Vivien Leigh: Becoming Scarlett
There were quite a few of you who expressed interest in reading my MA dissertation “Deconstructing Scarlett: Vivien Leigh and International Film Stardom.” Well, now you can! Sort of. I’m really excited to say that my (edited) first chapter has been published in issue 75 of Bright Lights Film Journal! This piece, titled “Vivien Leigh: Becoming Scarlett” examines Vivien’s position within the British film industry of the 1930s–a time period that is not talked about much when it comes to her career. I’m absolutely tickled pink to be included among so many intelligent film writers. I think this means I can officially call myself a historian, right? ;)
On February 29, 1940, Hollywood’s elite gathered in the famous Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel to celebrate the 12th annual Academy Awards. It was a night of many firsts in Hollywood history. Gone with the Wind swept the show with a then-unprecedented ten awards, including Best Picture. Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her moving performance as Scarlett O’Hara’s Mammy, and at the age of twenty-six, Vivien Leigh collected the first of her two career Oscars for bringing Margaret Mitchell’s heroine to life. Leigh had been up against some of the top stars of the studio era including Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. Just as she had run away with the part of Scarlett, Leigh again beat out strong competition to become the first British winner in the Best Actress category. Later that night, Peter Stackpole photographed her placing her statue on the fireplace mantle in her Beverly Hills home. This photo, printed in the March 11, 1940 issue of Life magazine, captures Leigh on the brink of international stardom. It also exemplifies what Richard Dyer terms the “myth of success”: the popular notion that “American society is sufficiently open for anyone to get to the top, regardless of rank.” The odds of a young, unknown hopeful making it on the big screen were slim even in the 1930s. That such an aspirant — and a foreign one, at that — should win the most coveted and publicised female role in Hollywood history was next to impossible…
Special thanks to Belen Vidal and Lawrence Napper, professors of Film Studies at King’s College London for the encouragement along the way, and Gary Morris at Bright Lights for deeming it good enough to publish!