cinema archive tv appearances

“The Skin of Our Teeth” Starring Vivien Leigh

In 1959, Vivien Leigh gave her only full-length television performance in a filmed version of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth.  She plays Lily-Sabina Fairweather (often just called Sabina in the play), a character she had made famous nearly 15 years earlier on the London stage.  This adaptation was televised live by Granada Television and today is virtually non-existent.  We weren’t sure if it was still out there, or if it had been locked away in some vault, or worse yet, lost or destroyed.  So imagine my surprise and utter delight when I received an email from a vivandlarry.com visitor saying she had an archive copy and wanted to send it over!

Though there are three acts in Wilder’s play, only the first two are shown in this broadcast.  We aren’t sure if Act 3 was even filmed.  Vivien is a delight to watch.  In her original run back in 1945-46, critic James Agate described her as “half dabchick, half dragonfly.”  She brings the same flirtatiousness and comedic timing to this performance, and never misses a beat.  I really like how this TV production was staged, substituting the cameras for the audience.  I also think it’s funny how Vivien plays two characters:  Sebina, and Ms. Sommerset (the actress playing Sebina within the play).  Her accent swiftly changes from a Scarlett-Blanche hybrid to her normal posh British at the drop of a hat. George Devine provides good comedic support as Mr. Antrobus.

This program is truly a lost treasure (you can see it in 2 parts below), and I am very proud to be presenting it here at vivandlarry.com!

Submitted to vivandlarry.com by Marina.

Part 1

Part 2

Kendra has been the weblady at vivandlarry.com 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 (11)

  1. This is so amazing, i wondered many times what happened to this recording. thank you so very much for putting it on here

  2. Oh my, this is fantastic.

    Really, very special, for so many reasons…..

    Thornton Wilder of course wrote the quintessential All American play of the mid-20th Century, “Our Town.”

    But “The Skin of Our Teeth” was his stab at the avant garde, and it was popular in its time, if not widely embraced by the masses.

    Read or viewed these many years later, it IS a most strange offering by a “mainstream” American playwright…..and it is hard to imagine that Tallulah Bankhead opened it in its original Broadway run, playing the part that VLO plays in this version.

    Finally, yes, VLO is sublime in this. I honestly think she was an intellectual genius. Seriously, quite brilliant in the way of many from her era — British Girls born in to Colonialist families abroad — who were immersed in a highly intense degree of education from a very early age. I suspect you know — VLO spoke 5 or 6 languages fluently, and had a rich, far-ranging cultural radar and curiosity. It is tragic to consider that even more than acting, her intellectual pursuits may have been curtailed by the bipolar illness she had…..

    Anyhoo, wow. Thanks so much for putting this up; I am sending it around in my network, and touting your wonderful site throughout……

    Best,
    Amy

  3. Thank you so so much for posting this! I really enjoyed Vivien in both of the roles. Such a pleasure to watch :D

  4. Thank you so much for posting “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Vivien Leigh was one of the most versatile and accomplished actresses of the 20th Century. Her performances linger in the mind and heart long after being seen. It is so sad that her ill health prevented her from leaving behind more treasures to be enjoyed. That is why it is so wonderful to suddenly have her performance as Lily/Sabina. Is there any chance that Act III exists and that with some prompting Granada Televiosion would release it on DVD?

    Thank you, Kevin

    1. Hi Kevin,

      Good question! The person who sent this to me got it from the production company archive, so this might be all that still exists. However, Granada might very well have more. It might be worthwhile trying to contact them!

  5. Wonderful to see this. Great play . This and P.G. Wodehouse influenced later generations of absurdist playwrights. One commentator noted the influence of Skin of Our Teeth on Firesign Theater’s Don’t Crush That Dwarf Hand Me the Pliers. At one point the announcer in Dwarf reports: “Big light slated to appear in East.” Another related venue is surely Rocky and Bullwinkle (related in the sense that Wilder’s humor may have influenced Rocky and Bullwinkle’s sensibility, though these influences are always hard to pin down.

  6. I played George Antrobus in high school many millenia ago. What a joy and revelation to see it again. “I’ll be scalded and tarred if a man can’t get a little welcome when he comes home!” What a brilliant, forever timely piece of absurdist reality. Thanks for finding this and sharing. Would love to see Part three…

  7. I’ve just watched this on YouTube. A treat to watch and Vivien is a delight. I too would love to see a possible third act, has anybody approached Granada about it?

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