maria Ouspenskaya).  Her friend Kitty (Virginia Field) is sacked along with her and the two eventually turn to prostitution to pay the bills after Myra sees Roy’s name on a newspaper casualty list.  It turns out Roy isn’t really dead, though, and when he returns, Myra’ has to battle is with her conscience.

Though Myra is in many ways the complete opposite of Scarlett O’Hara, Vivien plays her with an intensity and an air of sadness that is every bit as touching and interesting as her previous role.    There is one scene that particularly stands out for me in Waterloo Bridge:  Myra goes to Waterloo Station in search of the night’s customers.  She walks through the throngs of soldiers returning home from the front, coquettishly smiling at the men as they walk by.  The camera cuts to a line of men alighting the latest train and we see a flash of Roy’s familiar face and signature khaki trench coat.  Cut back to Myra and we see her face change in an instant from coquetry to disbelief as she sees what we see.  It’s all in Vivien’s eyes.  Robert Osborne of TCM has called this moment one of the greatest in film history, and I would have to agree.  Vivien played it with the vulnerability of a silent film star (a la Lillian Gish). It makes me think of the final scene in Chaplin’s City Lights when the girl realizes it was the Tramp who payed for her eye operation.  The way Charlie’s face just changes in an instant.  No words are needed.  Mervyn LeRoy directed it brilliantly and it’s perfect.

Vivien had good supporting help from fellow cast mates Robert Taylor and Virginia Field.  It’s funny because I always say I don’t think Robert Taylor could have acted his way out of a paper bag, and it should irk me that he’s supposed to be Scottish, but for some reason I always let it slide (until someone on a message board says Taylor was the best actor in the film, then I say ‘Did we watch the same thing?  You’re joking, right?”).  Vivien originally wanted Laurence Olivier to play Roy, and that would have made more sense given the fact that Olivier at least had a British accent, but Robert Taylor and Vivien work wonderfully as a romantic team in this film. I think it’s because Taylor played Roy with the right amount of charm and optimism that perfectly balanced Myra’s sadness.  They also looked really good together.   This is made evident in m favorite scene in the film, in which Myra and Roy meet for a date at the Candlelight Club.  Robert Taylor looks so sharp in his black military uniform, and Vivien is ethereal in a polka-dot chiffon gown by Adrian.  It’s enough to take your breath away watching to them dance to Auld Lang Syne as the orchestra puts out the candles and they share their first kiss.  There’s something infinitely romantic and nostalgic about the whole thing.

Apparently Waterloo Bridge was a favorite for both Leigh and Taylor, and they enjoyed working together for a second time (the first time being on A Yank at Oxford in 1938).  Watching this film, it is easy to see why the two stars had fond memories of it.  It will surely stick with you for a while.  I’ve seen it numerous times and never get tired of it.  I think it’s beautiful, and I do love a good wartime romance.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please do!

Rating: A

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Spotlight: David Niven

The Oliviers’ Friends page at has been sadly dismal since the launch of this website. Part of it is my admitted laziness in updating new pages, but another part is also due to the fact that for some time I’ve been thinking of the best way to go about constructing said page. Just today, I figured it might be easiest to profile their famous friends here on the blog, and then link to these posts on the main website. How about it? Sounds good to me.

Let’s get to it, then!

March 1 marked the centenary of one of my all time favorite actors and personalities, David Niven. James David Graham Niven was born in London to a rather wealthy family. He was the youngest for four children and always a bit a troublemaker and a clown. After being sent to reform school owing to being expelled from Heatherdown and ruining his chances at being admitted to Eton, David found himself at the prestigious military school, Sandhurst, and then went into the Scottish Highland Light Infantry. He grew bored of the military after a few years and came to Hollywood in 1934. In his book, The Moon’s A Balloon, David recalls getting his first break in Hollywood with the help of none other than Clark Gable. How did this happen, you may ask? One of David’s first jobs upon landing in southern CA was helping out on fishing boats at Balboa (near Newport Beach, for my fellow OC neighbors). He claimed that Clark often went out on fishing trips on the boat he was working on, and took David under his wing. One of his first roles was a non-speaking part in the 1935 Academy Award-winning swashbuckler Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Gable and Charles Laughton.

David became friends with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 1938 while filming Wuthering Heights for Sam Goldwyn. It was a friendship that would continue back in England during the war, and last the rest of their lives.

David and Vivien during the war
Basil Rathbone, Vivien Leigh, and David Niven

David was one of the first of the British actors in Hollywood to go back to the UK and enlist. In 1940, he had a true whirlwind wartime romance when he met and married Primula (Primmie) Rollo. The couple had two children, David Jr. (one of Vivien Leigh’s many godchildren) and Jamie.   In his autobiography, The Moon’s a balloon, he wrote of how good his famous friends were to Primmie, how Vivien and Primmie used to go furniture shopping together in Windsor, etc.  Sadly, Primmie was killed in a freak accident at Tyrone Power’s house in Hollywood in 1946.  During a game of hide and seek, Primmie opened a door she assumed led to a closet, but it turned out to be concrete steps down to the cellar.  She sustained head trauma during her fall and passed away in the hospital.  It was a life changing event for David, who spiraled into a deep depression and wrote about trying to commit suicide.

David visiting Vivien on the set of A Streetcar Named Desire

Not long after Primmie’s death, David married Hjordis Tersmeden, a Swedish model.  Though they made an excellent looking couple, and though he never mentioned anything negative about her in his own book, the recent authorized biography by Graham Lord (Niv) painted a different picture of their relationship.

Laurence Olivier, Mary Mills, David, Primmie Niven and ? in England, 1944

Despite the tragedies in his life, David became an A-lister in Hollywood, making many successful films including A Matter of Life and Death, Bachelor Mother, Casino Royale, Separate Tables (for which he won an Oscar),  Around the World in 80 Days, and The Bishop’s Wife.  But my favorite thing about David, aside from his many fabulous movies, is his sense of humor.  He once said, “Keep the circus going inside of you, keep it going, don’t ever take things too seriously.  It will all work out in the end.”  I feel like he had a witty quip for every situation.  Take this one for example:  when a streaker ran across the stage at the Academy Awards in which David was presenting, he candidly said “Isn’t it funny to think that the only laugh that man will ever get is by stripping down and showing his shortcomings.”

The Three Musketeers: Larry, David, John Mills in England

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh adored David Niven, and he loved them in return.  After Vivien died, David wrote of how good a friend she was and how he admired her.  When David died, Larry said that of all the people who had gone before him, he’d miss David the most.

David and Larry snorkeling at Cap Farrat, France, 1960s

David died in 1983 from Lou Gehrig’s Disease at his chalet in Switzerland, but his spirit has never really left us.  His humor and presence are still very much alive in his films and the books he wrote.  If you haven’t read The Moon’s a Balloon or Bring on the Empty Horses, I’d really recommend both of them.  They’re sure to keep you up laughing into the wee hours of the night.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to speak with David Niven Jr. via phone about his dad and the Oliviers for a project I’m working on.  He was so sweet, and has the same sense of humor his dad had.  All in the family, I guess!

Hat’s off to you, David Niven, you were a gem.