by Radie Harris
The Hollywood Reporter
As I jetted to Hollywood from NY to attend “An Evening of Appreciation of Vivien Leigh” given by the Friends of the Library at the University of Southern California at the Town and Gown on Sunday night, I kept wondering if I could bear the emotional impact of this evening? Could I sit in that big impersonl dining hall of the Town and Gown, listening to tributes, looking at film clips and seeing so many close, personal friends, who, like myself, had shared the privilege of Vivien’s special gift of friendship? And then, suddenly, I knew I could. because this would be an “Evening of Appreciation” BY Vivien Leigh…It was so right and fitting. For Vivien with her brilliant and acquisitive mind, would have delighted in the fact that her memory was being honored by a cultural project that is dedicated to advancing the 14 libraries serving 17 schools and colleges at the University. Vivien was always on the same wavelength with young people…Then, too, the word “friends” meant more to her than any other word in the dictionary, how thrilled she would have been that not only the ‘Friends of the Library” but so many of her close friends came to recapture their loving memories of her with such honesty, humour, and deep affection…
As I listened to Chester Erskine in the role of moderator, setting the whole tone of the evening with his informal, yet “dead on” introductions, I kept remembering our lovely Sunday afternoons with Chester and Sally at their beach home, which was such an oasis after an echausting week at the studio…
When George Cukor retold the legendary tale of how Vivien had finally been chosen for the most sought after role in screen history, Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind,” I could hear the echo of Vivien’s emphatic voice as she told me “I could never be in California if George weren’t there. He is my anchor–my home away from home.” But she wouldn’t have laughed when he accidentally fell off his chair. She would have been too solicitous that me night have been hurt.
However, she would have laughed with that delicious chuckle so characteristic of her when anything amused her over Walter Matthau’s comments about her. Although they had never met, he confided that he had once come up the elevator with her at the Ritz Carleton in Boston and just the sight of her gave him goose pimples. When he got off at the third floor, and she didn’t waylay him, worse luck, the goose pimples remained for 10 minutes, a phenomenon in medical history! She would have relished the vaudeville turn contributed by her old friend, Wilfred Hyde-White, who appeared with her and Larry Olivier in the ‘Two Cleopatras”. Wilfred announced blandly that he had left the excerpt he was supposed to read from Alan Dent’s book about Vivien at his home in Palm Springs and then when Stan Musgrove produced a carbon, Wilfred, with his usual sly humor proceeded to inject his own asides with devastatingly funny results…I was certainly happy that I entrusted the book excerpt from MY forthcoming biog to Joe Cotten. Out of the overflowing grab bag of my memories of Vivien, I had chosen two anecdotes that illustrated her mischievous humor and I had asked Joe to tell them for me, not only because he and his wife, Patricia Medina, are great chums of mine but because I know how devoted Vivien was to them, too.
On the speaker’s rostrum there were also two wonderful dames, Gladys Cooper and Judith Anderson, whose friendship with Vivien dates back to the earliest beginning of her career…Brian Aherne was there, too, to recall the happy week-end he and Eleanor had spent at her beautiful country house, Tickerage Mill in Sussex and the bedside visit at her Belgravia flat just four days before she died, with no premonition that her final curtain was so near. “Don’t grieve for her,” pleaded Brian. “She surfboarded through life and died on the crest of the wave.”…There were reminiscences too, by Greer Garson, who read so beautifully Shelley’s poem that could have been inspired by Vivien, “She walks in Beauty Like the Night,” and from Elsa Lanchester, Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Mervyn LeRoy, Stanley Kramer (who struck the only serious note of the evening) and tributes, in absentia, from Kate Hepburn, John Gielgud and Tennessee Williams…But perhaps the greatest tribute of them all was expressed in the film clips that spanned a career of 30 years with an uninterrupted staying power of a star of such magical beauty and talent that we shall never see her like again. And yet, drawing again on my long, intimate knowledge of Vivien, I knew she had been there to look at some of her unforgettable scenes from “Fire Over England” and ‘That Hamilton Woman” (with her adored Larry) and from ‘Sidewalks of London,” “Waterloo Bridge,” “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Ship of Fools,” “The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone,” and most wonderful of all, the original test scenes from “Gone with the Wind”, never seen before but loaned for this memorable occasion through the courtesy of Danny and Jeffrey Selznick, she would have reacted to the incredible range of histrionic brilliance with a discouraged moan, “Oh, dear, I do wish I could do them all over again.” Like all great artists, she was such a perfectionist that she was never completely satisfied with her work…But, darling Vivien, we are so grateful to you for leaving this heritage behind for your millions of fans throughout the world now, and for the generations to come. And for those of us who can NEVER stop grieving over the gap you have left in our lives, goes our grateful appreciation to Stan Musgrove, Chet Erskine and everyone connected with the Success of this evening for recapturing in these golden moments the indelible image of you.