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The aftermath of publishing a biography about Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh biographer Kendra Bean
Photo by Jodie Chapman

After five years of having this dream of putting together a photography book about Vivien Leigh, it finally happened. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait hit stores on October 10 here in the UK, and on the 15th in the US. We had the launch party at the quaint Daunt Books in Holland Park on the 15th and I was overwhelmed by the turnout and the support – so much so that I may have even cried on my mom’s shoulder (she made her first ever trip to London with her sister just for this event).  Others that came to help celebrate included my boyfriend Robbie, some of the best friends I’ve met over the past few years, Claire Bloom, Louise Olivier and her kids, her mother Hester who came all the way from Devon, Trader Faulkner, Richard Mangan, Terence Pepper from the National Portrait Gallery, Keith Lodwick from the V&A, several people who knew Vivien and worked with her, people I’ve known through vivandlarry.com for a while and got to meet for the first time, my agent, my publicist, and many more. My publicist estimated around 100 guests. It was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Now it’s over. Kind of.

Inevitably there has been some criticism, but thus far the response to the book has actually been really positive, and for that I’m grateful. If people “get it,” are moved by it, and appreciate the effort that went into it, then I feel I’ve succeeded in some way. It’s not perfect – nothing is – but it was a labor of love and of that I’m proud.

And it’s gotten some wonderful coverage!

So, what’s next? When I was trying to get a publisher for the book, the general sentiment from many people in the business was that Vivien just isn’t relevant anymore – not like Marilyn or Audrey Hepburn, or Grace Kelley. But as she did many times during her lifetime, I think Vivien is going to surprise everyone. There are quite a few events happening around London in November to mark her centenary, and I feel really lucky to be involved. Here’s where you can find me next month:

  • November 5 – 7.00 pm, St Paul’s The Actor’s Church, Covent Garden – Actress Susie Lindeman will be performing a 45 minute version of her one-woman show Letter To Larry, followed by readings and remembrances by people who knew Vivien. I’ll also be there signing books.
  • November 12 – 6.20 pm, BFI Southbank, NFT3 – Keith Lodwick from the V&A will be giving a talk about the newly acquired Vivien Leigh Archive. Afterward, I’ll be joining him and the BFI’s Nathalie Morris for a panel discussion about researching Vivien’s life.
  • All of November – BFI Southbank – I’ve got tickets to every talk and one screening of every Vivien film. You’ll find me sleeping in a tent in near the bar.
  • November 17 – Vivien Leigh fan meet-up. We’ll be going to the V&A to look at the Vivien archive materials on display, followed by the BFI screening of Waterloo Bridge, and then an informal dinner. Attendees are responsible for booking their own film tickets. To RSVP for the meet-up, please email me at vivandlarry{at}gmail.
  • November 28 – 1.15 pm, National Portrait Gallery – Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait lunchtime lecture followed by a book signing.

I’m going to try and keep everyone here updated with photos and stories from these and other upcoming events, but you’ll definitely be able to find daily updates over on the Facebook page.

events vivien leigh

Your Comprehensive Guide to the Vivien Leigh Centenary Celebrations

Vivien Leigh at the BFIIt’s October, and you know what that means! From the recent acquisition of the Vivien Leigh Archive by the Victoria and Albert Museum, to a BFI film season, and much more, the spotlight will be shining brightly on Vivien’s memory this autumn.

I’ve always thought that Vivien was better appreciated for her contributions to Hollywood films than she has ever been here in her native England, but the fact that so many of these events are happening around London shows that this national treasure hasn’t exactly been forgotten. And she’ll be celebrated in the States, too, although it seems to be more of a nod to the 75th anniversary of Gone With the Wind next year than to Vivien’s 100th birthday. Still, there will be no shortage of opportunities for fans to indulge in their appreciation for Vivien Leigh!

Here is your comprehensive guide to the Vivien Leigh centenary celebrations taking place in the coming months

  • October 10 (UK) and 15 (US): Publication of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. Pre-order your copy on Amazon (US | UK) or support your local bookstore (highly recommended)! You can also order it for Kindle and other tablet devices.
  • Until October 31: Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait featured as TCM’s Book Corner Selection for October. You can enter to win a free copy on their website.
  • Until October 31: Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame exhibition at the Topsham Museum, Topsham, Devon. The Topsham Museum in the picturesque county of Devon was the former home of Vivien Leigh’s sister-in-law, Dorothy Holman. They’ve got a permanent display of some of Vivien’s personal items, but this special exhibition focuses on Vivien’s connections to Devon, with items lent by Vivien’s daughter Suzanne and other local archives.
  • November 3: Susie Lindeman stars in the one-woman play Letter to Larry. Jermyn Street Theatre, 7 pm.
  • November 5: Select items from the newly acquired Vivien Leigh Archive will go on display in the permanent Theatre and Performance exhibit at the V&A. There will also be a free talk and tour given by curator Keith Lodwick that focuses specifically on Vivien. Also on display will be the Christian Dior dress that Vivien wore in the play Duel of Angels, as well as a headdress that Oliver Messel designed for Vivien to wear in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). Attendees are to meet in the entrance area of the museum. Running time: 30 mins.
  • November 5: Centenary celebration at the Actors’ Church, Covent Garden. Actress Susie Lindeman stars as Vivien Leigh in a 45 minute version of her one-woman show Letter To Larry, followed by readings and reminiscences by fellow actors and figures who knew Vivien. I’ll also be there signing copies of Vivien Leigh: A Intimate Portrait. The event starts at 7.15 pm. Ticket price: TBA.
  • November 5 – January 1: BFI film season and nationwide Gone With the Wind theatrical release. The BFI Southbank has put together a fantastic program of film screenings and special talks to commemorate Vivien’s 100th birthday. Highlights include 13 of Vivien’s films on the big screen, including illusive titles 21 Days Together (1940) and The Deep Blue Sea (1956), a talk by V&A curator Keith Lodwick about the Vivien Leigh Archive, and a new restoration and nation-wide theatrical release of Gone With the Wind. The BFI is also offering fans of vivandlarry.com a special discount on tickets to all Vivien screenings and associated events during the season (as well as the full run of GWTW). Quote the code “BEAN” while booking online or by phone to claim your discount! Tickets go on sale October 8.
  • November 5: Vivien film tribute on TCM. Everyone’s favorite classic movie channel, TCM (US), will be showing Vivien Leigh films all day on November 5 in honor of her birthday.
  • November 13: Vivien Leigh: Role Model or Victim Figure? – Lunchtime lecture by University of Huddersfield professor Jayne Sheridan. V&A, Hochauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre, 1 pm. Price: Free.
  • November 17: Vivien Leigh fan meet-up in London. I’m planning a casual fan meet-up on November 17 in London to celebrate Vivien’s birthday. We’ll be going to the V&A to see the Archive items on display, attending a screening of Waterloo Bridge at the BFI, and going for an early-ish dinner. Attendees are responsible for booking their own film tickets (see above), and MUST email me to confirm.
  • November 19: Cohen Films Collection releases the Vivien Leigh Anniversary Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. Includes all new restorations of Fire Over England, Dark Journey, Storm in a Teacup, and Sidewalks of London, plus a booklet essay written by yours, truly. The restored films will also be screened at the BFI as part of their Vivien Leigh season.
  • November 28: Vivien Leigh: A Intimate Portrait – Lunchtime lecture by Kendra Bean. National Portrait Gallery, Ondaatje Wing Theatre, 1.15 pm followed by book signing. Price: Free.
  • November 30: Official opening of Starring Vivien Leigh exhibit at NPG. Through a variety of rare photographs and ephemera, this exhibit traces the trajectory of Vivien’s career and image as one of the most famous British women of the 20th century.
  • January 16: Starring Vivien Leigh gallery tour. I’ll be leading a Late Shift tour of the Starring Vivien Leigh exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, speaking about some of my favorite items on display. 7.30 pm. Price: TBA.
  • February 8 (tentative): Vivien Leigh seminar, V&A (details TBA)
  • June 6-8: Gone With the Wind 75th Anniversary Celebration. The Scarlett on the Square Museum in Marietta, Georgia will play host to this three day event commemorating the greatest film of the Hollywood studio era (details TBA).

 

events lists

5 things I’ll be doing while everyone else is at the TCM Film Festival

This weekend Hollywood is getting nostalgic, recalling its glamorous past as Turner Classic Movies unrolls the red carpet for the 4th annual TCM Film Festival. Although I was still living in southern California during the festival’s inaugural event in 2010, I’ve sadly never been able to attend. Instead, I live vicariously through the classic film blogging community as twitter and facebook explode with updates about celebrity sightings, screenings of favorite films in Hollywood’s famous cinemas, round table discussions with many-a-film-fan’s personal idol Robert Osborne, and, of course, meeting and forming friendships with other film bloggers.

Being half way around the world, it’s really expensive to fly back to California (I’ve only been home twice in the past 2 1/2 years). So, another year, another fun TCM Film Festival party that I won’t be at. Here are five things I’ll be doing this weekend while everyone else is sitting poolside at the Roosevelt and drinking cocktails with Eva Marie Saint:

5. Enjoying the rain

Just kidding. This week, spring finally decided to grace London with its presence, and it was glorious! I left my winter coat in the closet for the first time since November and walked outside wearing a cardigan. And I didn’t freeze to death (60 degrees is shorts weather for Britons, but anyone from California knows 80 is where it’s really at). However, it looks like this warm spell is going to be short-lived.

4. Organizing my new apartment

After a year and a half living in the quaint suburb of Crouch End, birthplace of actress and Vivien Leigh look-alike Jean Simmons, I’ve finally ditched my awkward and sometimes downright rude flatmates (seriously, they had a penchant for cooking at midnight and telling me I was “cutting in to their time” when I brought up household issues) and moved south of the river with Robbie. It’s really nice having my own (shared) space and not feeling like I have to cloister myself in my room because the couple mentioned above took over the rest of the flat. Although it is rather startling how much stuff I managed to fit into that shoebox I used to sleep in.

3. Watching Game of Thrones

I admit it. I’m kind of obsessed with the goings on in Westeros. I mean, did you see last week’s episode? How fierce is Daenerys Targaryen? Will Tyrion Lannister get the revenge he seeks? What is Varys going to do with that sorcerer in a crate? What does Diana Rigg (Olenna Redwyne) have up her sleeve? Also, this.

2. Making a video about Vivien Leigh

Although I update facebook and twitter every day, I’ve been neglecting this blog over the past six months or so. I blame the whirlwind that has been writing and assembling my upcoming Vivien Leigh book by the deadlines specified by my editor. Now that this is winding down and the publication date grows nearer, I’ve been thinking of new ways to jump start the blog again. I get a lot of questions from fans who visit London and wonder where they can see places related to Vivien Leigh. This weekend, Robbie and I are planning to put together a special video chronicling exactly that. Fingers crossed the rain stays away!

1. Finishing my book

I got the second proof of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait this week, and now have to hand in the chapter notes and photo credits by Monday. It’s really exciting and kind of strange to see the end in sight after having spent so much time working on it. Onward to the finish line!

I’m not hanging out with the stars in Hollywood this weekend, but I’d highly recommend following along with some great bloggers who are:

Carley: Kitty Packard Pictorial | Jessica: Comet Over Hollywood | Jill: Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence | Kristen: Sales on Film | Lara: Backlots | Marya: Old Films Flicker

classic film events london

Hollywood costumes come to London!

(Via the V&A)

On October 20, the Victoria & Albert Museum brought Hollywood filmmaking to the heart of London. Hollywood Costume, curated by designer and historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Raiders of the Lost Ark), is an ambitious and beautiful exhibition that illuminates the central role costume design has played throughout a century of Hollywood filmmaking. As a previous resident of southern California, I’ve seen a fair share of old Hollywood costumes before. I’ve even been lucky enough to try some on (it turns out that with enough sucking in, I’m the same size as Hedy Lamarr). But none of these experiences had prepared me for the sheer volume and awesome spectacle of this exhibition.

I met up with Zoe from Vagabond Language on a particularly cold day a couple weeks ago. Exhibitions are always more fun when you see them with someone else who enjoys the subject matter as much as you do. Several of the most iconic outfits in film history were on display. Most astonishingly, they weren’t behind glass cases, but out in the open with strategic lighting and projected images that made it seem as if we had stepped into a Technicolor fantasy.

The exhibition is arranged in three sections: Deconstruction (designer’s research), Dialogue (innovation and design), Finale (a huge mash-up of noteworthy designs).  There were costumes worn by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Matt Damon – Mary Pickford to Meryl Streep and just about everyone in between; we’re talking Hedy Lamarr, Carole Lombard, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Depp, Greta Garbo, Kate Winslet, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland – they even had the original ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz shipped over from the Smithsonian.

vivien leigh gwtw dresses

While I enjoyed the full range of costumes on offer, there were two that particularly stood out to me. These were the green curtain dress and  red ostrich feather dress worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, which were among those recently restored by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. This exhibition marks the first time the costumes have been in the UK since the 1940s and it was surreal to view them up close. I’d seen a version of the green dress at the Atlanta History Center back in 2009, but was quite unprepared for the vision of the red dress. Major kudos to the people who did the restoration. It looks absolutely stunning. It also reaffirms the fact that Vivien Leigh’s waist was smaller than my thigh.

Aside from ogling at the artistry on display, I was quite surprised to see that many of the older costumes came from a select few collectors or costume companies in Los Angeles and Asia. It must have taken quite a while for the curators to track all of them down, let along negotiate for them to be shipped to London.

Whether you’re in to fashion, film or plain old nostalgia, Hollywood Costume has something for everyone and should be on the top of every tourist’s list of things to see and do in London.

*Hollywood Costume runs until January 27, 2013. Advance bookings strongly recommended.

 

events

Wrap-up: A Weekend with the Oliviers Part 3

Sunday morning had an early wake-up call. Our first adventure was a walking tour of London. We met at the ungodly early hour of  9 am at the Laurence Olivier statue in front of the National Theatre and at 9:30 set off to see some of the places where Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier worked and lived. Our route took us across Waterloo Bridge (sorry, guys, not seen in the 1940 film) to Aldwych, down to the Strand, up to Covent Garden, over to Soho and Piccadilly, down through St James’ Park to Westminster, over to Belgravia and finally to Chelsea. The list of sites:

  • Aldwych Theatre — where Laurence Olivier directed Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1949
  • The Savoy Hotel — where Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier formally met in 1935 while having dinner in the famous Grill Room
  • St. Paul’s The Actor’s Church, Covent Garden — The plaque dedicated to Vivien Leigh, which was given by John Mills after Vivien died, is special because it is, in a sense, the only sort-of grave marker that she has.
  • St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square — The beautiful church where Vivien Leigh’s public memorial service was held
  • The Noel Coward Theatre — Formerly the New Theatre in St. Martin’s Lane. This is where the Old Vic company performed during and after the war while waiting for bomb damage at the Old Vic to be repaired. The stage at the New Theatre is where Laurence Olivier officially became a theatrical superstar during the 1944-1945 season.
  • The Ivy — This famous, exclusive restaurant near Covent Garden was frequented by London’s smart set, including Vivien Leigh who could often be spotted dining alongside Noel Coward and other theatrical luminaries.
  • Ambassadors Theatre — Just next door to the Ivy, Vivien Leigh became an overnight star when The Mask of Virtue opened here in 1935.
  • The Phoenix Theatre — This Soho theatre is ticked away in a not-so-nice alley, but it is noteworthy because this is where Vivien Leigh performed in The Skin of Our Teeth in 1945 before falling ill with tuberculosis. When the play was revived in 1946, it was performed at the Piccadilly Theatre.
  • The Apollo Theatre — This Shaftesbury Avenue theatre is where Vivien Leigh performed in Duel of Angels during the London run of the play.
  • The Lyric Theatre — Vivien Leigh performed here in Noel Coward’s South Sea Bubble in 1956.
  • Theatre Royal, Haymarket — When The Doctor’s Dilemma came to London in 1943, it opened at this theatre and ran for over a year because audiences were thrilled to be able to see Scarlett O’Hara in the flesh.
  • St. James House – The former site of the St James’ Theatre. It was demolished and rebuilt as a modern office building, but the alley between the office and the pub next door boasts a relief of the Oliviers in the Two Cleopatras as well as a plaque commemorating the protest to save the theatre that was led by Vivien Leigh in 1958.
  • Westminster Abbey — The final resting place of Sir Laurence Olivier, O.M.
  • 54 Eaton Square — This flat (flat D) in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in London, was purchased by the Oliviers in 1958. After their divorce, as part of the settlement, Larry continued to pay rent on the flat so that Vivien and Jack Merivale could continue to live in London in style. Vivien Leigh died here in July 1967. Today, Academy Award-winning actress Louise Rainer occupies No. 54 and the bench Gertrude Hartley dedicated to Vivien upon her death still sits in the garden. You can see more photos of Eaton Square here.
  • The Royal Court Theatre — This off-the-beaten-path theatre in Chelse’a Sloane Square was the birthplace of kitchen sink dramas in the late 50s and 60s, starting with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. Laurence Olivier performed here in The Entertainer in 1958. Vivien Leigh also performed here in a different sort of play in 1959, Noel Coward’s Look After Lulu.
  • Durham Cottage — Laurence Olivier’s and Vivien Leigh’s love nest is situated on a quiet street just off the King’s Road in Chelsea. It was purchased in 1937 and served at their London base before relocating to Belgravia in 1957.
  • For a full photo tour of London’s Theatreland, click here.

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