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book news

Vivien Leigh makes Publishers Weekly Top 10

Last week I got a pleasant surprise in my email inbox. My editor, Cindy, had written to say congratulations – Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait has been included in Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Performing Arts

Vivien Leigh An Intimate Portrait

books for Fall 2013! It took me a while to track down a copy of the article, which was included in the June 24th issue. I don’t have a subscription so couldn’t view it online, but my US publicist saved her hard copy and kindly scanned it for me. My agent said it’s quite an honor for a first book to make a list such as this, and I believe her. I’m humbled to be included amongst what looks like a fantastic group of biographies, academic studies, and other non-fiction entertainment titles, including one by TCM’s own Robert Osborne:

In other exciting book news, things are really starting to fall into place as far as promotional events are concerned. TCM has chosen Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait as their Book Corner Selection for the month of October! It will be featured in the Now Playing Guide, on the TCM website, and on air during the This Month on TCM segments. Be sure to program your DVRs! Also, the launch party has been scheduled. The good people at Daunt Books in Holland Park  have agreed to host the event in mid-October. I’m really excited about it and am looking forward to seeing friends, family, and fans!

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Destination: Devon

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The past couple of months have been very busy. With my Vivien Leigh book deadline looming, I’ve had little time to blog or, indeed, do much of anything outside of writing and worrying about my writing. So when the opportunity to get out of the city and drive down to the countryside presented itself, I took it!

Last Thursday, my boyfriend Robbie and I rented a car and drove down to Devon where I had been invited to interview Vivien Leigh’s sister-in-law Hester St John-Ives. Hester was married to Laurence Olivier’s brother Dickie and they lived in the cottage at Notley Abbey, where they helped to run the farm.  I’d previously spoken to their daughter Louise, who had lots of good things to say about her uncle Larry and godmother Vivien.

After a 3 1/2 hour journey, we arrived in a small but beautiful old town half way between Dartmoor and the coast, and were greeted at the door by Hester and two adorable cocker spaniels. Hester is 80 and so full of life. She reminded me of Renee Asherson in some ways: humorous, gentle, and honest. Through conducting interviews for this book, I’ve run across two types of people: those who think they know all, and those who are up front about the context of their memories. Both Hester and Louise fell into the latter group, and it was really refreshing.

We spoke of the parties at Notley, Vivien’s capacity for love and friendship, what it was about her that kept people around despite the bad times, the loyalty she inspired in those around her, and how attentive she was to Louise as a child. Hester was in the unique position of being a family member, trusted by both Larry and Vivien. Based on the  stack of letters she loaned me for research purposes, Olivier felt he could reveal his feelings about leaving Vivien to her. They are equally fascinating and heartbreaking to read. I won’t divulge too much, but there were also things that surprised me. For example, Dickie and Vivien didn’t get along very well. I asked why and Hester said she believes it came down to jealousy on both sides – a want for Larry’s attention. We all laughed when she recalled her mother once saying to her, “The way Dickie goes on about Vivien, you’d think she was Larry’s mistress and not his wife!” However, Hester says that Vivien was very kind to Dickie when he was ill.

Hester kept in touch with both Vivien and Larry for the rest of their lives. While writing his memoir Confessions of an Actor (which she didn’t care for because she found it factually inaccurate and lacking some pretty key elements), Larry stayed in a hotel on Dartmoor and Hester kept him company on occasion. She confirmed my long-held suspicions when she said, “he kept me awake all night coming into my bedroom and what he was talking about was Vivien. I think he never quite got over her.”

As an interviewee, Hester was wonderful. As a person, she was equally as lovely. Louise popped in for lunch and we all sat down to a delicious meal and good conversation. It’s so wonderful to meet people who have amazing stories and yet have remained so grounded. I could have sat and chatted for hours but the sun was shining and it was recommended Robbie and I take a drive along the coastal road for some scenic views on the way to our hotel in Paignton (completely dead seaside town in the winter, by the way).

On Friday, we stopped in Glastonbury on the way home and climbed Glastonbury Tor, which features in the Arthurian Legend. I’m a geek for history and mythology so it was a really exciting experience for me. And we got some good photos! All in all, a really successful trip, and even though Robbie was ill, he powered through it like a trooper. Robbie, if you read this, you really are amazing! Thank you for indulging me in my nerdiness!

All photos © Kendra Bean, 2013

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This just in!

New Vivien Leigh biography

Hi, everyone! Boy, have I got big news for you!

As most of you may know, I’ve been working on a book about our own Vivien Leigh off and on for the past four years (all-inclusive). I’ve traversed nations, crossed an ocean multiple times, spent hours upon hours digging through archives, and have met many interesting people who either knew Vivien personally or have paved the way for a newcomer like me by publishing their own research. Today, I’m extremely proud to announce that I’ve got a publisher!!  The road up to this point has been long and bumpy. But I never gave up, and to be able to say that I’ve reached this very important step is almost surreal.

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait will be published by Running Press (US) and Perseus (UK) in October 2013, just in time for Vivien’s centenary! It will be a hard cover coffee table book featuring a treasure trove of new and rare photographs, and my own take on Vivien’s incredible, multi-faceted life and career. I’m also really excited because my editor is someone that I had contacted when I first set out on this project four years ago. Her sage advice about how to go about becoming a published author is something I’ve kept with me on this journey, and to be working with her now to bring this book to fruition, well, it’s kind of like things have come full circle. And that’s awesome.

I’m not permitted to give too many details right now, but I did want to extend a huge “thanks” to all of you who have shown your support here and elsewhere over the past few years. Your encouragement and active engagement as fans have enabled me to prove that although she isn’t Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn in that her face isn’t plastered around every corner, Vivien Leigh is, indeed, still a cultural icon.

As many people have reiterated to me, hard work and determination really do pay off. I’ve got much to do in a very short amount of time, but I couldn’t be more excited that things are on the move in a big way. I hope you’ll stay tuned for updates, and I’ll let you know when pre-ordering becomes available!

Hooray!

xx

Kendra

PS, I know some of you out there have mentioned that you have some rare photos of Vivien in your own collections. If you’re still willing to assist with this project by sharing those, please get in touch at vivandlarry{at}gmail.

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Afternoon tea with Renee Asherson

Renee Asherson in The Small Back Room

In 1961, a journalist asked Vivien Leigh why she found old people so fascinating. She responded by saying, “Their wisdom will do for a start; the fact that they’ve lived…What they say is so wise and good. They know what they’re talking about.”

Vivien’s words are so true. I’ve always loved old people, as well. They have the best stories–think of all the things people in their 80s and 90s have seen! My maternal grandmother was born in 1911 and I remember ringing her up when I was a kid to “interview” her for class projects about the Depression and the War. I was too young to appreciate what she had been through at the time. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that my interest in history and the early half of the 20th century really melded together and blossomed into a passion. My grandma died not long afterward at the age of 94, and I have often regretted not having these conversations with her as an adult. In a way, I was given the chance to make up for my past lack of communication this afternoon when I had tea with 97 year old actress Renee Asherson.

The meeting was pure happenstance. Last week, a friend of mine gave me the number of Australian actor Trader Faulkner who acted in the Royal Shakespeare Company with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh during the 1955  Stratford season. He invited me around for a chat and was so warm and open, and most keen to help. We were speaking of our favorite actors and he mentioned Robert Donat, and that he knew his wife Renee Asherson quite well. I mentioned how I’d tried to get in touch with Renee a few months ago for this project so he rang her up right then and there and we made plans for tea. Small wold, indeed!

We showed up at a gorgeous flat near Primrose Hill and were greeted at the door by her caretaker and shown into the sitting room. There, in a comfy chair by the large window, surrounded by books and mementoes from a life well lived, sat the woman who starred opposite Laurence Olivier in Henry V and played Stella to Vivien Leigh’s Blanche in the London production of A Streetcar Named Desire. There was no mistaking her face.

Renee is remarkably sharp for nearing 100 and has a friendly, lively personality; the conversation was often permeated by her tinkling laughter. She had nothing but nice things to say about Larry and Vivien but I found her entire dialogue with Trader completely fascinating. She spoke about being born in Kensington and still remembering the bombs raining down during the war (WWI!); taking the early train from Marylebone to Denham and tramping through muddy fields from the station to report for work with Laurence Olivier in 1943; acting with Trevor Howard at the Old Vic; loving Gone with the Wind; being blacklisted from H.M. Tennant’s for complaining about her wig during a stage production at the Aldwych; doing the shopping in Thame with Vivien Leigh when she was invited to Notley for weekends; taking care of her husband Robert Donat when he was seriously ill with asthma in the mid-1950s. And the names that were dropped! It was like a book of who’s who of British film and theatre history! I was just happy to sit there and sip my tea, taking in the scene. They were having such a good time reminiscing, it was lovely to witness. I ended up showing Renee how my iPhone worked and we cooed over photos of my cat Coco, as every conversation with a famous person should end.

As Trader and I walked back toward Camden Town, I thanked him for taking me to see someone I’d wanted to meet for such a long time. He kindly reminded me that everything happens for a reason; that we’re put on this earth to help people. Perhaps, he said, wherever Vivien Leigh is right now, she’s giving me a gentle nudge in the direction of my goal.

Perhaps there are strange forces at work, but whatever happens, I feel very lucky to have had this experience.

*Photo via The Powell and Pressburger Pages

 ♠ ♣ ♠ ♣ ♠

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

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The Secret’s Out…

vivien leigh by laszlo willing 1940

I’ve got a secret! Okay, it’s not really so much a secret as an announcement — one I’ve debated making here for ages, and one which, after some good vibes from a couple good friends, I’ve finally decided to make. Ready?

I’m writing a book!

Not just writing, but also assembling. It’s an illustrated photography book (read: coffee table book) about Vivien Leigh and I’ve been working on it for the past three years. Nearly everything I’ve done during this time has been in some way related to accomplishing this goal and I believe in this project with all my heart. I’ve had this vision for so long, and like many things in life, the road has not always traveled straight ahead. The original plan was to do something about the personal and professional relationship of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. In the past four or five months, however, the topic has shifted to focus on Vivien and her life. I think this is the right decision.

Why this book? How long has it been since someone wrote a decent biography about Vivien Leigh? At least 20 years. Since becoming a fan of Vivien way back when and, as such, a passionate fan of classic cinema, it has always puzzled and saddened me that there have been no books of this format that focus on Vivien. All the other stars of the studio era have beautiful photography books dedicated to their lives and careers. You’d think there would be nothing left to say about Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, for example, but they get new ones nearly every year. In Vivien’s case, the only illustrated books dedicated to her are Angus McBean’s Vivien A Love Affair in Camera and John Russell Taylor’s Vivien Leigh. These books, while containing lovely photos and heartfelt sentiments, barely scratch the surface.

It’s high time Vivien Leigh–the woman and actress–was put back in the spotlight. With her 100th birthday coming up in 2013, I aim to do just that.

What’s new to offer? While previous Vivien Leigh biographies have been well-researched, the fact is that there is so much more out there. I’m talking about archival materials, loads of rare and never-before-published photographs and personal papers. This will be the first book about Vivien to tap into the rich collections in major archives, including those in the British Library and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. 

What can I bring to the table as a writer? Years’ worth of research, a film degree and a lot of TLC.

Vivien Leigh more than deserves to be celebrated in a book like this. Her life and career were interesting of course, but she also had an aesthetic that lent itself so well to photography. This is the book I’ve always wanted to buy.

How YOU can help

I’m always looking for stories and original, rare photos of Vivien to enhance the materials I’ve already sourced. If you are a collector and have photos you’d like to share, or if you are a fan and were lucky enough to correspond with or even meet Vivien in person, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

I’ll keep you all updated on new developments. It’s been a long, sometimes frustrating process, but I’ve never lost hope that it will come to fruition in the end. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. Vivien deserves it.