Vivien Leigh, born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5, 1913, in Darjeeling, India, was a British stage and film actress. She achieved fame after her portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara in the American Civil War epic "Gone with the Wind" (1939), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Leigh's family background was of a high social standing; her father, Ernest Hartley, was a British officer in the Indian cavalry, and her mother, Gertrude Robinson Hartley, always encouraged her interests in the arts. She was sent to schools in England and Europe and studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.
Her first marriage was to Herbert Leigh Holman, a barrister known as "Leigh" Holman, with whom she had a daughter, Suzanne. The marriage ended in divorce, partly due to her career ambitions and her affair with the actor Laurence Olivier. She married Olivier in 1940, after both had obtained divorces from their respective spouses.
Leigh achieved both critical and commercial success in the film industry, but it was her talents on stage that were most highly regarded by theatrical critics. Her stage career peaked during the 1940s and 1950s, with standout performances in roles such as that of Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire," a part that she reprised in the 1951 film adaptation, earning her a second Academy Award.
Despite her professional success, Leigh's personal life was troubled. She struggled with bipolar disorder, which affected her relationships and work, and tuberculosis, which ultimately led to her premature death. Her relationship with Olivier became strained and the couple divorced in 1960.
Vivien Leigh continued to work in both film and theatre until shortly before her death from tuberculosis on July 8, 1967, at the age of 53. Over the course of her career, she developed a reputation as one of the greatest actresses of her time, remembered for her beauty, talent, and tragic life. Her legacy lives on through her iconic performances and her contributions to the world of acting.
Notable works beyond "Gone with the Wind" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" include the films "That Hamilton Woman" (1941) and "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" (1961), as well as stage productions of "Richard III," "Macbeth," and "Antony and Cleopatra," many of which were produced as part of her partnership with Olivier.
For a deeper exploration of Vivien Leigh's life and career, her biography "Vivien Leigh: A Biography" by Anne Edwards provides extensive details. Additionally, Hugo Vickers's "Vivien Leigh: A Biography" delves into her complex personality and offers insight into her struggles with mental health. These sources, among others, paint a comprehensive picture of Leigh’s achievements and challenges throughout her life.