Tag: articles

articles the oliviers vivien leigh

“I’m Never Satisfied” says Vivien Leigh

31 days of Vivien Leigh and Laurence OlivierI have a bunch of magazine and newspaper articles left over from my dissertation research, so I’ve decided to do “31 Days of the Oliviers.” Each day I will post a new article or blog post, ending with Vivien Leigh’s birthday on November 5. These articles (most of which have Vivien as the main subject) span the years 1937-1967 and come from both American and British sources. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do!


{Day 2} In 1937, Picturegoer and Film Weekly declared Vivien Leigh the most “important recruit British films have ever had,” and insisted that it was the job of the British film studios to develop her on her home turf so as not to lose her to their Hollywood rivals. As I argued in my dissertation, although the “industry” may have wanted to make her a star in Britain, neither she nor Alexander Korda put much effort into making that happen. Her desire to differentiate herself as an “actress” versus simply being a “film star,” along with her being cast in “non-British” roles prevented her from ever reaching the height of stardom during the 1930s. She resisted conforming to the middlebrow values that made people like Gracie Fields, Jessie Matthews and George Formby so popular.

I’m Never Satisfied” says Vivien Leigh

by John K. Newham
Film Weekly, December 10, 1938

It has taken Vivien Leigh nearly four years to reconcile herself to a screen career.

At one time she didn’t attempt to conceal the fact that she wasn’t in the least satisfied with herself as a film actress or with her pictures. Today, after A Yank at Oxford and St. Martin’s Lane, and with The Thief of Bagdad in the offing, she is very much happier about herself and the screen. It was with a sigh of relief that I heard her say this.

Almost a couple of years ago, when writing about her in Film Weekly, I said: “She is, I should say, the most important recruit British films have ever had. If only she can be kept from taking herself too seriously. Her career is at a critical stage.”

But I was scared stiff at the time that, owing to her passionate interest in the stage and dissatisfaction with herself on the screen, we should be losing her.

Increased Popularity
Fortunately, my fears haven’t been realized. She had progressed a lot, because of the quality of parts, not quantity. Her popularity has increased enormously.

Although she was “the other woman” in A Yank at Oxford, the role did her a tremendous lot of good. Her ambitious, Cockney dancer in St. Martin’s Lane has received even more enthusiastic notices. I believe Alexander Korda considers her to be this country’s biggest potential star. Unless I am mistaken, he will be paying a lot of attention to her in the future. She is still keenly interested in the stage and, in fact, is appearing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Old Vic.

“But,” she admitted, “I have liked films very much more recently, although I’m never satisfied with myself when I see my pictures.”

Unsympathetic Parts
She smiled. “Probably I shall never be! but I do feel that I am getting some better opportunities. Quite a number of people were surprised when I appeared as a vamp in A Yank at Oxford and took an unsympathetic part in St. Martin’s Lane. But in both cases I felt that the roles were interesting and out of the rut. Since the films have been shown, the letters I have received have proved that I was right. Most of the letters say how glad the writers are that I have not confined myself entirely to pretty heroine characters.”

I commented on the fact that, for a girl often described as one of our most glamorous actresses, she didn’t seem to bother in the least about looking unglamorous–as, for instance, in her crying scene toward the end of A Yank at Oxford.

The Cockney Accent
“What of it?” she wanted to know. “The very thing I am trying to avoid is being typed as a glamour girl. Quite honestly, I don’t mind what type of role I have, so long as it is interesting. I’ve no particular preference. And I am taking advantage of the increasing confidence in the theory that acting does tell in the long run.” She was lucky to have got her role in St. martin’s Lane. The original intention was to have an unknown girl for the part:

After dozens of tests, Laughton and Pommer gave up the idea as hopeless. They couldn’t find anyone suitable. Then Laughton remembered Vivien Leigh. A few years ago she was to have appeared in Cyrano which, after a lot of preliminary work, was dropped. Before the plan failed, he and Vivien rehearsed a lot of the scenes (in French, incidentally, for the English translation was not available at the time).

The only criticism Vivien has received about her work in St. Martin’s Lane is that her cockney accent is not quite perfect.

She defended herself on this point when I brought it up:

“You see,” she explained, “I was told to ‘tone it down.’ After I had spent a long time learning how to speak Cockney, I was told that most audiences won’t be able to understand the accent, so it was necessary to use a certain amount of compromise.

“We redubbed the whole of the film for America, by the way, and in the American version we used straight-forward voices, without an accent at all.”

Change of Plans
Talking of America, I asked her if she could clear up one or two current mysteries. It was announced not too long ago that, following a big demand for her to be featured again with Conrad Veidt, with whom she had appeared in Dark Journey, she would co-star with him in Spy in Black. But Spy in Black has gone into production with valerie Hobson in the role instead.

It was also announced that she was going to America for a play; but she hasn’t gone, and is now tied to this country with her Old Vic engagement and the forthcoming Thief of Bagdad.

Play Postponed
“One thing is responsible for the other,” she explained. “It was all fixed up for ,e to play in Spy in Black, and then came this opportunity to appear in New York. I liked the idea so much that I asked Mr. Korda to release me from the film. He agreed. No sooner had Spy in Black gone into production than I received a cable from America saying the play had been postponed indefinitely. I had even booked my passage. So all my plans were hopelessly messed up.”

I remembered that several American companies had tried to sign her up.

“What about Hollywood?” I asked. “Are you likely to go there?”

She shook her head.

Hollywood Offers
“I don’t think so. The trouble is that Hollywood seems to be interested in me only as a long-term contract actress. And I have no intention of tying myself for several years to any one company, particularly in Hollywood, where it would be difficult to take stage engagements between films. I am not going to neglect the stage, whatever happens. Besides, how can I sign a long-term contract? My contract with Alexander Korda is for two films a year, and it still has more than a year to run.

“I should like to go to Hollywood to make one film–and then, perhaps, to go there later on for other pictures at different times.”

So that’s one risk obviated–we are not likely to lose this English Star to America! And when Vivien Leigh makes up her mind about a thing, she is as obstinate as Robert Donat.

Reverting to Conrad Veidt for a moment, I’m afraid those filmgoers who asked him to be co-starred with Vivien Leigh again are going to be disappointed when they see The Thief of Bagdad. For, although Veidt is going to be in the picture, he and Vivien will not be opposite each other.

She Has It Both Ways
I still think Vivien Leigh is the most promising young screen actress we have in this country. Her progress has been slow but thoroughly satisfactory. On looks and personality alone, she could undoubtedly succeed. But, curiously enough, these are two things on which she doesn’t want to rely. She had always wanted to become a good actress, and that’s not just a “line”, I know it to be a fact. Acting does mean everything to her.

So, she has it both ways–an appeal for those who are interested solely in seeing a pretty girl on the screen, and those with more discernment who appreciate acting more than looks. But I think that most of the latter appreciate a girl even more when she has both qualities!

articles laurence olivier the oliviers

An Open Letter to Laurence Olivier

31 days of Vivien Leigh and Laurence OlivierI have a bunch of magazine and newspaper articles left over from my dissertation research, so I’ve decided to do “31 Days of the Oliviers.” Each day I will post a new article or blog post, ending with Vivien Leigh’s birthday on November 5. These articles (most of which have Vivien as the main subject) span the years 1937-1967 and come from both American and British sources. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do!


Laurence Olivier’s snobishness toward filmmaking, particularly in the early years of his career, has been well documented. He always regarded theatre as the true actor’s medium but was not singular in his opinion. This was an attitude shared by many British thespians of his generation, including Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave and even Vivien Leigh. Movies were made to boost the bank account and gain wider recognition, but not for developing one’s craft. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Britian’s most popular film fan magazine would attempt to take him, and others of his kind by association, down a peg or two. This is exactly what Picturegoer did in 1937.

An Open Letter to Laurence Olivier

by The Editor
Picturegoer, 1937

Dear Laurence Olivier,

May we be permitted perform the pleasant task of paying a tribute to your performance in Fire Over England before proceeding to the real business on the agenda which may not be so pleasant?

Your success in the new British film, as a matter of fact, lends special point to the issue which we wish to raise here.

Frankly, it is disturbing to find a young actor whom we have some reason to regard as one of the White Hopes of the British screen, going into the old stage artist routine of being superior about “the films”.

“Given a suitable story,” we read in a recent interview, “and no need to sacrifice the stage work he prefers, Laurence Olivier will consent to act in one or two films a year.” The life of a film star, you add does not appeal to you because you wish to develop as an actor, and successes on the screen, except in rare cases like Laughton’s, means doing the same thing over and over again.

“In the theatre,” you point out, “an actor obeys the producer, but he is left alone on the stage.”

Whatever merits this theory may possess, originality is not one of them. It has for years been both the formula of the film failures and the heartcry of every stage actor who has ever considered his art something too delicate to be entrusted to the mechanical medium and too rare to be offered to movie audiences.

One is inclined to be doubtful of its validity now, but if we concede that there may be some justice in some of your complaints, we are still left wondering what a professionally ambitious artiste who can see no chance of development in films is doing in films at all.

We appreciate that your previous experience in pictures has not been an entirely happy one. In Hollywood you had the misfortune to be labelled as “the man who looks like Ronald Colman,” and none of your earlier British films could be called masterpieces.

We recall, incidentally, at Ealing during the production of Perfect Understanding:

The occasion has remained in our memory because our choice of day for a visit was not a particularly felicitous one. Gloria Swanson, who was already beginning to see the danger signals of failure facing her first British production, had just received a cable from America announcing the secure of a valuable collection of furniture over a debt dispute. Michael Farmer (then Mr. Gloria Swanson) was noticeably in the somewhat irritating throes of development into a film star, and Laurence Olivier was at the moment of our arrival the centre of one of those minor storms that blow up even in the best regulated studios.

The point at issue was not, as might be imagined from some of your later pronouncements on the kinema, a delicate question of artistic conscience, but, if we remember rightly, a pair of pants–a pair of short pants–for a Riviera scene, which, we gathered, failed to show off the stalwart Olivier frame adequately.

Perhaps we should be grateful that wardrobe men are also included in your recent enumeration of film hazards for stage actors who take themselves seriously.

Now we do not, for a moment, question the sincerity of your own attitude toward the films, and in any case, you are to be congratulated for speaking your mind so honestly.

Wha we do object to is that the British studios are already full of “spare time” stars. They like the big film money, of course, but they are always in a hurry to get the job over with and collect their pay envelope so that they can dash back to the West End.

And if, owing to the fact that they have given all their energy to their stage performance the night before, their work is not up to form–well, after all, it is only the movies, what does it matter?

One of the reasons why, although money has been poured into the studios, the late lamented bid to capture the world market for British films has failed, is that neither courage nor enthusiasm has been mixed with it.

Hollywood’s enthusiasm is tremendous, even to the point of obsession, but it makes for good films, and in the long run good films make your Laughtons.

The up and  coming young artistes one meets there are ambitious to make good in films. They have faith in films as a career, not merely as a stepping stone to personal to personal pyrotechnics, to the applause of hand-picked audiences of sycophants in the repertory theatres and an opportunity for picking up a little easy money.

While we respect your attitude we do not believe you are past praying for. We hope that Fire Over England may enable you to change it.

If, however the worst comes to worst, we can only wish you luck in your choice of “suitable stories” for the vehicles of your future rare appearances on the screen.

You may need it. That artistes are notoriously poor judges of dramatic material should at any rate be known to an actor who once selected the lead in Beau Geste in preference to the lead in Journey’s End.

articles vivien leigh

Here Comes Vivien!

Vivien Leigh circa 1935

For a year and a half we have been looking forward to Vivien Leigh’s first screen appearance under her contract with London films. Now at last we are to see her, as here described

by Max Breen
Picturegoer, January 30, 1937

In a fairly long experience of the film world I can scarcely remember any major player whose career has progressed by fits and starts as Vivien Leigh’s has done. Two years ago she had hardly been head of; she was playing ‘bits’ in the crowd in film studios, and in her first four films she was just so-so–just very so-so. Do you remember the Cicely Courtneidge picture Things Are Looking Up? And, if so, do you remember a schoolgirl saying to a mistress: ‘If you’re not made headmistress, I shan’t come back next term’? Well, that was Vivien, saying her first lines as a professional; not a very world-shattering beginning, but it served its purpose of supplying her with a film test. However, like many another pupil of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she had made a rather low opinion of films–which, as a matter of fact, I’m inclined to think she still has; or, perhaps it would be fairer to say that she has a low opinion of herself a s a screen actress. In fact, she told me just recently that she simply hated the sight of her face on the screen. However, at the time of which I am speaking she had hardly had a chance to get to hate herself, for she was visible only in fleeting glimpses.

She played conventional roles in a couple of Paramount quickies, The Village Squire and Gentleman’s Agreement; and then she had another go at ‘looking up’ with a comedienne–this time, Look Up and Laugh, the Gracie Fields picture about the marketstall holders who refused to be turned out of their market. Through this hotch-potch of nonsense Vivien Leigh sailed like a bewildered swan. As an actress she simply wasn’t there at all, but as a succession of beautiful views she afforded grateful relief from the clowning. All this time, however, in the true R.A.D.A. tradition, she had her eyes fixed on the stage, and when she saw a chance at playing a leading part in The Green Sash at the ‘Q’ Theatre she grabbed it. She then accepted the Look Up and Laugh agreement and discovered too late that she would have had a chance to play Caesar and Cleopatra at the ‘Q’. However, she had been seen in The Green Sash and Sydney Carroll took a chance and gave her the lead in the play The Mask of Virtue at the Ambassadors Theatre. Do you remember the storm of acclamation Vivien raised by her performance in that part? She was hailed as the most promising young actress since the late lamented Meggy Albanessi: not for years had such universal acclaim greeted the appearance of a new star.

I remember vividly going to see her in her dressing-room after the first matinee following the premier, and finding the narrow stage door entrance blocked by a crowd of distinguished critics and other journalists pawing the ground in impatience to see the most important person of the moment in the little world of the London theatre. If I had not happened to know her manager (who was also in a sense her ‘discoverer,’ having seen her promise at a very early stage in her career) I might have waited for hours and then not seen her; as it was, I was conducted royally past the waiting throng (‘Make way, please, for the Picturegoer!’) and interviewed Public Sensation No. 1, who was holding tea-time court in a room so packed with flowers that there was hardly room to pass the sugar, and with her mouth quite youthfully full of chocolate eclair, the first fruits of success.

There I learned her history–that she was born in Darjeeling on a Guy Fawkes’ Night, that she had been sent home to be educated in a convent in Roehampton, that at the age of fourteen she was sent to Italy to study languages at San Remo, that she went on from there to Paris to learn how to act. There she studied under Mlle. Antoine, of the Comedie Francaise, and after a spell of that she was shunted on to bavaria to perfect her German. Next followed a yer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and that brought us up-to-date. So there she was, with every advantage a young actress could possess–and besides her academic training she had even gained some experience in life, for at the tender age of nineteen, while still attending R.A.D.A., she went out and married a young solicitor–and then returned for a further term at the Academy. When her fame burst upon London the papers were full–well perhaps not literally full–of Miss Leigh holding her baby, accompanied by heart-throbby stories about how all her new-found fame counted as nothing beside her home and her baby, and so on and so forth. ‘Rubbish!’ she says now when taxed about it. ‘I don’t know how all that ever got in to print.’

Anyway, Alexander Korda, always quick on the draw, put her on long contract, and husband, baby and home were immediately withdrawn from circulation, for it was felt that they were not desirable appendages to a young actress with her way to make in the great big world. Or, rather it was quite in order for her to own a whole creche of babies provided the Public didn’t know about it. So her publicity had to be based on the amount of her salary, which was a pretty staggering one, totting up to £50,000 by the end of five years, provided all her yearly options were taken up. Well, she settled down very nicely into being a film star–which consisted chiefly of of drawing her princely salary and standing by till needed. For example, she was to play Ophelia to Robert Donat’s Hamlet, but Bob’s Hamlet has been laid neatly back on the shelf with a goodly company of other London Films projects. Then Vivien was to be Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac when that title role was on the schedule for Charles Laughton to play, but Cyrano was laid to rest next to Hamlet, and Vivien was still without a screen part, though she did a fair amount of stage work to keep her hand in, playing Richard II for the famous ‘OUDS’–the Oxford University Dramatic Society–and later with Ivor Novello in The Happy Hypocrite. This most unorthodox screen career went on until a few months ago, when Alexander Korda suddenly seemed to realize he had this lovely and talented creature on contract, and hustled her into three productions in rapid succession. First, she played Cynthia in Erich Pommer’s first British production, Fire Over England, in which she provided the sentimental element, opposite Laurence Olivier.

As soon as that was finished, she went straight into a long and arduous role in Dark Journey, the war-time melodrama in which she plays a British spy who has to match her wits against a German spy (Conrad Veidt)–and against her own heart. And then after about a fortnight’s holiday she started on the principle feminine role in Victor Saville Productions’ Storm in a Teacup. The powers that be must have a great deal of faith in her to give her three such important roles before the public has even seen her in a real screen part: well from what I have seen of her work on the stage and on the set, I believe their confidence is fully justified. I have a feeling Vivien is going to be a world star some day–and goodness knows we need them!

Read other Vivien Leigh articles here.

articles vivien leigh

The Twenty Questions Everyone is Asking About Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh frequented the pages of the UK’s most popular film fan magazine, Picturegoer, throughout her career. This particular interview is really interesting because it shows Vivien being rather short with the press. Margaret Hinxman, one of Picturegoer’s top journalists, mentions an article she wrote in a previous issue where she wonders why Vivien chose so many depressing film roles. Vivien sort-of answers this and other questions about her career here.

What do you make of Vivien’s answers?

The Twenty Questions Everyone is Asking About Vivien Leigh

by Margaret Hinxman
Picturegoer, November 26, 1955
*Submitted to vivandlarry.com by Chris

20 questions about Vivien Leigh

vivien leigh

The Sixth Sense is Dress-Sense


Vivien Leigh in a magenta velvet with turquoise tulle gown by Victor Stiebel | Photo by John Rawlings

A couple months ago I wrote a guest post for The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower titled Style Icon: Vivien Leigh, in which I explored Vivien’s side-job as a fashion model and style maven. Like many actresses who become famous, however briefly, Vivien graced the pages of fashion and women’s magazines. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Ladies’ Home Journal, among others, reported how their readers could relate to Vivien Leigh, star-as-woman, by observing her unique fashion choices.

In doing research for my dissertation on how “Vivien Leigh” was created through the media, I’ve come across many references to fashion being an integral part of a female star’s image. Throughout her career, Vivien was classified by Vogue and other magazines as a certain “type” of woman. She was “exotic,” “strange,” “beautiful” outwardly “flawless”  and these traits came across in the characters she played on film.  Today I spent some time in the Westminster Reference Library with my friend and research partner in crime, Sammi, flipping through old bound  issues of Vogue in effort to find blurbs about Vivien. The following is one of my favorites because it describes her to a T.

The Sixth Sense is Dress-Sense

Vogue, December 22, 1937

Miss Vivien Leigh strikes a particularly vibrant note, in a fey style of her own. She is a pixie rather than a fairy: her feline, wispish face, both elfin and worldly, has that breathless quality of perfection we associate with film stars. She has a quality of burnished metal…of finely tempered steel. She wears vivid, dragon-fly clothes that are either tautly draped around her flawless, hipless figure, or nipped into her wasp waist to billow out as does Stiebel’s tulle and velvet skirt in her picture on page 14. Her mannerisms are as perfectly tuned to her personality as her clothes. A darting glance from those strange Persian cat eyes, a shrug of those perfectly poised shoulders…a pouting moue…What assurance, what knowledge of her type lies in each one…an actress to her fingertips, in spite of what some disagreeable critics say. An actress, moreover, who knows how to change her mood with her frock. She can wear all sorts of clothes of any period, and on her lovely head, the most hysterical hats seem logical.