Tag: laurence olivier

Commonplace Books of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier


Commonplace Books of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier

In December 1946, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were chosen by Strand magazine in London to contribute literary quotes from their personal Commonplace Books. Commonplace Books (commonly referred to today as “inspiration journals”) are blank notebooks that differ from traditional diaries in that they’re not meant to record life events in a chronological order. Rather, they’re a random hodgepodge of thoughts, quotes and passages from books, sketches, recipes, etc. that made an impression in the moment.

Strand printed a running series called “The Commonplace Books of…” where “Every month [they] publish quotations from the Commonplace Books of people whose names you know and whose wide reading you envy.” While the choice of works the Oliviers quote from may seem familiar from what we have read about them in biographies, what is interesting is what these particular quotes reveal about their individual personalities. To me, Vivien seems like a dreamer, whereas Larry Olivier comes off as a romantic.

What do you think of this list?

Vivien Leigh

Entries in my Commonplace Book are very varied and I am continually adding to them. My favorite quotations include “The Cloths of Heaven” by W. B. Yeats:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths
Enwrought with gold and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

And that memorable sentence on the death of William III, the last sentence in J. L. Motley‘s “Rise of the Dutch Republic”:

As long as he lived, he was the guiding star of a brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets.

In humorous prose I like the entry of April 23rd in “The Diary of a Nobody” by George and Weedon Grossmith:

Mr. and Mrs. James (Miss Fullers that was), came to meat-tea, and we left directly after for the Tank Theatre. We got on a bus that took us to King’s Closs, and then changed to one that took us to the Angel. Mr. James each time insisted on paying for all, saying that I had paid for the tickets and that was quite enough.

We arrived at the theatre, where, curiously enough, all our bus-load except and old woman with a basket seemed to be going in. I walked ahead and presented the tickets. The man looked at them, and called out “Mr. Willowly! Do you know anything about these?” holding up my tickets.

The gentleman came to, came up and examined my tickets and said: “Who gave you these?” I said rather indignantly: “Mr. Merton, of course.” He said: “Merton? Who’s he?” I answered rather sharply, “You ought to know, his name’s good at any theatre in London.” He replied: “Oh! is it? Well it ain’t no good here. These tickets, which are not dated, were issued under Mr. Swinstead’s management, which has since changed hands.”

While I was having some very unpleasant works with the man, James, who had gone upstairs with the ladies, called out: “Come on!” I went up after them, and a very civil attendant said: “This way, please, Box H.” I said to James: “Why, how on earth did you manage it?” And to my horror he replied: “Why, paid for it, of course!”

This was humiliating enough, and I could scarcely follow the play, but I was doomed to still further humiliation. I was leaning out of the Box, when my tie – a little black bow which fastened on to the stud by means of a new patent – fell into the pit below. A clumsy man not noticing it, had his foot on it for ever so long before he discovered it. He then picked it up and eventually flung it under the next seat in disgust. What with the Box incident and the tie, I felt quite miserable. Mr. James, of Sutton, was very good. He said: “Don’t worry – no one will notice it with your beard. That is the only advantage of growing one that I can see.” There was no occasion for that remark, for Carrie is very proud of my beard.

To hide the absence of the tie I had to keep my chin down the rest of the evening, which caused a pain in the back of my neck.

Of many favorite passages in Shakespeare, I like best of all the last speech of Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” from which these lines are taken:

Never more, hair, nor scar,
Nor mark prodigious, such as are
Despised in nativity,
Shall upon their children be.

And the 29th Sonnet, beginning,

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s
I alone be weep my outcast state…

I have read a great deal of Thomas Hardy and Dickens. The chapter on sheep-shearing in “Far from the Madding Crowd” ranks, I think, among the finest descriptive writings. With these I also place the beginning of “The Battle of Life” from Dickens “Christmas Books” – the description of the field from which “the painted butterfly took blood into the air upon the edges of its wings.”
For pure joy of reading I choose the reunion scene at the end of “Pickwick Papers”:

…. The coaches rattled back to Mr. Pickwick’s to breakfast, where little Mr. Perker already awaited them.

Here, all the light clouds of the more solemn part of the proceedings passed away; every face shone forth joyously, and nothing was to be heard but congratulations and commendations. Everything was so beautiful! The lawn in front, the garden behind, the miniature conservatory, the dining-room, the praying room, the bedrooms, the smoking room, and above all the study with its pictures and easy chairs, and odd cabinets, and queer tables, and books out of number, with a large cheerful window opening upon a pleasant lawn and commanding a pretty landscape, just dotted here and there with little houses almost hidden by trees; and then the curtains, and the carpets, and the chairs, and the sofas. Everything was so beautiful, so compact, that there really was no deciding what to admire most.

And in the midst of all this stood Mr. Pickwick, his countenance lighted up with smiles, which the heart of no man, woman, or child could resist: himself the happiest of the group, shaking hands…over and over again with the same people, and when his own were not so employed, rubbing them with pleasure; turning round in a different direction at every fresh expression of gratification or curiosity, and inspiring everybody with his looks of gladness and delight.

And, finally, a quotation from Plato which is, I think, particularly appropriate at the present time:

Then tell me, O Critias, how will a man choose the ruler that shall rule over him? Will he not choose a man who has first established order in himself, knowing that any decision that has its spring from anger or pride or vanity can be multiplied a thousand fold in its effects upon the citizens?

Laurence Olivier

Nearly all of my leisure reading is Shakespeare. May passages from the works of that greatest of poets come to my mind, notably Burgundy’s speech in “Henry V,” Act V, and part of the concluding chorus in the Epilogue, which runs:

Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursued the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly
This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world’s best garden he achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord.

Here are four other of my favorite sonnets from Shakespeare’s plays:

Brutus in “Julius Caesar”
(Act IV, Scene iii)

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such full sea we are now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

The Boy’s Song in “Measure for Measure”
(Act IV, Scene i)

Take, O, take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn;
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn:
But my kisses bring again, bring again;
Seals of love, but seal’d in vain, seal’d in vain.

Holofernes in “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
(Act IV, Scene iii)

This is a gift that I have, simple, simple;
a foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms,
figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions,
motions, revolutions: these are begot in the
ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb
of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing
of occasion. But the gift is good in those
to whom it is acute, and I am thankful for it.

The First Murderer in “Macbeth”
(Act III, Scene iii)

The west yet glimmers with streaks of
Now spurs the lated traveller apace
To gain the timely inn; and near approaches
The subject of our watch.

I am also very fond of the two songs dedicated to Spring and Winter which come at the end of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Of other poets, Keats has always been one of my favorites. There is a delightful stanza from his “Ode to a Grecian Urn”:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

In prose, I share with my wife a liking for both ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ and Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd.” I am an admirer of Rupert Brooke, especially the first half of that poem “The Great Lover,” which begins:

I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.

My favorite quotations would be incomplete without the first stanza of Gray’s “Elegy”

The curfew tolls the knell of a parting day
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

– an this memorable verse by William Allingham:

Four ducks on a pond,
The blue sky beyond,
White clouds on the wing.
What little thing
To remember for years,
To remember with tears.

Add these books to your shelf:

 ♠ ♣ ♠ ♣ ♠

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

An afternoon at Notley Abbey

photo essay photography the oliviers

An afternoon at Notley Abbey

It’s officially spring, but winter still reigns in England. With freezing temperatures and even snow on occasion, it hasn’t been a very pleasant time to be outside. However, I recently treated myself to a new camera lens and was eager to try it out. As I was going to visit Robbie near Buckinghamshire anyway, I had a spur-of-the-moment idea (as usual) of going out to Notley Abbey for a photo shoot. Unfortunately, they were booked up with bridal viewings on Sunday, so I went this past Monday, instead, and was met by my friend Zara who came up from London.

I’ve been to Notley a few times now in various seasons, but am always struck by the beauty that surrounds it. Walking around the manicured grounds, it’s equally easy to imagine Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in their heyday, and why they loved this place so much. I tried to capture some of the old world charm in my photographs. It really is a stunning house.

All photos © Kendra Bean, 2013

Continue reading

photography travel

Brideshead Revisited: A trip to Castle Howard

Brideshead Revisited

“I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.” – Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

One of my favorite things about living in the UK is having the opportunity to visit so many stately homes. I love buildings that are steeped in history. We don’t really get that in America – not on the same scale, anyway. The British have a thing for preserving their heritage and that makes me happy because there are so many beautiful stately homes and other architectural wonders here to photograph.

Last Monday, my friend Ali and I traveled to York to visit Castle Howard. Literature and film lovers probably know it best as the setting for the fictional Brideshead Castle in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Both the 1981 Granada mini-series featuring Sir Laurence Olivier in an Emmy Award-winning performance as Lord Marchmain and the 2008 feature film starring Matthew Goode and Ben Whishaw were filmed here. In 1940, a fire broke  out and destroyed the dome and the East Wing of the castle. Although it has been restored on the outside, the East Wing remains gutted and tourists are only allowed to walk through the West Wing.  In 2008, Julian Jarrold transformed a few of the rooms into sets for his Brideshead adaptation. These rooms are now a permanent exhibit about Castle Howard’s involvement in the Brideshead films.

In real life, Castle Howard is home to one of the oldest aristocratic families in England. Charles Howard, the 3rd Duke of Carlisle, commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to build his stately home in the countryside outside of York. It was constructed between 1699 and 1712 and is still occupied by the Howard family today. Everything about the house and grounds is lavish. From the ostentatious interiors to the beautifully landscaped grounds and the giant Atlas Fountain in the south-facing courtyard, Castle Howard offers no shortage of photogenic beauty. Like Charles Ryder in Brideshead, I had been here before, years ago. This time I came armed with a sense of nostalgia and improved photography skills, or so I like to think!

This is Castle Howard through my eyes.

All photos © Kendra Bean

Continue reading

laurence olivier

Carrie: The best Laurence Olivier film you’ve never seen

Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones in William Wyler's Carrie

This post is part of the William Wyler Blogathon currently hosted by The Movie Projector. Spoiler alert: proceed with caution!

In 1950, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier returned to Hollywood after a 10-year hiatus. In the intervening years, much had changed for Scarlett and Heathcliff. They were married in late 1940 and almost immediately sailed for England, leaving the luxurious life behind for one of buzz bombs and gas masks. During the war, both rose to prominence on the London stage and Olivier also became one of Britain’s most revered film directors by successfully bringing Shakespeare to the screen. He became the youngest ever Actor-Knight in 1947, and the following year he and Vivien achieved legendary status in the eyes of the public when they led a successful Old Vic tour of Australia and New Zealand. When they again stepped foot on California soil, they were no longer Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh but The Oliviers, a combined cultural icon idolized by fans and fellow actors alike.

Vivien had been lured back to Tinsel Town to play Blanche in  A Streetcar Named Desire and Olivier had come to offer support. Playing the role on stage for nine months had drained Vivien and they didn’t want to risk a long separation. Looking for a challenge to fill the time, Olivier signed on to star in the film adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s controversial turn of the century urban novel Sister Carrie. The film reunited Olivier with director William Wyler, who had been instrumental in helping the actor appreciate the film medium during the grueling making of Wuthering Heights in 1938/39.

Carrie Meeber (Selznick discovery Jennifer Jones, who was married to the producer at the time) is a young girl from Wisconsin who leaves home at 18 in search of the American Dream. On board the train to Chicago she meets the suave and slightly creepy Charles Druet, who takes an immediate interest in her solo status and fresh looks. Carrie stays with her sister and her Swedish husband in a tenement flat on the wrong side of town and finds work in a shoe factory to help pay the rent. But her cheerful outlook quickly sours and she ties of the monotonous labour and meager pay. After suffering an injury-by-sewing-machine, Carrie is fired from her seat in the assembly line and turns to Druet out of desperation. But instead of helping her find a job, Druet just makes her his kept woman.

On the first evening of their relationship, Druet tells her to meet him at Fitzgerald’s, the swankiest restaurant in Chicago. There she meets the proprieter, George Hurstwood (Olivier). Hurstwood, though middle-aged, immediately takes an interest in Carrie and we soon learn that he’s got a sad life at home with his grown kids and gold-digging harpy wife. Soon George is taking Carrie to the theatre and showing her a bit of culture with some extra benefits on the side. But George is good at keeping secrets. Carrie only finds out about his wife and family after she’s fallen in love with him, and is convinced he’s just using her as a cheap toy.

George’s love for Carrie is real enough and he asks his wife for a divorce. She refuses and threatens to ruin him, but George won’t be blackmailed. Instead, he accidentally embezzles a large amount of cash from the safe at Fitzgerald’s and under the pretext of Charles Druet’s (fabricated) illness, convinces Carrie to run away with him to New York where they can marry. It’s not long, however, before George’s secret is discovered, bringing about an onslaught of consequences for both of them that results in Carrie’s rise to success–albeit not happiness–as an actress and George’s rapid descent into poverty and his eventual suicide in a homeless shelter.

Screenwriting team Ruth and Augustus Goetz did well in keeping many of Dreiser’s themes in tact–namely the realism of human nature in the face of Victorian morals, and the hardships of working-class America in the early 20th century–but the film is otherwise firmly stamped with the red ink of the Production Code. In the Old Hollywood Rule Book there is a high price to pay for those who lie, steal, cheat, or attempt to have sex outside of marriage.  Although all of the above are done with good intentions in Carrie, our characters are still punished for their misdeeds. As if it’s not bad enough that they have to live in squalid conditions straight out of an Upton Sinclair novel and George can’t find a decent job after being blackballed from every good restaurant east of the Mississippi, Carrie has a miscarriage and learns that her marriage to George is illegal because Mrs. Hurstwood never gave him that divorce. In the end, they both search for a little absolution but neither of them find it; we reap what we sew, even if we’re honest.

In addition to a compelling story, the real gem of Carrie is the acting. Olivier didn’t care much for Jennifer Jones during the making of the film and would often write to Vivien (while she was in New Orleans doing location work for Streetcar) expressing his frustration. Jones is good in the finished product but the highlight is Olivier who gives one of the best performances of his career. I find him quite astonishing when he’s playing an average guy (see also Term of Trial, The Entertainer and/or Bunny Lake is Missing). He often liked to tell the story of how Wyler brought him down a peg or two during the making of Wuthering Heights by criticising his pompous attitude. In Carrie, there is no room for theatrics. Olivier is forced to make the best of a character who is given no platform whatever to perform and he does it with heartbreaking aplomb. He even puts on a non-regional American accent and you can’t help but give him an A for his effort.

Although Carrie was nominated for two Academy Awards and Olivier received a BAFTA nod for his performance, the film is little known today. However, it is available in DVD in the States and, if you’re lucky, you maybe able to catch it on TCM on occasion. Don’t mistake it for Brian DePalma’s Stephen King adaptation. There are no buckets of pigs blood to be found here. Carrie is one of the hidden gems of both Olivier’s and Wyler’s careers. But perhaps the fact that it’s not well known is actually a good thing. Now you can all go discover this treasure of 1950s Hollywood cinema on your own.

Grade: A

friends of the oliviers guest post

Dear John: Remembering John Buckmaster

Dear John: Remembering John Buckmaster by Tanguy

Dear John: Remembering John Buckmaster

by Tanguy

John Buckmaster. The name sounds familiar to all those interested in Vivien Leigh. Wasn’t he the man making fun of Larry and his new mustache that first day at the Savoy Grill, when it is said that all really began? John Buckmaster. A name. A silhouette. Yes, now you see him better. But didn’t he turn totally mad in the end? Wasn’t he the one…? Yes, now you know. THAT John Buckmaster.

No matter how many biographies of Vivien Leigh you may have read, that’s all there is to it. John Buckmaster, stuck forever in that dramatic chapter. And when that one is closed, there goes John Buckmaster, back to obscurity.

And yet…

Posing in front of the camera in 1934, in a beautiful striped suit, exquisitely tailored, John Buckmaster was a vision of absolute elegance and beauty. He had the dreamy blue eyes of his mother – once the most photographed girl in London – and the manly bone structure of his father, with the spiritual nose and attractive mouth.

He was born on July 1915 to Gladys Constance Cooper – beloved actress and glorious beauty – and Herbert John Buckmaster, survivor of the Boer War; a great gambler and womanizer; a total black sheep; but a darling who kept in touch with his wife even after their divorce, giving lunch whenever she was in touch, arranging parties to celebrate her first nights, behaving less like an ex-husband and more like an intensely proud elder brother.

John must have loved that man who always behaved like a child himself, not hesitating to ride down from London to Charlwood on a pony to visit his children. There in a big Manor House in Surrey, John grew up in an enchanted world, sharing his life with several sheep, wallabies, a snake, a pet monkey, and a sister called Joan.

Several people with funny names came to visit. Mostly men, specially after his father left for the war. Ivor Novello, Raymond Massey, The Duke of Westminster. One day, Gerald du Maurier came by to have a glance at the menagerie. He was bitten by the monkey.

Beauty was everywhere — had to be everywhere. John’s mother had an issue with ugliness, illness, exhaustion and inefficiency. She couldn’t tolerate them and considered being less-than-perfect a mark of weakness to be fixed properly.

Accordingly, John developed the most elegant manners, the most delicate smile, and even took some boxing lessons with a friend of his father to improve his body and balance. One summer, when he was 9, he created a display and a cartoon was published in the Evening Standard. Both his father and mother got in touch with the cartoonist the following morning to buy the original drawing. In deep confusion, the artist wrote to Buck who replied, “It’s perfectly simple, dear fellow: I shall purchase it and you shall send it to Miss Cooper’s dressing room”. A kind of goodbye gift as the divorce became official in 1921.

It was not long before new items were added to the family menagerie. In 1928, John’s mother married Sir Neville Pearson, a handsome and titled baronet ten years younger than his bride. He was heir to a publishing firm and had just ended a disastrous marriage himself. John heard of their brief honeymoon in the south of France. Now studying at Eton, he must have felt a jealous sting as his mother seemed to have no trouble in taking on Pearson’s various stepchildren as her own. She seemed to take rather more interest in her new baby, Sally. She led a less mundane and active life than she had managed at the time of John’s birth, when the demands of her career were more exclusive.

Far from the imperious eye of his mother and not knowing about the cracks in the perfect mirror of her new, happy life, John faced adolescence alone. Sensitive, highly strung, extremely handsome and wittily talented, he couldn’t help but resent the man who had interfered with his close relation with his mother. He had taken an intense dislike to Pearson and it was reciprocal.
Had he known that after some sensual years the Pearson’s marriage was to turn to ruin, maybe John would have reconsidered his views. Later in life he would blame his eventual collapse on his mother’s inability to cope with him.

Out from Eton, with his looks, his talent, and his connections, he decided to start an acting career of his own. He played with Cedric Hardwicke, in Tovarich, settled in a little flat of his own in Chelsea, and started dating young and beautiful women, like Jean Gillie, and a certain Vivien Leigh.

According to Hugo Vickers, Vivien told Jack Merivale that John had been the first man she had an affair with after her marriage to Leigh Holman. In August 1935 they had spent a week end in Kent together. They shared youth and the love of fun and excitement. In short, they were made one for each other. According to his stepsister, Sally, Vivien was the love of his life. What would John’s life have been, had a certain Laurence Olivier not arrived on the scene?

Larry, was not a total stranger to John. In 1933, Gladys Cooper had secured the young unknown actor to play in “The Rats of Norway”. With her keen eye on youth, beauty and talent, she must have felt a certain attraction to young Larry, and according to him, showed nothing but kindness and generosity. So Vivien couldn’t have dreamed of a better escort to introduce them at the Savoy Grill, where Olivier and his wife, Jill Esmond, used to dine at the time he was playing “Romeo and Juliet.” The rest is history.

It must have been a cruel experience to see the woman of his dreams totally mesmerized by somebody else. But John had learned to hide his feelings and put on a happy face. On April 30th, 1937, Gladys Cooper, John’s mother, got married for the third time. The new stepfather’s name was Philip Merivale, a 47 year old English actor and widow of Viva Birkett, by whom he’d had four children. This time, John decided to smile. Not only did he put up with his new family – among which was a stepbrother named Jack Merivale – but when his mother decided to tour America with her new husband, he decided to come along. In 1938, he played on Broadway in a Dodie Smith family comedy, “Call it A Day”. Handsome and already accomplished as an actor, he seemed destined for a brilliant future. He decided to forget the Pearson episode, got on well with his mother, and also took kindly to Philip Merivale who wanted nothing more than the fusion of the two families. After “Call it A Day”, and flattering appearances in all the best gossip columns of New-York, he accepted the part of Lord Alfred Douglas opposite Robert Morley’s Oscar Wilde. Off stage, he seemed to have found in America a place to suit his ambition and sense of adventure. He started writing songs and made quite a name for himself in cabaret. But life decided to play another trick. War broke out in September 1939 when he was just 24.

“Phil says John is doing very well in cabaret at the Algonquin and though people keep writing to me from England saying that he should go back and fight with the others, I really haven’t the heart to persuade him to give up his New-York life…” So wrote Gladys Cooper just after seeing Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh back to England in 1940. Although nothing is certain about his state of mind at that stage, one can assume that the pressure on John was intense. He felt split between his mother’s will to keep him close and safe, his own guilt at letting his friends go, and leading a secure life. In July 1941, Gladys wrote again: “John has decided to go home and fight; though it frightens me I think this is probably for the best”. John’s stepbrother Jack Merivale had married a young actress called Jan Sterling had decided himself to enlist in Canada. The Farewell Party took place in Central City, Colorado where John was appearing in a very successful show of his own. His mother was surprised to be presented for the first time as “John Buckmaster’s mother”.

It would be four years until John went back to California. He was on leave and met his stepbrother there. It was the first time Jack Merivale noticed the inner tensions of his relative and the distinct uneasiness in John’s relation with his mother. “I shall never forget her coming back that time from England and looking at us all in the house and saying, ‘You must all have had a lovely time – everyone does while Mum’s away’ – and then another morning John and I were standing in the drive watching her drive off somewhere and suddenly John breathed a great sigh of relief and said, ‘Whenever I’m with her, I feel I’m always doing the wrong thing, whatever it is’. That was her own son, whom she adored: she was curiously unable, I think, to make even those she most loved feel that love very often.”

When Philip Merivale died of a heart ailment in March 1946, Gladys reacted as she always had, by turning her mind on something else. She threw herself back into work and decided to do it in a revival of Lady Windermere’s Fan with a cast including her own daughter, Sally, John and Jack. They opened in California and then travelled to Broadway where they played the 1946-47 season. At the end of that run, Jack and Sally returned to Gladys in California, leaving John to stay with friends in New-York. It was then, via a phone call, that Gladys learnt her son had suffered the first of many mental breakdowns which were to become a regular and increasingly violent part of their lives for the next ten years.

“There is neither the place nor the expertise here for an analysis of that condition”, wrote Sheridan Morley in his 1979 biography of his grandmother, Gladys Cooper. “Briefly: the strains of a war in which he’d felt himself perhaps involved too distantly and too late, of a number of increasingly unhappy love affairs, and of maintaining a career which had began with rather too much glitter and not enough training, were proving too much for John, and under those pressures and the other pressure of being Glady’s son he was now, slowly but surely, to crack – temporarily at first, then for longer periods…”

What is sure, is that his mother could never bring herself to fully accept that her only son was mentally unstable. Invariably, she would refer to his condition as “flu”, even when shock treatment were necessary to contain his acutely schizophrenic condition. Mental illness – however sad it is – was for her a sign of weakness, something to be ignored and overcome rather than treated.

John Buckmaster, from then on, was on a series of highs and downs. The smiling boy with the golden curls turned into a haunted spirit, more and more dependent on drugs and treatments and trying hard to keep up with the gentle and perfect silhouette his mother wanted him to be. At her Pacific Palisade home in 1947, he is a short sleeved young man, sitting by a little table under the porch facing the swimming pool. Five years later, in New York, he will be chased by the police to Park Avenue and 75th Street, accused of molesting women, and arrested in possession of two kitchen-type knives. Sent to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric observation, he was admitted one month later to the state hospital at Kings Park, Long Island. Jack Merivale and Noël Coward took action to have him sent back to England on the condition that he went into treatment there and never return to the New York state again.

It was but one year later that he reappeared in Hollywood in one of the most dramatically written episode in all the Vivien Leigh biographies.

Little is know of the relationship John Buckmaster managed to keep with Vivien after she met Laurence Olivier. Larry must have resented the vicinity of Vivien’s old flame. But one can’t imagine Vivien – even for the sake of her love – giving up such a funny and handsome partner. She had always been faithful to the people who had been close to her and one doesn’t see why it would have been different with John. Besides, she had always been a great admirer of John’s mother. Gladys Cooper, in her eyes, remained the greatest beauty of her time. And when she came to California to film Gone With the Wind she made sure to keep in touch with John’s mother, now an eminent part of the group of British exiles in Hollywood. They must have met on Sundays when there was cricket on the lawn followed by a tea party. One corgi had some lovely puppies and Gladys decided to call one Scarlett, “because she looks just like Vivien and is very tempestuous”.

Larry and Vivien had also been acquainted with Jack Merivale, who had joined the cast of “Romeo and Juliet” to play the bit part of Balthasar. John must have heard about the news with mixed feelings. The more he tried to get away from Vivien, who was now happily married to Larry (“at last” his mother had written), the closer she seemed to get with the rest of his family. Missing the opportunity to act with Larry and Gladys in “Rebecca”, Vivien got her revenge in Korda’s Lady Hamilton, where John’s mother played the stern figure of Lady Nelson.

So, despite the years passing by, the link between Vivien and John had never been broken. After all, they had been young together, and shared the same expectations of a glorious future and perfect tomorrows, until war and reality cast their black shadows. The set of A Streetcar Named Desire, where John visited one day in Hollywood, was the proper place for a reunion. One can imagine their mutual state of mind, both by now having a history of mental illness. Once they had been partners in fun and laughter. Now they started mentally to drift away, nourishing their inner monsters with the cruel knowledge that no one really understood them. In these doomed circumstances, Vivien would be luckier in a sense. She had a husband, friends, family who fought for her and who tried desperately to build a wall between her illness and the world. John had nothing of the sort to protect him against the morbid curiosity of the press. His name was splashed across the pages of magazines, no longer in the elegant gossip columns but under the most frightening titles: “Felonious assault”, “Concealed weapons”, “Sent to State Hospital”. Then Vivien’s nightmarish breakdown happened in 1953, leaving readers with the image of John Buckmaster as a tragic and grotesque figure; soon to be removed from the set dressed in a towel, tearing up money, and asking Vivien to fly out of an upper window with him.

The little boy with the shy smile who had posed in so many happy photographs in town, in the country, even at the beach, seemed to have torn apart the family album. He bravely attempted to revive his acting career in the years to come, appearing briefly in some episodes of Sherlock Holmes for television; playing bartenders and butlers; a thin figure, still handsome, with a funny accent. He refused to see either of his parents, both of whom he blamed for his breakdowns, before settling into the clinic where he would live out the latter half of his life. Did he hear about Vivien’s fate? Larry made sure, after the 1953 episode, that they never got in touch again. John must have heard of the divorce, and of Jack living with Vivien. Such irony. And then, little by little, they were gone. Vivien first, in 1967. Then his mother, in 1971, from lung cancer. Approaching 70 she had started learning to type but had left when the instructors objected to the length of her fingernails. What couldn’t she do besides making her son happy and healthy? The world which had been such a funny place then turned to a big black shadow, place which no longer interested little Johnny. It was there, in the Priory, that he committed suicide on April 1, 1983.

He was 68.