Sumptuously illustrated life of one of stage and screen’s greatest tragic figures, published in time for the centennial of her birth.
Vivien Leigh (1913–1967) will forever be associated with two milestone, Oscar-winning roles in film: Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Both happen to be larger-than-life Southern belles, but Leigh was, of course, British (born and raised in India during the Raj period) and fervently patriotic about it. A woman of strong ambition and will, once she decided, as the young wife of a magistrate, that it was the actor’s life for her, her ascent to stardom was rapid. The catalyst for her rise was a passionate love affair with another ambitious young actor, Laurence Olivier, who would become her husband within a year of her triumph as Scarlett and whom she regarded as both mentor and the love of her life. Leigh began with limited talents (a weak, high voice and little experience and training), but she was determined to keep pace with her husband, whether playing opposite him or in roles of her own choosing. Most critics thought she succeeded admirably in the theater and on film, but she let the cruel dismissals of Olivier-worshipping critic Kenneth Tynan get under her skin. Though hardworking by nature, she was prone to both physical and mental illnesses, from manic depression, which ultimately alienated her from Olivier, to tuberculosis, which killed her prematurely at age 53. First-time author Bean tells Leigh’s story affectingly, aided by access to personal letters from the principals and the memories of some of her closest friends.
A worthy tribute to an eternally fascinating star.