In a freight elevator in midtown Manhattan is where we met Vivien Leigh, the Academy-Award-winning actress for her roles as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, which won 10 Oscars, and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, winning four Oscars.
We were heading to a rooftop party for Bob Dylan’s album.
Several Brits accompanied Vivien, and she never looked more beautiful. A creamy, pearl like complexion with sparkling green eyes. She was smiling and flirty in a white silk blouse and a pale yellow dirndl skirt that swayed alluringly as she strolled, wearing the classic beige Chanel pumps.
We were reminded of George Cukor’s comment during a luncheon when he said, “Talent is wonderful, but it isn’t enough. You become a star only when your skin receives the light on camera.”
We chatted briefly, laughing that a freight elevator was an odd way to go to a party. We don’t recall if, at that time, she was married to Laurence Olivier, the stage and screen award-winning star of Wuthering Heights, Hamlet, Henry V, and other classics.
“Call me Vivien,” she said as we mixed in the bustling crowd on the roof where everyone dispersed.
We were a roving editor with Town & Country at the time, and little did we know then that she, like Audrey Hepburn, had been involved in numerous dalliances with screen idols and others.
In Stephen Galloway’s upcoming biography that will be published by Grand Central Books, he will, knowing Stephen’s high professionalism, tell us all.
Stephen is the executive editor (features) of The Hollywood Reporter who’s written reams about the Who and the Who of Hollywood. As well as the biography, Leading Lady, about the popular studio chief, Sherry Lansing.
Brit-born Stephen reveals he was obsessed with the London Theater during his youth, and enthuses about his current project, writing about Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier, that we anticipate will reach bestsellerdom.
Vivien’s casting for the prize role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind became an intense two-and-half-year search in 1936 by the producer David O. Selznick, claiming this choice from 1400 hopefuls would establish an international star overnight.
Vying desperately for the role were Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner, but David insisted on an unknown.
Vivien was born under the Raj in India to an Anglo Indian mother and a stockbroker father. Performing on the London stage, she was swooned over by Laurence Olivier before filming Gone With The Wind.
A passionate affair ensued that led to marriage and the later revelation of Vivien’s disturbing bipolar syndrome disease, which haunted her, leading to eccentric behavior and uncontrollable sexual desire. Becoming, as insiders know a vision of her nymphomanical character, Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Peter Finch soon became a lover (“Her affections were lethal”), among others.
Cast opposite Dana Andrews in Elephant Walk, scheduled for filming in Ceylon, her hysterical behavior was unmanageable. Refusing psychiatric care, she was fired and replaced by Elizabeth Taylor.
High personal drama pursued Vivien throughout her life, with Olivier suffering hopelessly from her behavior, prevailing upon friends David Niven and Noel Coward for help.
Vivien’s archives remain in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where Stephen Galloway furthers his major research and he informs that reading Olivier’s love letters to Vivien, he found that they are among the sweetest and most tender ones we’ll ever read.
Will they be in his book?