articles vivien leigh

Vivien Leigh, the West End’s newest star

“Words, but if one of them were true?”
by Vivien Leigh
The Theatre Illustrated Quarterly
Summer 1935

I have a pen in my hand.  It has started writing.  Why, only the Editor of this magazine and a stern-faced man called Sydney Carroll can explain.  I know I ought, when off the stage, to be invisible, to leave the world to guess my thoughts, if it wants to, which I hope, but doubt.  But as I respect my Manager and adore my theatre, and as I have a terrible fear of the press (though I think all pressmen dears, especially when they don’t ask me to talk about my baby), here I am, praying under my pen for just one smile and one word of forgiveness for stealing, with their interests in mind, into the greater limelight of the printed word.

But really!  What have I done to deserve all this, what you call publicity.  I am being truthful when I say that my success in “The Mask of Virtue” frightens me horribly.  It has stunned me.  I go about as if I were dreaming.  I can’t, I daren’t think of the future.  The present is too exciting, too glorious.  I must not expect, I don’t hope that all this joy and admiration will last, and I know when it stops I shall hear something in my heart give a little crack.

Vivien Leigh and Frank Cellier in The Mask of Virtue

Dear, dear, public, I will try to deserve your love, better still, your esteem.  Every other friend I meet looks at me gravely, shakes a knowing head and says “Darling!  Mind you don’t get your head turned.”  I will try oh, so hard, but it is very, very difficult.  Every night I play in the theatre I look at dear Lady Tree, who has spent so many wonderful years doing triumphantly what I am just trying to do with all my inexperience, my want of knowledge.  I see beautiful Jeanne de Casalis holding the stage like its queen, and I worship Frank Cellier for showing me at every performance, how far I have to go before I can allow myself to think of myself as a real actress, and I ask my husband whenever he comes to my dressing room to pinch me to prove to me that I am only a very lucky girl whose lot has suddenly been to find herself surrounded with stars whose combined light have spread just a little brilliance upon her.

This sounds, when I read it, insincere.  It isn’t.  Believe me, oh, do believe me, when I say I mean to work so hard and to give myself intervals of rest so completely and regularly that I shall be able to deserve my own good opinion, and opinion which shall never be easy to get, I promise you.

One final word to theatre folk.  The films will never take me quite away from the stage.  Mr. Korda is kindness itself, but so is someone else whose name conceals a great man of the theatre to whom I shall always be grateful for having given me my first real chance.  And the direct personal meeting with an audience means more to me than all the celluloid contacts in the world, whatever they mean in money and whatever they mean in fame.

Read more Vivien Leigh articles from the 1930s-present

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 (4)

  1. I wonder if she’s saying the film world will never take her away more for herself or her fans. If, because in the movies it’s too easy to lose yourself to fame and ego, she’s saying this more out of fear of movie fame than a love of the theatre.

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