Saturday, 17 August 2013

Life of Vivien Leigh revealed in stunning photos, diary extracts and love letters between the Oscar-winning star and Laurence Olivier. Vivien Leigh correspondence archived at V&A

 Life of Vivien Leigh revealed in stunning photos, diary extracts and love letters between the Oscar-winning star and Laurence Olivier
V&A Museum acquire archive of British actress from her grandchildren
Contains never-before-seen pictures, annotated scripts and diary extracts
Actress kept 7,500 personal letters from eminent friends and colleagues
Letters include those from Olivier, Winston Churchill and the Queen

She was the double Oscar-winning actress who captivated audiences with her roles in Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire.
And fans of British actress Vivien Leigh were just as intrigued by her private life as her performances thanks to her tumultuous marriage to actor Laurence Olivier.
Now a century on from her birth, people can gain a rare insight into the life and loves of the legendary star thanks to a new display at London's V&A museum.
The V&A have acquired the archive of the British film and theatre actress from her grandchildren.
It covers all aspects of her career and personal life including her diaries, begun as a 16-year-old in 1929 and maintained until she died in 1967, aged 53, from tuberculosis
The archive explores the grand love affair between Leigh and and second husband Olivier, and contains more than 200 letters, telegrams, photographs, newspaper clippings and postcards between 1938 and 1967.
Leigh and Oliver were the golden couple of the Forties and Fifties during their 20 year marriage
During April-June 1939, whilst Olivier was playing in No Time for Comedy on Broadway in New York and Leigh was shooting Gone with the Wind in L.A, a total of 40 letters were exchanged between the couple.
As well as expressing their affection for one another, their letters contained their theatrical observations and plans on the foundation of the National Theatre.
Leigh also corresponded with some of the most eminent names in 20th-century history including Winston Churchill, Graham Greene and Noël Coward.
She meticulously kept more than 7,500 personal letters from friends and colleagues addressed to both her and Laurence Olivier. The archive uncovers correspondence with T. S. Eliot, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother - who offers her thanks to the couple for remembering her.
Professional correspondence includes many letters from playwright Tennessee Williams. One addressed to Leigh in September 1950 enthuses about her role of Blanche DuBois (for which she won an Oscar).
He wrote: 'It is needless to repeat here my truly huge happiness over the picture and particularly your part in it. It is the Blanche I had always dreamed of and I am grateful to you for bringing it so beautifully to life on the screen.'
It's praise the actress must have been delighted to receive as another letter reveals how she wrote to film director Elia Kazan during preparation for the role worrying about getting it 'right'.
She wrote: 'You do know that when I said over the phone I'm worried about the way I'll look, 'I didn't mean good I meant right'.'
Before divorcing Olivier from in 1960, the couple entertained a wide circle of guests at Notley Abbey, the home in Buckinghamshire they created in 1943.
An impressive list of signatures ranging from Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Sir Alec Guinness to Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Judy Garland and Rex Harrison is recorded in their visitors' book which is part of the archive.
A changing selection of material from the archive will be on display in the V&A's Theatre and Performance Galleries this autumn.
As well as personal diaries and photographs, it will include Leigh's annotated film and theatre scripts, press clippings and her numerous awards.
There are also photographs including albums of large format stills from Gone with the Wind and Romeo and Juliet that have never before been publicly displayed, and an extensive collection of stereoscopic transparencies taken by Leigh herself whilst on tour in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Martin Roth, director of the V&A said: 'Vivien Leigh is undoubtedly one of the UK's greatest luminaries of stage and screen and along with Laurence Olivier, remains a true star of her time.
'We are thrilled to acquire her archive intact in this centenary year of her birth and to be able to make it available to the public for the first time. It not only represents Vivien Leigh's life and career, but is also a fascinating insight into the theatrical and social world that surrounded her.'

 Vivien Leigh correspondence archived at V&A
Victoria and Albert Museum acquires diaries, scripts and photographs of British Oscar-winning actor

Maev Kennedy

Although the world may remember her as the ravishing beauty who was once married to Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles knew the real worth of Vivien Leigh. When in 1951 she won the Oscar for her performance as Blanche DuBois in the film of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, the legendary actor and director immediately sent a telegram from Monte Carlo: "Of course they gave it to you they had to love and kisses from Orson".

His telegram is preserved as part of an archive acquired by the V&A museum covering her life and work, from her teen years to her death from tuberculosis in 1967 aged just 53. It includes diaries, scrap books, heavily annotated scripts, photographs including hundreds of rare early colour photographs she took herself while on tour, and thousands of letters to an extraordinarily wide circle of friends and acquaintances including the Queen Mother, Graham Greene, and Winston Churchill (a besotted admirer of her 1941 performance in his favourite film, the Admiral Nelson biopic That Hamilton Woman).

"We want to rescue Vivien Leigh from the shadow of Laurence Olivier," Keith Lodwick, theatre and performance curator at the V&A said. "She was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women of the 20th century, and in some ways that was her handicap. I think this archive will rewrite the biographies. It gives remarkable insights into her character, her intelligence, the breadth of the her interests, and just how hard she worked, just how carefully she prepared for her stage and film roles."

The shadow of Olivier, arguably the greatest actor of his generation, inevitably falls heavily over the archive. They were married from 1940 to 1960, and when separated by work exchanged torrents of letters. In one she writes: "My dear sweetheart, my love is with you every second – and I know tonight will be a great triumph for you my darling boy. Your proud and adoring Vivien." He sent a cartoon of them in the sea watched by a fish "registering amazement at what it sees", and adding "O how I want to go to Brighton with you!!"

Leigh, whose physical and mental health were often fragile, won her second Oscar for her epic performance in 1939 as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind – a role she won over almost all the leading actresses of the day who were avid for the part.

"In that film she is in almost every scene except the battle, and she was working literally from morning till night. In 1939 she had just got together with Laurence Olivier and she was desperate to get back to him. They regularly worked from seven in the morning until eight at night, but she often asked for one more take just to get a scene finished."

A note to her director in Streetcar shows how carefully she thought about all aspects of her performance, Lodwick said. She was obviously concerned that she might have sounded vain asking about wigs, and wrote a quick pencilled note to clarify: "When I said worried about the way I look I meant RIGHT not good – wigs because then the hair could be thin and poor."

The archive was acquired from her grandchildren, and though the price is undisclosed, the museum is confident it is much less than it would have fetched on the open market. Martin Roth, director of the V&A, said: "We are thrilled to acquire her archive intact in this centenary year of her birth and to be able to make it available to the public for the first time."

The archive also includes the visitors' book from Notley Abbey, the grand home she shared with Olivier.

"Everyone, just everyone, was there " Lodwick said. "Cary Grant, Orson Welles, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Edith Evans, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper ... as a curator, it makes one just sigh to have been a fly on the wall."


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