lists the oliviers

7 Awesome Things About Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier

If you have been a fan of Vivien Leigh and/or Laurence Olivier for some time, you probably have a list of reasons why they appeal you. But if you’re a new fan, have just discovered this website, or are simply searching for answers as to why anyone would still be fascinated by two people who not only got divorced but have both been dead for over two decades, you’ve stumbled upon the right blog entry. Here are 7 reasons why I adore Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and why you should give a damn, as well.

01. They were gorgeous

Let’s get the obvious superficialities out of the way first. Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were two of the most good looking people to have ever graced the silver screen or stage. If you’ve had a look through some of the pictures in the gallery, I’m sure you’ll agree. Vivien’s looks carried her to instant fame after her West End debut in The Mask of Virtue in 1935. Larry was a heartthrob who’s amazing bone structure and intense eyes captivated both men and women. Together, Vivien and Larry were a tour de force of beauty. Their natural attraction helped them gain legions of admirers around the world.

02. They set a standard for fashion

Some stars have become synonymous with having amazing fashion sense. Take Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly for examples. The same was true for the Oliviers. When they became a couple, Vivien transformed him from casual to ultra-chic. He was seen in impeccably tailored suits from Savile Row, trench coats, fedoras, cravats. Even his casual wear was stylish. Vivien’s sense of style never left Larry. Although he reverted back to his previous style after their divorce, he continued to wear smart suits for formal business meetings. Vivien herself had impeccable taste in fashion. Always wanting to be on the cutting edge (and having the money to afford it), Vivien modeled for Vogue magazine for more than a decade and had many of her clothes personally fitted by top designers. Some of the clothiers she promoted through her modeling work as well as her personal fashion sense included Jeanne LanvinPierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Edward Molyneux and Mainbocher. Even in austere wartime Britain, Vivien Leigh managed to look amazing. This was in part because she knew how to work a low key outfit. She also knew how to recycle accessories. Click here for photos of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in fashion magazines.

03. They were the definition of glamor

The Oliviers lived a high-class lifestyle: a cottage in Chelsea, a mansion near Oxford, Rolls Royces, fur coats, jewels, fashionable parties, holidays to Jamaica, New York, France, Italy, Spain. I don’t think the phrase “low key” would apply here. But their glamour extended beyond material possessions and wealth. They both had an impenetrable air of charm and charisma which enabled them to become stars of the first order. For Vivien, who hated being called “pretty” or “beautiful”, glamour was more than what a person wore. Glamour was a state of mind. She had exceptional taste in art, music, fashion and interesting people. They were cultured and cultivated. For me, the Oliviers seem to have been in a completely different league from anyone we have in Hollywood today. Step aside, Brangelina.

04. They were true film stars

Vivien Leigh always maintained that she never wanted to be considered a film star. Being a film star was, in her opinion, “a false life lived for fake values and publicity.” Being an actress and being a film star were two completely different things. While this is true, Vivien was, indeed, a film star. Gone with the Wind secured her immortality as a star more than any other film she made, and while it was both her blessing and her curse during her lifetime, it ensured that she would never entirely slip under the radar. Much like his second wife, Laurence Olivier always detested acting in films. Maybe “detest” is too strong a word. He never really liked it very much. For Larry, theatre was the true actors’ medium while film was the directors’ medium. What he meant was actors had much more freedom to explore their parts and develop their performances on stage as opposed to having their performances edited together in the cutting room. Makes sense to me. But make no mistake, Larry was a formidable film star who has influenced many actors today. And hey, 10 acting Oscar nominations in a career ain’t bad.

05. They ruled the British stage

As mentioned earlier, The Oliviers preferred acting on stage to acting on film. Many British actors got their start on stage, but British theatre would certainly not be what it is today without the influence and trailblazing efforts of Laurence Olivier, and Laurence Olivier would not have been Laurence Olivier without some help from Vivien Leigh. From the beginning, Larry saw in Vivien a source of inspiration, and vice versa. He envisioned them being England’s answer to Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Their beauty, determination, and strong work ethic helped them to solidify their positions as Theatre Royalty. Larry revolutionized the Old Vic when he co-managed with Ralph Richardson during WWII, and his dream of founding a National Theatre finally came true when he was appointed the RNT‘s first artistic director. There are many who say Vivien was not as strong on stage as she was on film, and prejudiced critics such as the dreaded Kenneth Tynan accused her of not being up to her husband’s standards. She was considered too beautiful to be truly talented. Yet despite critical misgivings, the public loved Vivien, and even after she and Larry divorced, her star power continued to draw in sell-out crowds for the rest of her life.

06. They appreciated the little things

One of my favorite quotes from Vivien Leigh goes like this:

“I realize that the memories I cherish most are not the first night successes, but of simple, everyday things: walking through our garden in the country after rain; sitting outside a cafe in Provence, drinking the vin de pays; staying at a little hotel in an English market town with Larry, in the early days after our marriage, when he was serving in the Fleet Air Arm, and I was touring Scotland, so that we had to make long treks to spend weekends together.”

Often times, I think we get so caught up in that we want to achieve that we don’t stop and appreciate what we really have. A garden, wine in the country, elicit rendezvous with a lover, things that truly spice up one’s life experience. I love that Larry and Vivien appreciated the little things, when their lives were packed full of interesting and significant events. This leads me to the seventh, and probably the biggest thing that I love about the Oliviers…

07. They had an epic romance

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier knew (in Vivien’s case) that there was a strong attraction (in Larry’s case) from the very beginning. It was practically love at first sight. Their love story rivaled that of any they played out on stage or screen. Seeing photos, reading stories about them, and reading some of the letters they wrote to one another, it’s enough to make any romantic swoon. They exemplified a loving and professional relationship for many of their colleagues. Although they both paid a high price for their wild abandonment that culminated in the destruction of their marriage, I find it impossible not to admire what they went through in the first place just to be together, and how they nurtured one another professionally throughout their 23 years together. It’s clear that they never quite got over one another in the end. “I’d rather have lived a short life with Larry,” Vivien Leigh told her journalist friend Radie Harris toward the end of her life, “than face a long one without him.” Many people yearn for a romance like that, but most never find it.

Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (18)

  1. I enjoyed reading this.

    I think too many people dismiss Viv and Larry’s romance because they divorced, as if a divorce makes the entire romance null and void. I think it actually makes it more interesting, that really they loved each other too much to actually stay together (I think of Liz Taylor & Richard Burton along the same lines that way). There is a sad and sweet quote from Viv (that I am sure you know verbatim) near the end of her life about how she’ll never marry again because she doesn’t have room for anyone but Larry.

    There is something so sweet about their candids together; it is definitely a love that could not be hidden or faked. I don’t think anyone would ever doubt their genuine love and affection for each other, even after her death.

    In my Clark Gable world, it is similar, as people tend to say that Clark and Carole Lombard’s romance is romanticized because it ended tragically. But I don’t think so; I think they would still be talked about as a great romance of the 20th century if they had stayed married 40 years or even divorced.

    Some loves just transcend time.

  2. I agree with you, Meredith! Just because it was hyped up and publicised in the press doesn’t mean it was any less legit. Photos and letters speak volumes for Larry and Viv, and you can definitely tell from photos of Clark and Carole (and the way Clark acted when she died) that it was the great romance for both of them.

    Neither Larry and Vivien were happy at the end of their marriage, and I personally think it was better that they did break up because things were getting violent. Many fans online think this makes Larry the bad person because he left, but it would have done more harm to both of them if he’d stayed. As it was, I think toward the end of his life he could look back on his relationship with Vivien and sort of brush aside all of the bad memories and be left with the good ones.

  3. This list basically sums up why I love them. If anyone ever asks me why I love them, I’ll just refer them to this post. Thanks for articulating it so beautifully.

    Kendra, I agree with you about how it’s unfair for fans to make Larry out to be the bad guy. Dealing with someone who is mentally ill is difficult and painful for both parties. It’s so heart wrenching to see someone you love in so much pain, and the fact that her illness wasn’t as well known back then as it is now adds so many more layers of confusion into the mix. He probably thought he could no longer do anything for her or that he wasn’t strong enough to support her, and that she was better off with someone who was better able to care for her. The fact that he was able to separate himself from someone who he cherished so dearly took a lot of strength and, yes, love.

    1. You’re right, Bridget. don’t think it’s fair to judge since none of us were there. He also thought that he needed to get away or else they’d basically destroy one another.

  4. Why I admire the Oliviers
    1 Artistic Integrity-as a couple their projects had substance. I can’t speak for Larry later (Clash of the Titans)
    2 Extreme generosity-time they spent with sick friends and kindness to crews
    3 Their good taste in all fine things
    4 Their study of English literature, culture, World Art and Pop Culture (even square dancing)
    5) The willingness to take on challenges despite the odds
    6) Their abiding love underneath the currents of cruelty that ultimatly parted them
    7) Their humor
    I LOVE them because of their talent.

    1. mark! your list gets to the true essence of them that i dont quite think i managed to get across in the post! ps, i recently spent some time in the british library and saw a bunch of snapshots of vivien at a hodown in hollywood with peter finch :S

  5. Yes, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh are incredible. It’s amazing how much talent the two of them had.

    Larry’s acting range was immense; he was like a character actor, but with leading man looks. And Vivien was a delicate beauty who displayed so much strength in her roles.

  6. I agree with all the comments here, I loved and admired these two beautiful people. I know I’ve said this before, they were soul mates. Divorce does not change that. If it wasn’t for Viv’s bipolar issues they would probably have stayed together. I also believe after Viv’s passing, this contributed to Larry’s health problems.
    The grief of her loss seemed to have taken a toll on Larry.

  7. Okay, Kendra … you know I’m normally shy about commenting, but I have to tell you how much I love this post. You nailed it perfectly, as always! I also enjoyed the responses left by your other members. It always makes me happy to realize I’m not the only obsessive Vivien fan out there, and thanks to you I’ve learned a new appreciation for Larry, too .

    Between you and Mark and the others who commented here, you’ve covered all the reasons I love Vivien pretty thoroughly. Something I would add to the list, though, is Vivien’s great intelligence. I have always loved the quote attributed to Colin Clark in the intro to Hugo’s book that Vivien “had a mind which left most people behind”, and the comparison he made about her mind being “like a diamond drill”. Her intellect was as great as her beauty, and contributed so much to all the other areas you mentioned in which she was so accomplished & well-rounded in her personal as well as her professional life.

    Something else that has always touched me about Vivien is her extreme loyalty in personal relationships. The fact that she was able to remain such close friends with Leigh Holman for 30 years after having left him for Larry says so much about her as a person (and for him as well, I must say). And of course, she was famous for her caring & devotion to her friends, her family, and her pets. Speaking of her friends, I’ve always found her close relationship with John Gielgud particularly interesting, especially as he & Larry had something of a professional rivalry going, and weren’t very compatible on a personal level either. Despite that, she seems to have been devoted to Gielgud, and didn’t let Larry’s feelings for him affect her own treatment of him. I cite that as one example of her loyalty, but there are many others I could list (her reaction to Cukor’s firing from GWTW comes to mind).

    Two other qualities of Vivien’s that I deeply admire are her great honesty and her tremendous personal courage. Vivien almost seems to have been born with an inability to lie. And to her credit, she seems to have applied her tough brand of honesty to no one quite as ruthlessly as she applied it to herself. I suppose this was a facet of her personal courage, which is probably the thing I admire her for the most. What she faced in dealing with her illnesses, particularly in a period when manic-depression was treated with only the most barbaric of methods, cannot be emphasized enough. It’s almost offensive to me today when I hear so many people so casually being labeled “bi-polar” … it’s almost become fashionable! But Vivien really suffered from it at a time when very little was understood about it, and even less could be done to treat it. Mental illness at that time had a much stronger stigma attached to it, and despite the seemingly hopeless nature of her disease, she faced it with such bravery and grace … and accomplished an incredible body of work despite it.

    Last, I admire her ambition to be good. Being a star or being famous for fame’s own sake didn’t seem to interest her nearly as much as doing good work. And the extremes to which she pushed herself to expand her range and challenge herself with demanding, substantial roles is still to be commended. People miss the truth, I think, when they say she was trying to compete with Larry. Personally I believe that he set a standard of supreme excellence, and she was smart enough to recognize his talent for what it was — the best. And the perfectionist aspects of her nature, combined with her great love for him and her wanting him to love her, compelled her to work as hard as possible to meet him at the top. One of the most heartbreaking things about her life, to me anyway, is how hard she tried and how underappreciated she was by the theater critics of her day.

    Sorry to have rambled on so long. But the topic of this post really resonated with me, and I loved everything you and the other commentors had to say on the subject. Great work as always, Kendra!

    1. David, what you wrote is truly, truly magnificent. Thank you so much for sharing and articulating it so beautifully!

      Viv and Larry have some of best fans, I’d say. This whole post is such a wonderful tribute and legacy for them both.

      1. Thank you so much for that, Bridget … I’m afraid I get carried away sometimes. Too bad I’ve never managed to do something constructive with my interest, like Kendra. Her passion for this subject has really taken her places!

  8. I have to say, that all things considered,the one thing about Vivien that has me ‘lost in admiration’ was her integrity as an actress as opposed to being a ‘star’.What one should hold to the front of ones mind is that she virtually turned her back on Hollywood at the very moment she conquered it.How many actresses are there that would have forsaken unabound fame and fortune to return to England and work in touring productions for very little remuneration and even less glamour, as Britain was of in the grip of war with Germany? I can remember reading,quite a few years ago,an account from one actor who at this particular time was working in one such production (possibly Doctor’s Dilemma) and was backstage only to glance across the room to see Scarlett O’Hara helping to iron some of the costumes for the play.This from someone who a few months previously was the toast of Hollywood and ready to be it’s next big star!! Her commitment to Theatre work of course was something that never left her, even in the dark days when many of the critics were lining up to demolish her reputation,still she continued to make the stage her priority.Of course it is only fitting that she was to pass away just before embarking on another stage production when she could have so easily have been in Hollywood making easy money and been given a much nicer time of it,as America,it seems,valued her work perhaps even more highly than her home country.This I believe is the measure of the woman and what won her an army of fans even to this day.Bravo!!

    1. She was a star whether she considered herself one or not. Despite turning her back on Hollywood, she was still very much in the popular imagination for the rest of her life. Her theatrical ventures as well as her personal life kept her in the spotlight even when she wasn’t doing a film. All three facets combined together to give her fans a picture of what she was supposedly “really” like. That’s literally what it means to be a “star”. It’s more than acting in Hollywood films, although GWTW more than secured that label for her.

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