by Robin Douglas-Home
News of the World, July 9, 1967
Her voice on the telephone was as vitally feminine, as husky and as welcoming as ever. “Do come round and see me,” she said. “SHall I bring something for you? Flowers? Champagne?” I asked. “No, I’ve got far too much of those already,” Vivien Leigh answered. “Just bring yourself because I need a good laugh.”
That was only a few days ago. When I walked into her Eaton Square bedroom which was festooned with roses and carnations, I was frankly shocked by the face that smiled to greet me from the pillows.
The exquisitely pert nose, the wonderfully round eyes, the swan’s neck, the grandeur of her features–they were all there just as they had been when I had last seen her at a Mayfair lunch a few weeks ago. But the color had left her cheeks, her lips were dulled, the lustre of her eyes was dimmed.
“I’m over the worst part,” she said definitely and defiantly. “Only a few more days in bed here, then the doctor says I can go convalesce in my house in Sussex.”
But I only had to look into that parchment face to know that this could not really be so.
I knew, and I had to struggle to prevent myself from showing that I knew, that this outstandingly beautiful woman had already surrendered to the cold grasp of death.
But there was no trace of surrender in her mood or in her demeanor. Her throaty laugh, crackling with all her old appeal, rang out again and again.
I first met her when I was 15 and she was a leading world beauty. I wrote to her asking for a signed photograph, never expecting even an acknowledgement.
Two days later a large photograph of her at her most glamorous arrived signed “To RObin with love, Vivien Leigh.”
I saw GWTW more times than I can remember. But after that her screen parts always seemed to be somewhat of an anticlimax. Perhaps she had played her definitive role to early in life, in spite of the spitfire brilliance she displayed in A Streetcar Named Desire.
But the occasion I most like to remember was a party given by Anna Massey’s mother, when Vivien was still married to Sir Laurence.
I was playing piano and suddenly there she was, sitting beside me on the piano stool, singing the lyrics of all the Gershwin, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart song I was playing.
I did not see her again for some years because she spent so much time abroad.
In fact, apart from a few chance meetings, the next time we had a long talk together was a few days ago, as she lay in bed propped up with pillows, that vibrant zest for living seeping out of her.
“For God’s sake, don’t treat me as if I were an old invalid,” she said to me.
“When I get down to Sussex you must come over and we’ll go through all those lovely old songs again.”
She never did get down to Sussex. But the first song I think I would have played to her would have been “You are too Beautiful for One Man Alone.”