10 Leigh/Olivier Destinations in England — #4
The Savoy Grill
Nearest tube stops: Covent Garden, Holborn
The Savoy Hotel is one of the premier 5 star hotels in London. Located in the heart of the theatre district, the hotel has been a magnet for celebrities and wealthy travelers it for over a century. Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier formally met in the hotel’s Grill Room restaurant, a favorite hangout for stage actors in the 1930s. Back then it was a white tie affair and people were required to dress to the nines if they wanted admittance.
The two stars later recalled their first face-to-face encounter:
“I went to dinner with John Buckmaster at the Savoy and he pointed across to Larry and he said to me : “Doesn’t he look funny without his mustache ?” and I was very indignant and I said rather pompously that he didn’t look funny at all.
“Larry came over as we were leaving and he invited me to join a party at the week-end. I said the two of us – my husband as well – and so we went and we played football and I remember Larry roaring around one minute and then unaccountably falling fast asleep under the piano the next. He always has had that extraordinary ability for complete relaxation whenever he wishes.
“It was during that week-end that I got to know George Relph and his wife, Mercia, who became two of my dearest friends.
“I had never met Larry before but I had seen him on stage and I was impressed because he was such a marvelous actor. I saw him in ‘The Royal Family’ and I sat next to a girl friend and I said : ‘That’s the man I am going to marry’. And she said : ‘Ridiculous. You’re both married already’, and I said it didn’t matter I would still marry him one day”. — Vivien Leigh to David Lewin
With its cool marble walls and burnished yew paneling, the Grill Room of London’s legendary Savoy Hotel has not changed much since that evening in 1935—except back then men were required to wear white tie to supper. “She was sitting right there,” says the elderly gentleman, putting down his martini glass and pointing to a vacant table for two nestled against a pillar not 10 feet away. “Except for seeing her on stage, it was the first time I ever set eyes on that exquisite face. Yes, she saw me, too. But she was with a young man who looked very much in love, and I supposed they were, to put it vulgarly, ‘at it.’”
Before leaving the Grill that night, however, Laurence Olivier and his first wife introduced themselves to Vivien Leigh and invited her and her first husband for a weekend at the Oliviers’ country house. “It was,” smiles Olivier, still gazing at the vacant table through the mist of nearly a half century, “like any first act of the period, don’t you think?” —PEOPLE magazine, January 10, 1983
The Savoy is currently closed for a huge 100 million pound renovation. The Grill Room opens again on October 10, 2010, redesigned in the art deco style of the 1920s