Biography

Vivien Leigh: A Delicate Balance (31 Jan. 2000)

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Vivian Mary Hartley Pursues Ambitious Endeavors
12 June 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Harry Smith narrates this account of the life and career of Vivian Mary Hartley, from her 1913 birth, in Darjeeling, India, to Irish-born Gertrude Robinson Yackje Hartley and British Officer Ernest Hartley, through her aspiration of stage and screen acting, to become the legendary star Vivien Leigh.

At the age of six, Vivian returns to England to begin her education, in convent schools and finishing schools across Europe, in Britain, Italy, France and Germany, all the while bearing competent aspirations for the stage.

In 1932, while studying at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, she marries Herbert Leigh Holman and combines her moniker with his to form her stage name, as she signs with Agent John Gliddon, who recommends Vivien to Producer Alexander Korda, who initially rejects the young hopeful as a potential film actress.

In 1935, after Vivien excels in the Drama "The Mask of Virtue," Alexander Korda reconsiders his notions and launches the film career of Vivien Leigh, with a series of low-budgets, which leads to her famous co-starring role with Laurence Olivier in "Fire Over England" (1937).

In 1938, when Laurence travels to Hollywood to begin filming on "Wuthering Heights," Vivien accompanies him to petition Laurence's American Agent, Myron Selznick, an audition with his brother, David O. Selznick, who is casting his production of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind," as Vivien is determined to prove that she is born to play the role of Scarlett O'Hara.

This episode discusses Vivien's meticulous work on "Gone with the Wind" and reactions instilled in her peers, critics and audience alike, as well as Laurence Olivier's surprised impression once the film debuts, in December of 1939.

From here, Vivien and Laurence work together primarily upon stage in many productions, but after suffering two miscarriages, their worlds begin to crumble, while both Vivien and Laurence struggle to pull their lives together for many great performances to follow.

Vivien Leigh fans will naturally know her work probably more than is presented here in select film clips, often not identifying co-stars in archive appearances. The balance concentrates upon Vivien's striving to overcome maladies bestowed upon her, which, of course, form parts of her life's story, but the downbeat aspects help us to appreciate Vivien's determination to succeed amid life's many difficulties.

(Still, for lack of clip availability, the creative team misses opportunities here to present Miss Leigh's achievements over her disparities.)

Vivien's marriages are with Herbert Leigh Holman (1932–40), and Laurence Olivier (1940–1960). With Holman, she welcomes daughter, Suzanne.

Some of the Plays discussed in this episode starring Vivien and often Laurence include "The Mask of Virtue" (1935), "Hamlet" (in Denmark), (1938), "Romeo and Juliet" (1940), "The School for Scandal" (1942), "Skin of Their Teeth" (1946), "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1949-50), "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1951-52), "Antony and Cleopatra" (1951-52), "Duel of Angels" (1960), "Tovarich" (1963), and "Ivanov" (1966).

Interview Guests for this episode consist of Kim Hunter (Actress, Co-Star), Evelyn Keyes (Actress, Co-Star), Mia Farrow (Actress, Daughter of Maureen O'Sullivan), Juliet Mills (Actress, Stepdaughter), John Gielgud (Actor), Richard Todd (Actor), Tarquin Olivier (Director, Step-son), Hugo Vickers (Biographer), Raymond Daum (Friend), Roy Moseley (Family friend), Vivien Burt (M.D., Ph.D., UCLA Neurophysiological Institute), Rosemary Geddes (Vivien's Secretary, Audio Interview), Elia Kazan (Director, 1990 Interview), and William Wyler (Director, 1981 Interview).

Archive footage includes Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Jimmy Fiddler (Radio announcements, 1937-38), Leslie Howard, Victor Fleming, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Karl Malden, Lee Marvin, plus many unidentified performers.

Film Clips include scenes from Laurence Olivier films "Moscow Nights" (1935) and "Henry V" (1944), and Paulette Goddard's "Gone with the Wind" screen test, plus a screen glimpse of Viven Leigh through the years, in scenes from "Fire Over England" (1937), "21 Days" (1937, released 1940), "Gone with the Wind" (1939), Vivien Leigh's 1939 "Rebecca" screen test, "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1945), "Anna Karenina" (1948), "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951), "Ship of Fools" (1965), in addition to a 1961 interview with Miss Leigh, plus newsreel coverage of Vivien and Laurence's 1948 tour of Australia and New Zealand, newsreel coverage of "Elephant Walk" (1953), and Vivien's acceptance Speech delivered at the 12th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony (February 29, 1940).

Footage also includes the 24th Academy Awards (March 20, 1952), which Vivien and Laurence are unable to attend because of their out-of-town performance schedule.


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