This blog post is Vivien-Leigh.com’s participation in the awesome Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Appreciation Blogathan. To check out the other posts made by other fabulous blogs around the Internet, check out this link. Big thanks to Kendra of VivandLarry.com for organizing this event.
People often think Vivien Leigh was Scarlett O’Hara. There definitely is a strong case here. Scarlett is the heroine we love to hate; she is attractive, forward thinking, and manipulative. And she often gets what she wants… except Rhett. Vivien Leigh was beautiful (bordering on goddess gorgeousness), forward thinking, and manipulative. She too often got what she wanted… except Laurence Olivier? Vivien shrugged at the comparison and once said: “I hope I’ve one thing that Scarlett never had. A sense of humor. I want some joy out of life. And she had one thing I hope I never have. Selfish egotism.”
In fact, people also compare Vivien to other roles she played… what about Vivien’s first film performance after her divorce from Laurence Olivier, Roman Spring of Mrs Stone? Karen Stone is a fading actress who agonizes over being alone and growing old. She’s hopeless. Or what about Vivien as Mary Treadwell in Ship of Fools? Mary Treadwell, a divorced woman who enjoys her alcohol to numb herself, tells a fellow passenger about her ex-husband, “Oh we put up a wonderful front in public. We were everybody’s favorite couple.” And later she continues explaining, “He was the most promising. The most handsome. He had the most glorious facade. A facade was all there was. He made me the best known wife of the best known skirt chaser in the community. I made life hell for him. It ended in divorce courts.” Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Why did she play these roles? Did these roles hit too close to home? Or was it all just a coincidence? Maybe Vivien was not like any of these roles at all. I found an article asking this very question. “Deadly is the Female,” by Jeri Jerome, says that Hollywood remembered the ruthlessness of Scarlett and expected Vivien Leigh to be like her. But was she? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!
It was the first day of production on “Streetcar Named Desire.” Over at Warner Brothers, the entire lot was keyed with expectancy, for a great picture was about to roll. Director Elia Kazan was set to go. The publicity department was geared for action. Even the gaffers and grips shared in the excitement of the first day.
The entire supporting cast of the New York production to the West Coast. There was Marlon Brando, sensation of “The Men,” Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, and –the start of the picture—Vivien Leigh.
Everyone watched her as she came on the set. They noticed her friendliness, her slight British accent, her laughter. They noted her resemblance to Hedy Lamarr, even with the blonde wig she was wearing for the part of Blanche. There was no doubt Vivien’s appearance caused more than the usual excitement due a star. Her husband, Laurence Olivier, busy at Paramount on “Carrie,” had filled her dressing room with flowers. It was like opening night at a theater. This doesn’t often happen in Hollywood where pictures begin and end with steady monotony. But this was more than a first night; it was the triumphed return of Scarlett O’Hara after an absence of ten years.
The memory of Scarlett lingered, like an uneasy ghost, over the Warner lot. Scarlett had been ruthless. She had been deadly—and deadly is the female. Was Vivien deadly, too? Would she be difficult to work with? Weren’t there stories, went the whispers, that she had been “hard to handle” ten years ago, “difficult” with the press, “temperamental”?
As walked on the set, oblique glances went her way. She was tinier than most people thought she would be, ethereal and dainty. She looked like a flower, poetic as that sounds. Her face had been made to look older. Lines had been drawn in. A deep shadow of rouge gave her face an unnatural thinness. She was no longer the tempestuous Scarlett; she was the defeated and pathetic Blanche of “Streetcar.”
The tension on the set began to ease. People looked at each other and grinned. Vivien Leigh wasn’t Scarlett after all. She was an actress.