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The Roman Spring of Kendra and Anthony (Part 1)


One of the most rewarding things about maintaining this website is meeting kindred spirits. Anthony and I met through vivandlarry.com years ago and had a passing acquaintance on Facebook. We finally hung out in person when I moved to north London two years ago. He and his partner lived nearby. We immediately bonded over our love for Vivien Leigh and classic cinema. He studies film, as well, and knows more than I do about a lot of stars of Hollywood’s golden age. He is also really good at impersonating film characters. When he started quoting The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (not just Warren Beatty, but Vivien Leigh and Coral Browne, too) I laughed so hard I cried. We became instant friends.

Anthony has been studying abroad in Rome since October and this week I finally got a chance to go and visit him. It was my first trip to Italy, and because we share so many of the same interests, I was happy to let Anthony show me around! Here are photos from day 1 of my visit.

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An afternoon at Notley Abbey

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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

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An ode to Coco

Coco the Siamese cat

It’s rare that we get everything that we want at the same time. Sometimes, happy occasions are counteracted with sad ones. I handed in the manuscript for my book this past Saturday. That same day, I got a text from my mom saying that my beloved Siamese cat, Coco, had to be put to sleep. I had known this was coming since Christmas, but knowledge and distance didn’t make the news completely easy to take.

Coco and I had been through a lot together. Some of you may remember me posting photos on here when I first got her. I adopted Coco from the Southern California Siamese Rescue in May 2009. I was in my post-college-trying-to-figure-out-my-life phase and was going through a bit of depression and loneliness. I decided I wanted to adopt a cat, and so started looking online for those available in my general area. Then I saw Coco’s picture on the SoCal Siamese website, and was immediately won over by her beauty and obvious diva-ish attitude. Also, come on, Coco? Coco Bean? It was destiny.

I drove two hours to Burbank where she was being fostered by a British couple. They told me that she was very timid, had been abandoned, had some dental work done, and had been in a few foster homes previously because she didn’t get along with other cats and had a tendency to hide a lot. I went into the bathroom and found her huddled behind the toilet. She had nowhere to run but she let me pet her and I took her home with me. It took her a few days to start warming up to her new surroundings, but from then on, we were pals.

Then, about five months in, she stopped eating, began sleeping all day, and was drooling quite a bit. A trip to the vet revealed that she had an unfortunately common problem with Oriental cats: stomatitis. Her gums became so infected that within a few months, I was faced with the option of giving her back to the shelter and having her put down, or paying for a very expensive surgery to have all of her teeth removed. The stress of the situation was overwhelming. I didn’t have enough money to pay the vet bills – I wasn’t expecting a sick cat right off the bat – but I had promised to be her “forever home.” So, I turned to tumblr and twitter for help, and amazingly, total strangers reached out to chip in. Within a week, I’d raised enough money to pay for her surgery. Talk about tears of gratitude on this end. After a bit of a rough recovery, Coco was like a completely new cat – still skittish and only let me pet her, but definitely not as reclusive as she had been.

When I got accepted to grad school and moved to London, I took Coco up north to live with my parents and she ended up taking to my dad. Not surprising, considering he’s basically an animal whisperer. But she still remembered me when I came home for visits, and every weekend when I Skyped with my parents, I’d ask for a Coco report.

A few months ago, my dad said she had started limping. She was older so we thought maybe she had arthritis. The limp didn’t go away and when I was home for the holidays, an x-ray revealed she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in her arm. I was devastated by the diagnosis. I’d only adopted her four years ago and she’d had a rough life. It wasn’t fair that this should happen to this poor little creature. We decided that, given the circumstances and cost, we would forego amputation and let life take its course. I’d been home for three weeks and although she let me pet her when she was sleeping it was only on the very last night I was home that she came and curled up next to me on my bed like she used to.

My heart aches, but I think my mom was right when she said that I’d given Coco the best four years of her life, and I’m so glad I got to say goodbye. We’re lucky we found each other.

So, RIP, pretty Cocobean. May your sassiness reign in the next life.

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Destination: Devon


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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