vivien leigh

Vivien Leigh through Jack Merivale’s lens

Vivien Leigh at Rottnest IslandVivien Leigh leaving Rottnest Island during a break in the Old Vic Australian tour of 1961

 There were literally tens of thousands of photographs taken of Vivien Leigh throughout her lifetime. London society and stage photographer Vivienne (née Florence Entwhistle, mother of Anthony Beauchamp who photographed Vivien on the cusp of fame) said that Vivien Leigh was “an artist-photographer’s dream” because of her near-flawless facial features and willingness to be manipulated in order to get the perfect shot. There were studio portraits for stage and film, always depicting the character she was playing either on or off-screen. There were press photographs taken at functions or when she was out and about. But in these photos she was always Vivien Leigh the star; the public figure. Photographers who were allowed in to her home came with her permission, and even then the Vivien Leigh persona was always in place.

What makes candid photographs like the ones below so special is that they show the real Vivien Leigh, the woman  those close to her had the privilege of knowing and loving. Vivien was an intensely private person. She didn’t shop her private photos around like many celebrities do today.  We rarely see photos of her and Laurence Olivier at Notley Abbey, for example. Olivier’s son Tarquin told me he doesn’t remember his father or Vivien ever carrying a camera around in those days. And if they did, the photos remain in a private collection. This changed when Vivien became involved with Jack Merivale in 1960. She had purchased a 35mm Stereo Realist camera in the 1950s and Jack took it up as a hobby, snapping Vivien while traveling and relaxing at Tickerage Mill with friends and family.

With the exception of one, the photos in this post were taken by Jack Merivale between 1960 and 1962 when Vivien was transitioning into a new life after her difficult divorce from Olivier. He captured a woman making the best of things, happiest in the company of friends. These were originally published in black and white in Hugo Vickers’ biography of Vivien and they offer an intimate and rare glimpse into Vivien’s private world. I thought it would be a treat for visitors of to be able to see them here in color.

Vivien Leigh and Jack MerivaleVivien and Jack Merivale in their room at the Huntington Hartford Hotel in Pasadena during the American tour of Duel of Angels. This was possibly taken by Robert Helpmann, who directed this leg of the tour and who was constantly at Vivien’s side.

Vivien Leigh applying make-up Vivien applies her make-up in her room at the Huntington Hartford Hotel. Jack Merivale can be seen in the mirror behind her, and on her dressing table, three photos of Laurence Olivier.

Vivien Leigh being dressedVivien’s maids Trudy and Pearl help her dress for the play.

Vivien Leigh with Noel CowardVivien relaxing with her good friend Noel Coward (holding Vivien’s cat Poo Jones). Isn’t her top fabulous?

Vivien Leigh and Poo JonesVivien with Poo Jones in Hollywood, 1960. Behind her are some of her favorite pictures, including a Renoir, which she brought along to spruce up her hotel room.

Vivien Leigh at Tickerage MillVivien entertains over lunch at Tickerage Mill. Seated from L-R: Actor and interior designer Paul Anstee, Sir Kenneth Clark, Vivien, John Gielgud, journalist Alan Dent, and Lady Jane Clark.

simply vivien leighA rare photograph of Vivien without make-up. Pictured here at another Tickerage lunch gathering with (L-R) costume designer Beatrice “Bumble” Dawson, Robert Helpmann, and Consuelo Langton-Lockton.

Vivien Leigh new Years partyDespite having just officially ended her marriage to Laurence Olivier, Vivien saw out the end of 1960 in colorful fashion. She was about to begin filming The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and planned to lead an Old Vic tour of Australia and South America. Pictured L-R: Gertrude Hartley, Vivien’s cook Mrs. Mac, Vivien, theatre director Michael Benthall, Robert Helpmann, Alan Webb, Lotte Lenya, director Jose Quintero, Warren Beatty, Joan Collins and costume designer Beatrice “Bumble” Dawson.

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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 (12)

  1. Love the colour photographs, especially the one of Vivien without makeup. It really brings her to life as a normal person, if that makes sense? Lovely post, loved seeing these pictures Kendra!

  2. I believe the black and white photo held up behind her while making up at the dressing table, is a photo of her presenting at the Tony awards in NYC in the early 1960’s. The video of this presentation, I saw it a while back but recall she present two awards, can be seen in NYC at the Museum of Television and Radio on W52 street.

  3. These exact photos are in a Sunday Times Supplement from about 15 years ago that I have…in colour as well..

  4. Thank you. They are stunning pictures. I especially love the one without make up as it shows how naturally beautiful she was

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