vivien leigh

Vivien Leigh: Becoming Scarlett

Vivien Leigh Scarlett O'Hara Bright Lights Film Journal

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…

Read the entire article here!

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!

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. With the beauty Vivien possessed and the acting abilities to handle such a difficult role
    as Scarlett O’ Hara.
    I doubt if it surprised anyone that Vivien became a huge movie star and Hollywood celebrity!
    Vivien was so confident that she knew she would get the role of Scarlett!

    Now that is confidence!

  2. Hi Kendra … Your article in BRIGHT LIGHTS is sensational! I loved it (but now I want to read the rest of your dissertation!). It’s beautifully written and completely absorbing. I feel like I’ve probably read just about everything that’s ever been written about Vivien, yet you made her story fresh, and presented it from an angle I’d never seen before. Congratulations … you’re on your way now!! I’m so excited for you and so proud.


  3. Vivien Leigh was born to play Scarlett and Blanche, there seems to be something of a destiny.Of course this has been possible because she was a consummate actress and a woman of iron will but I’ve always been impressed by the fact that she had so much in common with her most famous characters

  4. Your article is absolutely great and like David, I would like to read more of your work ! That is so promising for your upcoming book. You are really talented as a writer, observer and analyst… And you certainly have everything in hands to write a great new fresh book about Vivien !

  5. I’ll say it time and time again, but I love your style of writing. It’s the right amount of “academic” and “easy to read for the audience”- I truly enjoy reading your work!
    I find it so interesting how actors seemed to be “owned” before, owing their stardom/work to the studios. I mean, in a way most of the actors were “made” back then (not saying they didn’t have talent, that’s prevalent in Hollywood nowadays, IMO).
    And I think your article really brings Vivien’s ‘fight’ against it, proving herself as a greater performer.

  6. Hi Kendra! I am waiting for your book to appear on the bookshelves. I hope it will be somehow available in Poland where I hail from but if not – thanks God for the Internet and online shopping!:) I keep my fingers crossed for your project and I support each word you put on paper 🙂 Keep on doing! Hugs from Warsaw.