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Vivien Mary Olivier (Hartley)

Also Known As: "Lady Olivier"
Birthplace: Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
Death: July 07, 1967 (53)
London, Greater London, England (United Kingdom) (Chronic tuberculosis)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Ernest Richard Hartley and Gertrude Mary Robinson Yackjee
Ex-wife of Herbert Leigh Holman and Sir Laurence Olivier
Mother of Private

Occupation: Actress
Managed by: Andrew Wilkinson
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Vivien Leigh

Vivian Mary Hartley, know professionally as Vivien Leigh, was an English actress who won two Best Actress Academy Awards for playing "southern belles": Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a role she had also played on stage in London's West End.

She was a prolific stage performer, frequently in collaboration with her then-husband, Laurence Olivier, who directed her in several of her roles. During her 30-year stage career, she played roles ranging from the heroines of Noël Coward and George Bernard Shaw comedies to classic Shakespearean characters such as Ophelia, Cleopatra, Juliet and Lady Macbeth.

Lauded for her beauty, Leigh felt that it sometimes prevented her from being taken seriously as an actress. However, ill health proved to be her greatest obstacle. For much of her adult life Leigh dealt with bipolar disorder. She earned a reputation for being difficult to work with, and her career suffered periods of inactivity. She also suffered recurrent bouts of chronic tuberculosis, which she was first diagnosed with in the mid-1940s. Leigh and Olivier divorced in 1960, and she worked sporadically in film and theatre until her death from tuberculosis in 1967.

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Vivien Leigh's Timeline

November 5, 1913
Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
July 7, 1967
Age 53
London, Greater London, England

<The Times July 10, 1967>

A brilliant stage and film actress

Miss Vivien Leigh, the stage and film actress, was, when found dead in
bed at her London home on Saturday still in mid-career. She was 53. At
the age of 21 she had been a beautiful girl, and literally an
overnight celebrity: for a number of years she had been the wife and
stage partner of Sir Laurence Olivier; until the other day she was
studying a role in the forthcoming production of a play by Mr Edward
Albee; and on the night of her death all theatres in the West End
extinguished their exterior lights for an hour as a sign of mourning.

As a beginner she won success in London as a girl with nothing to
commend her but beauty, whom a jealous woman in Ashley Dukes's "The
Mask of Virtue" made use of to entrap and ridicule her own unfaithful
lover: as a young woman she became an international star with her film
portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara, Southern Belle and world famous heroine
of the best selling novel "Gone With the Wind"; somewhat later as
Blanche Du Bois in "A Streetcar Named Desire", a woman whose wits do
not survive the fading of her beauty, and later still in her last two
Hollywood films, as women who obviously were beautiful and who now are
obviously not young, she proved herself one of those actresses who,
always themselves, are always different, always learning, always
turning their looks and personality to new, scrupulously prepared
dramatic account.

Vivian Mary Hartley was born in India under the British Raj, at
Darjeeling on November 5, 1913, the daughter of Mr & Mrs Ernest
Hartley, her father being junior partner in a firm of stockbrokers.

She was brought to England in 1920, went to school at the Convent of
the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, and entered RADA.

First her marriage at the age of 18 to Mr Vincent Leigh Holman,
barrister-at-law, then the birth of their daughter Suzanne in 1933,
caused her to break off her training, but she began to act
professionally in 1934, and within a few months - she was now known as
Vivien Leigh - her spectacular appearance in Ashley Dukes's
costume-play brought her a five-year contract with Alexander Korda of
London Films.

For a time she made little progress, but her ambition, sustained by
"post-graduate" work on her voice under Elsie Fogerty, was reinforced
by encouragement from the actor who had palyed opposite her in her
first film for Korda, Laurence Olivier. In 1938 she found on visiting
Hollywood, where Oliver was making "Wuthering Heights" - the idea of
Cathy's being played by her had been dropped - that Scarlett O'Hara
was still not cast, though "Gone With The Wind" was in production. The
untried English girl made tests, and the most covetede part in the
world was offered to her on the condition that she signed a seven year
contract with David O. Selznick. On the film's being shown in Atlanta
and soon afterwards in New York, the South and the North as one man
capitulated and Hollywood awarded her the first Oscar of her career.
But when Olivier and she appeared in his production of "Romeo and
Juliet" in New York in 1940, it was a failure; when she hoped to join
the Old Vic company on her return to England, the director was of the
opinion that her new celebrity would make it impossible for her to fit
in; and when Olivier wanted her for the Princess in his film of "Henry
V", David Selznick restrained her from appearing. He attempted to do
the same, but in the end gave way, when she proposed playing Sabina
the maid in Thornton Wilders' "The Skin of Our Teeth", the part
originally played by Tallulah Bankhead in America, under Olivier's

Vivien Leigh had married Olivier in California in 1940, after her
marriage to Mr Holman and Olivier's marriage to Miss Jill Esmonde
Moore, the actress, had been dissolved.

Olivier was knighted in 1947. In the following year the Oliviers led
an Old Vic Company tour of Australia and New Zealand in "Richard III",
"The School for Scandal" and "The Skin of Our Teeth", and in 1949
brought the company back to the New Theatre, London, where Vivien
Leigh's most notable performance was as Antigone in the play by Jean
Anouilh. She went on to make a two-fold success as Tennessee
Williams's Blanche Du Bois, first under Olivier's direction on the
London stage, and again in the film directed by Elia Kazan, in which
her performance gained her an Oscar for her for the second time in 13

At the St James's, in London where her husband had established
himself, she played Cleopatra to his Caesar in Shaw's play and to his
Antony in Shakespeare's during the 1951 Festival of Britain, and whe
this theatre was about to be demolished six years later, she led a
vigorous, if unsuccessful movement to save it, interrupting a debate
in the House of Lords in order to protest. She was then appearing with
Olivier in London, after a tour of Europe, in "Titus Andronicus", one
of the three plays, the others being "Twelfth Night" and "Macbeth", in
which they had been seen together at Stratford-on-Avon in 1955.

Both husband and wife were in Terence Rattigan's comedy "The Sleeping
Prince", but Marilyn Monroe took over the show-girl's role in the film
version, which Olivier made later, and Vivien Leigh appeared without
him and under other directors in Noel Coward's "South Sea Bubble", in
an adaptation by Coward of Feydeau, and in Jean Giraudoux's last play
"Duel of Angels."

While Vivien Leigh was in Giraudoux's play in New York, her intention
to appeal for divorce was announced, and the divorce was made absolute
in 1961. During that year and the following year she had an Old Vic
company on a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and South America in
"Twelfth Night", "Duel of Angels" and "The Lady of the Camelias", and
in 1963 made her debut in a musical, on Broadway, in "Tovarich",
playing, singing and Charlestoning the role of a former Grand Duchess
which in the pre-war production in London had been played straight by
Eugenie Leontovitch. A comedy in which she toured the English
provinces in 1965 did not reach London, nor did London see her as the
neglected Jewish wife of Ivanov in Chekhov's play of that name, for
she took over the role for the American run, following the run in
England, of this production, in both of which Sir John Gielgud took
the title part. It had been announced that she would play opposite Sir
Michael Redgrave in Albee's "A Delicate Balance" in London, when she
was ordered to rest a month ago, and rehearsals were postponed until
September. This was the third occassion since 1945 on which she had
been obliged to give up work on account of illness.

She received the Knight's Cross of the Legion of Honour in 1957 and a
French award for her performance as a divorced American woman in her
last Hollywood film, Stanley Kramer's "Ship of Fools". Somerset
Maugham had hoped to see her play his favourite feminine character,
the charming, promiscuous and kind-hearted Rosie Driffield of his own
"Cakes and Ale", and had encouraged her to play Bathsheba Everdene,
the innocently vain and unstable heroine of Hardy's "Far from the
Madding Crowd", but in fact neither of those promising projects for
films was carried out. It might almost be said that the roles she did
not play and the opportunities that now lay behind her gathered about
her lately to form an aura peculiarly her own; but if so it was an
aura surrounding a beautiful woman whose strong character, humour and
wit, love of works of art and delight in their collection, had all be
proved and were well known.