I was recently contacted about a never-before-published interview that Vivien Leigh had done in 1966 during the run of her last play, Ivanov, in which she co-starred with her good friend John Gielgud. Peter Coyne, a former student and good friend of the interviewer, Richard F. Mason, was kind enough to choose vivandlarry.com as the source of publication. He has written a marvelous introduction to the interview, as well as provided a scan of the letter Vivien sent to Mr. Mason in response. Thanks, Peter.
Richard F. Mason was a professor of drama and director of university theater productions at Hofstra University on Long Island from 1964 until 1993. I was his student there from 1977 until 1981, and his friend thereafter. He wrote the following interview with Vivien Leigh in 1966, when she was appearing in New York City in her last play, Ivanov. Mason was still fairly new to New York at that time, having recently moved into the Charles Street apartment in Greenwich Village where he would live until his dying day, November 26, 2010. Although he was already 37 years old at the time of the interview, there is still a touch of the “stage door Johnny” about him, even if one armed with a PhD. He often mentioned in later years, when recalling the experience, the degree to which he felt star-struck, and how his time with Vivien felt rather like being in a dream state. Writing was never as great a strength for him as teaching and directing were, yet he manages to be rather funny in his own very arch way (to me, at least), and Vivien herself says she was “delighted” with the result.
Since Mason frequently references in his interview a piece about Vivien Leigh written by Elaine Dundy that had just been published, a summary of that article might be helpful. It appeared in the Village Voice on May 5, 1966, under the headline, Vivien Leigh: On Interviewing a Star On a Wet Washington Day. Ms. Dundy describes the colorful roles Vivien has played, the exciting life she has lived, and labels her an “Adventuress.” She describes boarding the plane for Washington, hauling herself and her overnight gear through a D.C. downpour to get to the theater, all for what she labels a “Snub Interview.” Her greeting from the star: “‘Don’t come near me!’she cries out as I advance into the dressing room. ‘I’ve got a cold.’ (I mention this as the most gracious thing she will say to me in the next 20 minutes.)” Her Vivien emerges as not chatty, but catty. There is one hilarious moment: After a pause, Vivien says to the writer, “I loved that piece you wrote about Barbra Streisand.” Response: “I have never written about Barbra Streisand in my life.” In the end, Ms. Dundy must make due with terse, sometimes monosyllabic answers (“No.”) to her rather inane questions. She dashes for the last flight back to New York City instead of remaining in Washington overnight as planned, feeling very snubbed indeed.
Now, for a glimpse at a very different Vivien Leigh, as seen through the eyes of young Professor Mason in his heretofore unpublished interview. I hope you will enjoy reading it.
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