Vivien-Leigh.com Blog
  • June15th

    Earlier this year I conducted an interview with the author of one of the best, if not the best, Vivien Leigh biographies available to fan– Mr. Hugo Vickers! Life got busy and I never published it! But here it is in all its glory. Mr. Vickers revised Vivien Leigh: A Biography last year and Indigo Publishing was in charge of publishing it. I haven’t received my copies yet so proceed with caution if you order one! Regardless, you can buy a  used copy of the previous version in the Vivien-Leigh.com E-store. If you’re interested in learning more about Mr Vickers, be sure to check out his website. A brief description of his Vivien Leigh biography can be found on his website:

    There have been many biographies of Vivien Leigh, invariably Hollywood filmographies, most of which have been inaccurate and incomplete. Hugo Vickers approached his subject as a human being, according her the same detailed research that the readers of his Cecil Beaton and Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough have come to expect of him. He examined the previously uncharted story of Vivien Leigh’s antecedents, making surprising new discoveries. He was able to bring Vivien’s parents to life as real people with the help of a great number of family documents, letters and diaries, made available by Vivien’s daughter for the first time. These give the first clear account of the atmosphere in which Vivien was raised.

    He traced the progress of her relationship with Leigh Holman, from their first meeting through the period of their engagement, marriage and divorce, and showed how they formed an important, lasting friendship, helped by the complete set of letters Vivien wrote to him between 1932 and 1967. He made extensive use of the Oswald Frewen diaries, an essential source not only on that marriage but on Vivien’s elopement with Laurence Olivier and their subsequent adventures.

    Hugo Vickers also examined Vivien’s film and stage career, writing of her as a person and not as the ‘property’ of a film company or a name on a contract. He examined her films and drawing on a great number of interviews with famous figures of the stage, he recreated her part in the life of English theatre in the 1940s and 1950s. An important feature of the book is, of course, her love for Laurence Olivier and their twenty year marriage, so much of it made difficult by recurring bouts of tuberculosis and manic depression. Hugo Vickers, drawing on many hours of conversation with her devoted friend, the actor John Merivale, explained how Vivien re-established her life after the divorce.

    Vivien Leigh emerges as a more real and more intelligent person than in previous accounts, a spirited and courageous actress brought down by ill-health.

    ____________________________________ 

    V-L.COM: Why did you decide to write about Vivien Leigh? Were you a fan before the book project?

    Hugo Vickers: I had written a book about Cecil Beaton, which contained some interesting material on Vivien. I was looking for another subject and felt she deserved better than what – as an Englishman – I called a “Hollywood” style biography. In other words I wanted to write about the whole person, not just film contracts, studio rows etc. When the book came out, reviewers such as Sheridan Morley accused me of writing a “social” biography of her -he wanted me off his pitch! But it was social inasmuch as it told what happened in her everyday life as well as her working life. I sought out letters she wrote to Bernard Berenson etc.

    V-L.COM: What’s your favorite Vivien Leigh film and why?

    Hugo Vickers: I very much like “The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone” as it is such a good story. Of course “Gone with the Wind” is marvellous, and she sustains it all the way through. “Streetcar” is very powerful.

    V-L.COM: From beginning to end, how long did the research and writing process take? Do you have an funny or amusing anecdotes to share?

    Hugo Vickers: I conceived the idea at the end of 1985 and the book came out in the autumn (fall) of 1988, so not so long. It has to take a certain amount of time.

    I went to see Athene Seyler, then in her late 90s. As she was very old and lived in a boathouse, she said she would drop the keys out of the window for me. Unfortunately they fell into a tree, so I had to scramble onto a dustbin and luckily retrieved them before letting myself in and going upstairs.

    V-L.COM: Why did you not meet Laurence Olivier when gathering information for the biography?

    Hugo Vickers: Joan Plowright.

    V-L.COM: In the introduction to the biography, you reveal that between November 1986 and May 1987 you met almost weekly with John ‘Jack’ Merivale. Many in the Vivien Leigh fan-world highly respected him for ‘sticking it out’ with Vivien Leigh– for being her ‘rock’ amidst her difficult divorce to Laurence Olivier and during her illnesses (tuberculosis and bi polar disorder). What was your impression of Mr. Merivale and his memories of Vivien Leigh?

    Hugo Vickers: I spent a lot of time with Jack and became a close friend, even sitting with him two Sunday afternoons when he was in hospital before he died. He was very kind and gentle, and went through the whole of those years over many hours. He was honest, and forthcoming. By then he had found a more lasting happiness with his wife, Dinah Sheridan.

    V-L.COM: Did you ever meet Vivien Leigh or see her perform on the stage?

    Hugo Vickers: No – I was too young. I remember reading that she had died in the paper (1967). So only films and interviews.

    V-L.COM: Suzanne Farrington allowed you access to the family documents. ‘The Suzanne Farrington Papers’ contains letters Vivien wrote to Leigh Holman (her first husband) and her mother Gertrude Hartley and daughter, newspaper clippings, theater programs, and sympathy letters following Vivien Leigh’s death. How are the documents kept and do you believe the Papers will remain in the family?

    Hugo Vickers: That was a great treasure trove. Suzanne always knew she would have to help one biographer one day, and luckily it was me. I don’t know the eventual fate of the papers.

    V-L.COM: Many, many people and Vivien Leigh fans are deeply curious about Vivien Leigh’s only child- Suzanne Holman Farrington. Ms. Farrington has maintained a very private life following her mother’s death and has never participated in an on-camera interview (unlike Laurence Olivier’s son, Tarquin). What can you tell us about Ms. Farrington and her decision to remove herself from the public-eye?

    Hugo Vickers: I think she preferred to remain out of the limelight. And I respect her for that. I can’t really say more – except that she liked my book and we are still in touch, which is nice and not always the case after biographies are published.

    V-L.COM: Indigo Publishing has teamed up with you to re-publish your Vivien Leigh biography. What changes did you make in this updated version?

    Hugo Vickers: I shortened the book, sharpened it in places, and added a few stories, but it is not a new book as such. In fact I found, on re-reading it, that it held up well – that such new information that had come out did not add materially to what I had written.

    V-L.COM: And finally (I ask everyone this question): Do you think Scarlett O’Hara got Rhett Butler back in the end?

    Hugo Vickers: Not for long, I suspect. I nearly answered: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!

  • June9th

    vivien leigh Hello fellow Vivien Leigh fans! I’M BACK! I’ve successfully moved from the midwest of the United States to New England. I’m nearly settled and most boxes are unpacked, therefore Vivien-Leigh.com updates will resume. Beginning next week, I will update the site 4-5 times a week and will provide near daily quotes/photos on Facebook/Twitter. Thank you for your patience during the past few months! I appreciate it. To kick things off, I added 64 new photos to the Vivien Leigh Archive (you must sign in to view them or if you don’t have a username/password be sure to register). In other news TCM contacted me and revealed that Vivien Leigh will be their star of the month in September!! Also, a fabulous Gone with the Wind event is in the works for this November in St. Louis, Missouri (my old hometown!). More information coming soon so stay tuned!

    Important Links to bookmark:
    Vivien Leigh Blog aka ScarlettOHara.org
    Vivien Leigh on Facebook
    Vivien Leigh on Twitter

  • April20th

    Sorry for the lack of activity here on Vivien-Leigh.com! I’m in the middle of a very big move, and I have zero free time to keep this website updated. Don’t fear, by June V-L.com should be back up and running! In the meantime, if you’re interested in writing a guest blog post, don’t hesitate to contact me at webmaster @ Vivien-Leigh.com. Also, be sure to check out the V-L.com Facebook page!

    Now I’d like to welcome my friend Sally Tippett Rains to the Vivien-Leigh.com Blog! Be sure to check out her amazing GWTW book; you won’t be disappointed!

    ________________________________________________________________________
    April 15th is known to most as Tax Day, but to Vivien Leigh and Gone With The Wind fans, April 15th was the day that Scarlett O’Hara first laid eyes on Rhett Butler. It was at the Wilkes’ Barbecue in 1961. Remember the dramatic scene? Scarlett is walking up the long, winding staircase at the Wilkes’ house and suddenly she spots a handsome stranger at the bottom of the stairs. She asks her friend Cathleen Calvert who he is.

    “My dear, don’t you know?” says Miss Calvert. “That’s Rhett Butlerl He’s from Charleston. He has the most terrible reputation!” And Scarlett smiles, getting more interested in the stranger. “He looks as if, he knows what I look like without my shimmy.”

    According to an on-line dictionary, one of the definitions for “taxing” is exhausting or draining. That pretty well sums up Scarlett O’Hara as she was always busy with her next scheme. As Rhett Butler said, “what a woman!”

    And speaking of taxes, they came to play in Gone With The Wind. Just as we all dread filling out our tax forms today, they had to pay their taxes back in the 1800′s. When we do our taxes we try to find a way to make ends meet so we can pay them. If we can’t, we can always file for an extension. Scarlett needed the money to pay the taxes on Tara so she tried to get it out of Rhett Butler. He was in jail at the time and if you remember she wanted to look good but the aftermath of the war had left her with limited wardrobe. She got the bright idea to have Mammy sew her a dress out of a pair of green drapes.

    All decked out in “Miss Ellen’s portiers” which was how Mammy had described the drapes which had been picked out by Scarlett’s mother, she went to the jail in hopes of getting the money from Rhett. She had traveled to Atlanta to see him, but Rhett Butler said his money was tied up. Not to worry tough, she did not go home empty-handed. Upon bumping into Frank Kennedy, her sister’s boyfriend, she found out he owned a business, and pretty soon set the plans in place to marry him so she could get the money to pay her taxes. Oh if we all had it so easy.

    Vivien Leigh did a wonderful job of portraying Scarlett O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s production. Selznick’s executive assistant Marcella Rabwin thought she was the perfect choice. She had been there throughout Selznick’s “search for Scarlett” and was relieved and pleasantly surprised when he landed the British beauty. Leigh had everything—even the green eyes!

    I had the pleasure of working with Marcella Rabwin’s sons on my new book, The Making Of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind (www.GWTWbook.com). I will be posting some of Marcella’s memories in future blogs on http://gwtwbook.blogspot.com. I also have a Facebook page (GWTWbook.com) and Twitter account (GWTWbookdotcom) which will alert followers to the stories.

    “Vivien Leigh used to go into my mother’s office and talk to her,” said Marcella’s son Mark Rabwin. “They became very good friends; my mother became her confidante.”

    As we all know, Leigh won Best Actress for her role as Scarlett O’Hara in 1939 at the Academy Awards held in 1940. She was afraid to travel with her award overseas so she left it with her assistant Sunny Lash.

    “Sunny held onto it, on her fireplace mantel,” said GWTW collector Dr. Christopher Sullivan, “For more than ten years, until Vivien came back to the United States to film A Streetcar Named Desire.”

    Marcella Rabwin said Leigh was the hardest working of all the actors in Gone With The Wind. She worked every day and by the end of the production she was run-down and had lost weight from the stress. Now that was a “taxing” role!

    By Sally Tippett Rains, Author of The Making Of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind (www.GWTWbook.com)

  • February5th

    I’d like to introduce our next Guest Blogger– Mr. Mark Mayes! He’s a Vivien Leigh fan from West Hollywood, California. He is the amazing fan who donated many splendid videos to Vivien-Leigh.com including The Oliviers in Love (check out this splendid biography on youtube by clicking HERE). Mark has been a fan of Gone with the Wind since the 1970s and collects foreign editions of the book (many of which he purchased while living in Europe). Currently you can catch him in the well-reviewed stage revival of “Six Degrees of Separation”. Thanks Mark for guest blogging!
    _________________________________________

    Written by Mark Mayes

    A&E’s Biography series was an extremely popular documentary television show by the late 1990s. It profiled big political figures and Hollywood stars and featured interviews with people who knew them or worked with them. It was often produced as freelance by Peter Jones, who had produced and starred in segments exploring Old Hollywood on American Movie Classics et.al. I had met him and liked his knowledge and enthusiasm.

    I, for one, loved the series and hoped that someday they would get around to doing a segment on Vivien Leigh (loftily thinking there were lesser lights about whom they seemed to be making a fuss. after all!)

    Well, lo and behold, one day in 1999, I got a call from a young lady called Selina Lim, who was producing a Vivien Leigh episode for the A&E series under executive producer Peter Jones. She had been told by my friend Manoah Bowman, who had been doing work for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences archives, that if they were looking for pictures and research on Vivien Leigh, they should most definitely see Mark Mayes!

    Read More

  • February4th

    I’d like to welcome fellow Vivien Leigh fan, Selina Chan, to the Vivien-Leigh.com Blog! Ms. Chan lives in New Zealand and works at a library. We had the pleasure of meeting in 2009 and she’s truly a knowledgeable fan! Obviously she has access to a TON of literature so it’s no surprise that her guest blog post is about a book. Today she’s reviewing Duncan Fallowell’s book Going as Far as I Can. If you’re interested in reading this book, it’s available for purchase in the Vivien-Leigh.com E-Store. Here’s the product description:

    When Duncan Fallowell was left some money by a friend, he decided to put into practice a long held idea – to travel as far as possible from home so that he need never travel again and could relax. For him, this meant travelling to New Zealand, where another fantasy soon asserted itself – ‘to find the place of perfect exile’. Fallowell’s curiosity leads him onto the strangest paths and he found himself in pursuit of unknown painters and lost buildings and sex underground, of Karl Popper and a creature with the third eye and rose wine, of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier who’d toured the country in the year of Fallowell’s birth, of suicidal writers and nuns and elusive answers to impossible questions. The faraway paradise gradually turns into a glittering stranger on the Pacific rim, filled with the uncertainties of our times – but also a wonderful place to breathe. The result is a moving encounter with the past, an anxious gaze into the future, but most of all a vivid voyage through the contemporary world, by turns profound, comical and erotic.

    _________________________________

    I really didn’t think anybody could be genuinely obsessed with the Oliviers to come all the way to New Zealand to follow in their footsteps of a long ago tour but actually someone has written a book about this. Just one of those randoms I find off the shelf – its always
    interesting to see what travel writers think of your own country.

    Englishman Duncan Fallowell was left some money in a will and decided to blow it on a trip to New Zealand to get travel out of his system. Well alrighty then…who am I to judge of the mad things people do when they have loads of money to spend?

    The only thing he knew about NZ was the Oliviers came here in the year that he was born – 1948. So he goes around NZ in their footsteps trying to locate hotels and theatres they stayed in. Fat chance most of them are torn down or out of business now. He tries to find out if anyone had met the Oliviers and still remembers them but most of them are dead.

    This book is mostly a travel diary/moan about how NZ lost all it’s British heritage, and comes across as written by a poncy arrogant colonialist who acts like he once owned the country and bequeathed its culture and architecture. The book is rather slim pickings – he could have just read ‘Darlings of the Gods’ and saved his money…? There’s actually no backstage gossip or stuff about the tour IN the book. You can’t really go somewhere and expect the past to be preserved exactly as it was for you, especially in something as fleeting as a two week theatre tour (the Old Vic set up theatre in makeshift dressing rooms and town halls). He looked everywhere for the St James but totally missed out on the little theatre named after Vivien (still standing, but now used as a university resource centre) and well…that was pretty much it.

    He did find a nun who remembers treating Olivier’s knee. Hooray. I now know what the meaning of ‘luvvie’ is.

    By all means visit to NZ but don’t expect to find vestiges of the golden age of theatre here! (That’s why the Olivier’s came here in the first place…to give us a taste of theatrical tradition) a point lost on Mr Fallowell.