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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 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.

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 (11)

  1. Your book is on our table near the sofa and, like a big box of delicate and delicious chocolates, I like to open it several times a day and savour a few pages… Quite often I end up reading at least a full chapter before putting it back on the table… But I pay attention not to finish it too fast, so the pleasure of reading it lasts longer… Other times I just open it and look at each one of the great pictures you chose… Thanks again for your hard work… We, our readers and Vivien Leigh’s admirers, are really in for a treat ! Enjoy all the upcoming events… Needless to say, I am very sorry to miss them all.
    Eric (Montreal)

  2. It really bothers me that publishers think Vivien isn’t relevant anymore. How foolish and short-sighted. “The Los Angeles Times” isn’t going to do a review on a book about an actress who isn’t still relevant. She created the most famous female role of all time. Almost seventy-five years later, Scarlett O’Hara dolls, in Vivien’s likeness, are still being made and sold world-wide. Plays have been written about her, and I have no doubt that movies will follow. Good for you for not taking “no” for an answer and for getting your book published!

  3. I bought the book and love the photos. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. A bit large to curl up with but eventually I will. Thank you for all your hard work. I bet she would be pleased.

  4. I’m surprised that many in the publishing industry didn’t think Vivien is relevant anymore.

    The book looks beautiful, and I’m not at all surprised to see you’ve received many rave reviews. Cheers!

  5. I cannot wait to pick this up at the bookstore! You have a lovely website. It’s wonderful to ‘meet’ another Vivien/Larry fan. 🙂

  6. Congratulations for the publication of this book. Yes, it shows that lots of respect and work went into ist creation. Am hooked reading it.

  7. Forgot in my first comment – was wondering if you read Night Film by Marisha Pessle and if yes, what you thought about it. Its a novel, but clearly written by someone who cares a lot about films as well.

  8. I have always comforted myself with photos of Vivien strewn about my rooms since I was seventeen. Your book (purchased in York, Eng. last November ) I use the same way, easy to reach for near my favorite place in the house. Thanks for the lovely book. Is it strange to be comforted by photos and tales of the star? I know she wold be irritated somewhat by the term, but seeing her for the first time as Lady Hamilton, on the “big screen”, was like sticking one’s finger in an electrical outlet. I never got over that, 39 years later.
    It was a performance by an actress, yes of course, but much-much more so a performance by a “Star”. One felt immediately she had no equals, or at the very least, first among other stars. New York City 8.17.16

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