Scarlett off the Screen

Vivien Leigh

March 5, 1953

I'm here at the British Academy Film Awards in the Leicester Square Theatre, Westminster, London, United Kingdom. I'm interviewing the winner of the 1952 best actress in a leading role, Vivien Leigh. She won this award for her outstanding performance as the lead role of Blanche DeBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. This has been her second award winning performance in a film since 1939's Gone with the Wind.

Start of the Interview

Vivien Leigh agreed to give me ten minutes of her time when the award ceremony was finished. When I first approach her private room in the theatre, she looks at me with her big, beautiful blue eyes, sparkling off of the little light provided in the room. She gives me a cute little smile and tells me to come on in. She is looking marvelous in her flowing dress, with her makeup all done up. I am breath taken by her appearance. This is my first time ever meeting her, in fact it is my first time meeting anyone as popular as her in the show business. Vivien and Laurence are considered to be the most famous couple in the world. Many people think they have the most glorious love story in Hollywood. They are always covered in the news, getting awards, in plays, or in the biggest movies of the year. After introducing myself to Vivien, my first question of my interview is asking her about her marriage with Laurence: one of the greatest actors of this generation.

Laurence Olivier

He was born on 22 May 1907, and is now 46. He married Vivien on the 31st of August, 1940, at the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. Laurence's nickname is Larry. He is an English actor who dominates the British stage. He is a huge fan of Shakespeare and has acted in many Shakespeare plays and movies.

Meeting Larry

I ask her the cliché question, "So how did you two meet?" and her answer is rather surprising. She tells me that he had congratulated her on her first big performance in the play Mask of Virtue and from there on out, they started to develop a friendship. Vivien went with a friend to Laurence’s next big play, and while watching him on stage, Vivian said to her friend, "I'm going to marry him." She tells me that her friend reminded her that she was already married and so was he, but she told her "that didn't matter." She remembers thinking it was her new goal to claim Laurence as her own. After the play, she went into his dressing room and seductively kissed him on the neck: if her beautiful big eyes didn’t get his attention, this would have.

Leaving Leigh Holman

Her answer provokes me to then ask her about her first husband, Leigh Holman, who is the father of her daughter named Suzanne. She tells me that she "unintentionally used Leigh so she could escape her parents and move on with her life." She was never really happy with Leigh and equally as unhappy with the idea of motherhood. On the day she had Suzanne, she wrote in her diary "Had a baby." Not had a daughter or had a daughter named Suzanne, just a baby. She tells me another reason she left Leigh for Laurence was because of Leigh's disapproval of her pursuing an acting career. Obviously that didn't stop her. After she recovered from child birth, she hopped right back onto the stage.

"The Mask of Virtue"

Wednesday, May 15th 1935 at 7pm

West Street

London

I am so nervous that I forget all of my questions that I had planned to ask her, so I just decide to ask her about things she is bringing up: "Can you tell me a little about The Mask of Virtue?"

Vivien replies, "Well I sure can. That was when I knew I wanted to become an actress!" She goes on to tell me how the audiences loved her and how she became wildly famous throughout Britain overnight.

Furthering Her "Friendship" with Laurence and Her Career

Knowing Vivien wouldn't give me much more time, I decide I must ask more questions about her and Laurence, since they are the biggest couple in Hollywood. I ask how they came to marry and she tells me, "back in 1936 or '7, I can't remember exactly, I went out of my way to get a role in a film with Laurence called Fire Over England." This was the year that they left their family’s and moved in together. She tells me that they both requested divorces from their spouses, but their requests weren't granted. "The film industry forced us to keep our relationship quiet because it was immoral or something." she says. I keep furthering the conversation, and she tells me that while she was doing small films in London, Laurence made his away across the sea to do his first ever American film, Wuthering Heights. "I was asked to play a secondary role of Isabella, but I refused and said 'I'll play Cathy, or I'll play nothing.' I'll never forget what William Wyler [the director] told me when I refused to play a secondary role: 'For a first part (in Hollywood), you'll never get anything better than Isabella.'" She knew she wasn't big enough, popularity wise for the role, but her heart was after the role of Scarlett O'Hara.

Fire Over England - Trailer (1937)

Gone to America: "fiddle dee dee!"

I then had to ask her about how she went from an unknown British actress to playing the biggest female role in the biggest film ever produced. She tells me she flew over to America and "stole Laurence’s agent, Myron Selznick, who just happened to be brothers with director of Gone With the Wind." He brought her, in costume, to the set of the famous scene of the burning of Atlanta. When the flames died, Myron said to his brother "I've got your Scarlett."

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara

Making of Gone With the Wind

Vivien goes on to tell me that she had a miserable time making the film. She worked for 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 125 days. In order to deal with the stress, she chain smoked, smoking four packs days. I ask her what the most difficult aspect of making the film was. She replies in a southern accent, "Oh well learning how to speak southern was a son-a-bitch" giggling after. "Oh and the costume and dialogue changes weren't any easier." The film had three different directors and the cost of the movie was way more then it was imagined to be: it cost four million dollars. It the end, it made four hundred million dollars and won ten academy awards.

Scarlett O'Hara

A Streetcar Named Desire

Vivien says she needs to get going and she can only stay for one more question, so I ask her about the award she had just received for best actress in A Streetcar Named Desire. She tells me she had more fun making the movie than making the play. She had performed that play "326 exhausting times." She liked being directed by Laurence during the play because she had some lenience with him, but unfortunately, Vivien had taken the role of Blanche DeBois home with her: "I had nine months in the theatre of Blanche DuBois. Now she's in command of me." She tells me that she feels that this role had "tipped [her] over into madness". The poor girl was suffering from the horrible depression and tuberculosis, but still managed to produce such an incredible performance in the film.

Incredable Acting From Vivien in A Streetcar Named Desire

Scene from A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)