Quite a career.
Quite a marriage.
By the Fifties, Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier felt the stage — and especially Shakespearean roles — were their destiny. Vivien no longer considered herself as a film star, nor did she believe she needed Hollywood to advance her career, wrote author Anne Edwards in her 1977 tome, Vivien Leigh: A Biography. But for financial reasons, neither were through with making big studio movies.
Notably, in 1940, she costarred with Robert Taylor in Mervyn LeRoy’s Waterloo Bridge for MGM; and back in England a year later for producer-director Alexander Korda, she costarred with Olivier and Alan Mowbray in Lady Hamilton (released as That Hamilton Woman in the States). Winston Churchill confided to Vivien that the movie was his personal favorite.
It was the role of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, which brought her back to Hollywood and to the Warner Brothers studio in the summer of 1950. (That’s her director, Elia Kazan, and her muscular costar pictured with Vivien at the top of today’s blog.)
The role had the most personal significance to Vivien. Blanche seemed constantly on her mind, wrote Edwards. There were moments when those close to her were startled by the thought that she had times when she fully believed she was Blanche.
Author Edwards reports that during her periods of depression, Leigh often entertained sexual fantasies about picking up and seducing strangers. Even taxi drivers were fair game. With Olivier busy working opposite Jennifer Jones on Paramount’s Carrie, director William Wyler’s movie based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel, Sister Carrie, Vivien may well have had the chance to act on her fantasies.
In the tell-all memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, coauthor Scotty Bowers, at the time a bartender-caterer of celebrity parties, claims to have had an assignation with Vivien in a guest house on the estate of her close friend, director George Cukor, just as Streetcar was going into production.
She was a hot, hot lady, reports Bowers. She was very sexual and very excitable…That night we screwed as though the survival of the world depended on it…She had orgasm after orgasm and each one noisier than the last.
Leigh won her second Oscar for her role as Blanche in Streetcar. After her marriage to Olivier crumbled, she took up with British actor John Merivale.
It was Merivale who discovered her dead body on the evening of July 7, 1967, lying face down on the bedroom floor of her London flat. She had been spitting up blood, and the tuberculosis had spread to both lungs. The picture of a young Olivier, which she had treasured, was on her bedside. She was just four months shy of her 54th birthday.
Now, finally, on the answers to our Vivien Leigh Quiz, which asked you to identify each of the following pictures.
- Charles Laughton coproduced as well as costarred with Vivien in this 1938, pre-GWTW gambol about street dancers in London. Rex Harrison is also in the cast. The title is……..
- Answer: Sidewalks of London.
3. In this MGM weeper, her second screen appearance post GWTW, Vivien portrays a dancer with a dark past who falls for and loses a handsome American Army captain (Robert Taylor). Audiences loved her and it. The title is…
4. Answer: As mentioned above, Waterloo Bridge.
5. In this 1937 spy outing, produced by Alexander Korda, Vivien falls for a World War I spy for the other side — played by German actor Conrad Veidt, one of our favorite supporting players (calling Major Strasser from Casablanca). This was two years before her Scarlett incarnation. The title is…..
6. Answer: Dark Journey.
7. This mega-budget movie Vivien’s fourth film after GWTW, was a box office disappointment. The British producers promoted her participation with the line — her first great role since ‘Scarlett.’ For reasons we’ll explain tomorrow, the movie marked an ordeal for the actress. Yes, that’s Claude Rains on the right. The movie’s title is……?
8. Answer: Caesar and Cleopatra. (It was around this time that Leigh experienced the first of two miscarriages, which had a profoundly negative effect on her mental health.)
9. This 1961 drama, based on a 1950 Tennessee Williams novel, has Vivien playing a fading actress-widow who takes up with a young gigolo (Warren Beatty). In all, an interesting screen farewell. The title is…….?
10. Answer: The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.