Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh was born in Darjeeling, India on November 5, 1913 to Ernest and Gertrude Hartley. At the age of 6, she was sent to a convent school in England while her parents remained in India. Her mother and father took her traveling with them after her sixteenth birthday and she finished her education at various schools on the Continent.

Vivien spoke French, German and Italian quite fluently. She had often expressed her desire to be a great actress and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1932. Soon after that, she met and married Leigh Holman and gave birth to her only child, Suzanne, 10 months later. Holman was a kindly man who supported her interest in acting, unaware of the scope of her ambitions.

When she read the book "Gone With The Wind" she told her friends that she would play Scarlett O'Hara, although she had no major credits to her name, was virtually unknown outside England, and every actress in America was angling for the part. The same wildly successful impulsiveness operated again when Vivien saw Laurence Olivier onstage in Theatre Royal. She decided then and there she would marry him, which she did in 1940. They had a passionate relationship, onstage and off, complicated by Vivien's manic-depression, which was finally diagnosed in 1953, and by her tuberculosis which first attacked her in the 1940s and was to recur fatally.

After 20 years as "the Royal Couple of the theatre," the Oliviers divorced in 1960. Though she became significantly involved with the actor Jack Merivale, Vivien continued to love Larry to the day she died. On July 7, 1967 Jack found her dead in the bedroom of her Eaton Square flat in London due to complications from the tuberculosis. The following evening, theatres in the West End dimmed their front-of-house lights in tribute to Vivien's career as one of the great stage and film actresses of her generation.

1913

November 5: Born at Darjeeling, India. Named Vivian Mary Hartley.

1932

Enrolled at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. December 20: Marries Leigh Holman.

1933

October 12: Gives birth to daughter, Suzanne.

1934

November: Signs with agent John Gliddon and chooses professional name Vivien Leigh.

1935

May 15: Overnight sensation in the play The Mask of Virtue. Leads to film contract with Alexander Korda.

1936

April: Becomes romantically involved with Laurence Olivier. July: First works with Olivier filming Fire Over England.

1937

May: During filming of Twenty-One Days with Olivier she announces to incredulous friends that she intends to play Scarlett O'Hara. June: Plays Ophelia to Olivier's Hamlet in Elsinor; leaves Leigh Holman and moves in with Olivier.

1938

December: Follows Olivier to Hollywood and lands the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Selznick's Gone With the Wind.

1939

Films Gone With the Wind. 1940 February 29: Wins Oscar for Scarlett O'Hara. August 31: Divorces Leigh Holman; marries Olivier in Santa Barbara with Katharine Hepburn and Garson Kanin as witnesses.

1941

Beginning of intensely busy period, both in film and stage work, through 1945. She and Olivier buy historic Notley Abbey where countless glittering parties are given over the next decade.

1945

August: Stricken with TB. Convalesces at Notley for nine months.

1947

Films Anna Karenina. July 8: Accompanies Olivier to his knighthood investiture, dressed in black.

1949

February 6: Opens in Antigone. Spring: Tells Olivier she no longer loves him. October 11: Opens in A Streetcar Named Desire in London.

1950

Films A Streetcar Named Desire in Hollywood.

1952

March: Wins Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire while playing Cleopatra in New York City.

1953

February: Begins filming Elephant Walk in Ceylon with Peter Finch. Suffers mental breakdown. March: flown to Hollywood in mentally disturbed state. Olivier brings her back to London where she is hospitalized and receives electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). November 5: opens with Olivier in The Sleeping Prince.

1955

Spring and Summer: Plays opposite Olivier in Macbeth (as Lady Macbeth), Twelfth Night (as Viola) and Titus Andronicus (as Lavinia) at Stratford-upon-Avon. Many episodes of severe manic-depression. November-December:Twice fails in attempts to run away with Peter Finch.

1956

Death of Alexander Korda ruins plans to make a film of Macbeth.

1958

November 8: Throws star-studded party for Lauren Bacall---last glamorous appearance with Olivier.

1959

Notley Abbey put up for sale.

1960

April: Opens in New York in Duel of Angels. May: Receives Olivier's plea for divorce. December 2: Divorced from Olivier.

1961

March: Makes last attempt to regain Olivier.

1963

Suffers manic-depressive breakdown while playing in Broadway musical, Tovarich. Drops out of show and returns to London for ECT treatment.

1964

Films Ship of Fools in Hollywood while undergoing ECT treatment. Katharine Hepburn provides sensitive and invaluable Support during this crisis.

1966

July: Suffers manic attack while performing Ivanov in New York.

1967

Spring: Cast in A Delicate Balance. Return of her TB forces delay of rehearsals. July 7: Found dead in the bedroom of her Eaton Square flat in London. July 8: West End theaters extinguish front-of-house lights in her tribute.