It was today in 1967 that legendary actress Vivien Leigh died. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1944 and it would be that disease that cut her life all too short. Miss Leigh was only 53 years old when she died.
For me Vivien Leigh has always maintained a special place my heart. She is not only my favourite actress of all time, but she was also my second classic film crush (my first was Audrey Hepburn). When I was a lad, in those days before Turner Classic Movies, Gone with the Wind was rarely shown on television. When it did air, then, it was a major event and nearly everyone tuned in to watch it. My parents were no different, and I was looking forward to seeing it myself. That having been said I was not prepared when it came to Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. From the moment she first appeared on the screen I thought that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen (even more beautiful than Audrey Hepburn). In the end I fell very hard for Vivien Leigh. Not only would Gone with the Wind remain one of my favourite movies of all time, but Vivien Leigh has remained my favourite actress nearly ever since.
As I grew older, I naturally sought out her other movies.: Waterloo Bridge, That Hamilton Woman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Ship of Fools, and so on. And as I grew older I learned that Vivien Leigh was not only incredibly beautiful, but she also extremely talented. She was impressive as the spoiled, impetuous Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, as well as the mercurial Blache DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She convincingly played historical figures, including Emma, Lady Hamilton (in That Hamilton Woman) and Cleopatra (in Caesar and Cleopatra--for me Cleopatra will always be Vivien Leigh, not Elizabeth Taylor). I have often thought that because of her incredible beauty Vivien Leigh has always been underestimated as an actress. She was actually much more talented than she has been given credit for.
Of course, for one so talented and so beautiful Vivien Leigh had a very sad life. Because of the tuberculosis she had contracted in North Africa while she and Lord Laurence Olivier performed for troops there, she was often in poor health. Miss Leigh also suffered from biplolar disorder at a time when understanding of the illness was poor, but treatment for it was downright primitive (and much of it would be considered barbaric by today's standards). Sadly, her biploar disorder would have an impact on both her career and the relationships in her life.
When I was twelve years old I merely saw Vivien Leigh as the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. In the years since then I have learned much more about not only her career, but her personal life as well. I now know she was was an extremely talented and very complex woman. And as much I fancied her when I was twelve, I think I might just adore her even more now.