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Vivien Leigh Photos and Biography

Updated on May 21, 2014

Full lips, striking dark hair, porcelain skin and those's hard to look at a photograph of the late actress, Vivien Leigh, and not be transfixed- not only by her stunning beauty but by her sheer presence. Emotion and feeling leap from the images of this Hollywood icon. Whether it be a coy smile or heated sneer painting her face, you feel it. Hers could be the face of Helen of Troy, launching a thousand ships and leaving the strongest of men quaking in her wake. She is, in a word, timeless.

With a list of roles that include the most famous names in the world- forever recognizable characters like Blanche DuBois, Cleopatra, Anna Karenina and the incomparable Scarlett O'Hara, Vivien swept across the stage and screen, captivating the globe.

While her likeness will remain forever etched on our minds, she is greatly missed the world over.

Life Before Film

Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5, 1913 in Darjeeling, British India-now India- to Ernest Hartley and his devout Roman Catholic wife, Gertrude Mary Frances Yackjee. She was their only child and was sent to a convent school at age six to have the proper English upbringing her mother insisted upon. Little Vivien was two years younger than all of the other girls and found friendship in the nuns of the convent. Eventually, she struck up a friendship with one of the girls at the school, an eight year old named Maureen O'Sullivan. Maureen would become an actress as well and the two would continue a friendship for the rest of their lives.

After only a short time at the school, Vivien's parents returned for her and took her along as they traveled Europe. It was during this time that she expressed her interest in acting and was enrolled by her father in Britain's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1931.

It was during that same year when she met her future husband, a man 13 years her senior, Leigh Holman. Vivien ended her studies at RADA and the two wed on December, 20, 1932 and had one daughter, Suzanne, in 1933.

Though the two remained lifelong friends, Vivien and Leigh divorced in 1940.


As she broke into the acting world with small parts in films such as 1935's Things Are Looking Up, Vivien decided it was time to adopt a stage name and Vivian Hartley Holman became Vivien Leigh. By 1937, Leigh had had some success in plays as well as a few movie roles. It was during this time that she met future husband, Sir Laurence Olivier, though they were only friends at the time. After reading Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone With the Wind, Leigh fell in love with the lead character and pitched the idea of herself as Scarlett in the film adaptation being planned by producer David O. Selznick. After a lot of convincing, Selznick was sold and Vivien secured her first of several famous roles.

Following the success of the film, Leigh was finally reunited with her new love, Olivier, and, after receiving divorces from their current spouses, the two were wed on August 31, 1940. After several attempts at starring together in a film project, the couple was finally cast together in 21 Days Together and That Hamilton Woman.

After a turn as Cleopatra, another raven haired vixen, Leigh took on the next role that would forever be connected to her, Blanche DuBois in Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire. She had preformed the role on stage a number of times in the play version and was quickly signed to reprise her role. She got along well with co-star Marlon Brando but not so much with the director, Elia Kazan.

Though battling manic depression, Leigh continued to stay a favorite among the public and such figures as Winston Churchill. Though reviews of her work could range from magnificent to bland and unimpressive, Leigh continued on in her craft. She made many appearances throughout her career on the stage even as she graced the movie screen and attempted roles of many different types in order to continue learning and growing as an actress. She continued to act until her death.

Fun Facts

As a teenager, Vivien had a crush on actor Leslie Howard, her eventual co-star and ironic love interest in Gone With the Wind.

She very nearly missed out on playing one of her greatest roles, Blanche DuBois in Streetcar and only came to America to be with Laurence Olivier while he filmed Carrie.

A moment from the real lives of Vivien and husband Laurence Olivier were used as the basis of Terrence Rattigan's screenplay for the 1963 film, The V.I.Ps, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Burton.

Producer David O. Selznick originally scoffed at the idea of Leigh as Scarlett, saying she "sounded too British."

She clashed with second director Victor Fleming and co-star Leslie Howard on the set of GWTW but had a wonderful friendship with Clark Gable and wife, Carole Lombard.

Once said that playing Blanche DuBois tipped her over into madness.

A Streetcar Named Desire


Year of Release
The Village Squire
David Horne, Leslie Perrins
Rose Venables
Gentleman's Agreement
Frederick Peisley
Phil Stanley
Look Up and Laugh
Gracie Fields, Alfred Dayton
Marjorie Belfer
Things Are Looking Up
Cicely Courtneidge, Max Miller
Fire Over England
Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson
Dark Journey
Conrad Veidt
Madeline Goddard
Storm In A Teacup
Rex Harrison
Victoria Gow
A Yank at Oxford
Maureen O'Sullivan. Lionel Barrymore
Elsa Craddock
Sidewalks of London
Charles Laughton. Rex Harrison
Liberty (Libby)
Gone With the Wind
Clark Gable, Olivia DeHaviland, Leslie Howard
Scarlett O'Hara
21 Days Together
Laurence Olivier
Waterloo Bridge
Robert Taylor, Lucile Watson
That Hamilton Woman
Laurence Olivier, Alan Mowbray
Emma Hamilton
Caeser and Cleopatra
Claude Rains, Stewart Granger
Anna Karenina
Ralph Richardson
Anna Karenina
A Streetcar Named Desire
Marlon Brando, Karl Malden
The Deep Blue Sea
Kenneth More, Eric Portman
Hester Collyer
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Warren Beatty, Jill St. John
Karen Stone
Ship of Fools
George Segal, Lee Marvin
Mary Treadwell

Illness and Death

In 1943, Leigh toured Africa and fell ill with a cough and fever which was diagnosed in 1944 as Tuberculosis in her left lung. Though she appeared to recover after weeks in the hospital, she would have another bout with the illness years later.

Not long after her bout with TB, while filming Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945, Leigh suffered the first of two miscarriages. The event led to a deep depression and the first of many future bouts of extreme lows typical of the Bipolar disorder from which she suffered. Her husband (Olivier) learned to identify the symptoms of her episodes which would often involve a breakdown, sobbing, depression and even physical violence of which Leigh would have no memory.

Her mental state continued to deteriorate over the years, causing her to have incoherent bouts of deep depression off and on. Friends who had witnessed the fall said she'd "gone mad."

She did manage to recover at times and continued to play parts in film and plays during the 'ups.' A bad word from a critic seemed to be enough to send her into a downward spiral and she had difficulty ignoring the bad press.

The strain of her illness and the revelation that Vivien had had a brief affair led to Olivier and Leigh's divorce in 1960. Of Leigh's Bipolar Disorder, Olivier said in 1982, "Throughout her possession by that uncannily evil monster, manic depression, with its deadly ever-tightening spirals, she retained her own individual canniness – an ability to disguise her true mental condition from almost all except me, for whom she could hardly be expected to take the trouble."

In 1967, the Tuberculosis returned. She spent another few weeks in the hospital and, once again, seemed to have recovered. On July 7, 1967, Leigh's boyfriend, actor Jack Marivale, returned home at midnight to find her asleep in bed. Sometime during the night, however, she attempted to walk across the room to the bathroom and collapsed in the floor when her lungs filled with fluid. Her death was recorded as occurring on July 8, 1967. She was only 53 years old.

Awards, Nominations and Recognition

During her career, Miss Leigh won several awards for her roles in film. Her two most notable wins, perhaps, were the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscars she won in 1940 and 1952 for her portrayal of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind and Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire respectively.

GWTW and Streetcar garnered her a few other awards as well. In 1939 and 51, she won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress as well as a BAFTA award in 1953, a Saint Jordi Special Award in 1957 and a Volpi Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe in 1952 which she lost to Jane Wyman.

Vivien was recognized in February of 1960 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Caesar and Cleopatra -- Full Film

Photo Credit

All of the photographs in the body of this hub are courtesy of bonniebluebaby.

Top photo collage courtesy of the author.


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    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I just loved her though I guess Gone With the Wind is all I really remember seeing her in unless she starred in one where she let her young brother-in-law drown? Don't remember the name but I picture her in it. Thanks for sharing! ^+

    • To Start Again profile imageAUTHOR

      Selina Kyle 

      5 years ago

      Thank you Francesca!

    • Francesca27 profile image


      5 years ago from Hub Page

      Well Done! I really enjoyed your work on putting together this hub!

    • To Start Again profile imageAUTHOR

      Selina Kyle 

      5 years ago

      I agree, Nate. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for the both of them.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      5 years ago from California, United States of America

      A very beautiful woman with a very fascinating story. It must have been painful for both her and Olivier to deal with her condition.


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