Saturday, November 9, 2013

The 100th Birthday of Hedy Lamarr, Or Perhaps the 99th or the 98th..

Inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr has often been described as an enigma. Indeed, even the year of her birth is a bit of a mystery. Most sources give 1913 as the year that she was born. In fact, it is the year given by her official website. Despite this more than one biography of the inventor and actress have given 1914 as the year of her birth (both Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Michael Shearer and Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film  By Ruth Barton do so). In 1966, when Miss Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting, 1914 was the year she told the Los Angeles police that she was born. Even Miss Lamarr may have contradicted herself with regards to her year of birth, however, as in Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman she claimed she was born in 1915. Of course, she also claimed that much of the material in her autobiography was fabricated by ghostwriter Leo Guild, even suing to halt the book's publication, giving us reason to doubt much of the book's veracity.

Sadly, the year of Hedy Lamarr's birth may remain one of the many mysteries about her, which leaves anyone wishing to celebrate the anniversary of her birth with a bit of a conundrum. Given the number of sources that cite 1913 as the year of Miss Lamarr's birth (her official website among them), I have decided to treat it as such, which as far as this blog is concerned makes this Miss Lamarr's 100th birthday. Too, I must admit I find it appealing to think that the two most beautiful women of all time (Vivien Leigh was born 5 November 1913) were born only days apart!

Regardless of the year in which she was born, Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. She began studying piano when she was only 10 years old.. She made her film debut in a bit part in Geld auf der Straße in 1930. This was followed by a more slightly more substantial part in Die Blumenfrau von Lindenau (known in English as Storm in a Water Glass) in 1931. She was still only a teenager when she studied acting under the legendary stage director Max Reinhardt. Mr. Reinhardt may have been the first person to name Hedwig Kiesler "the most beautiful woman in the world", which he did so when speaking to Viennese  newspaper reporters.

Hedy Kiesler would appear in two more films (Die Koffer des Herrn O.F. in 1931 and Man braucht kein Geld in 1932) before starring in one of her most famous films, Extase (in English, Ecstasy) in 1932. The film proved controversial upon its release. Not only did Hedy Kiesler appear nude in the film, but it may well be the first non-pornographic film to portray sexual intercourse as well as a woman in the midst of orgasm (although the film only focused on the actors' faces). Extase proved to be a source of a good deal of controversy, with even Pope Pius XI condemning the film. The film would prove even more controversial in the Untied States. In 1933 the Legion of Decency gave it a "C" rating, making it one of the earliest foreign films to be condemned by the Legion.  In January 1935 the Department of Treasury banned Extase from importation into the United States. Regardless, for ten months in 1936 an American distributor started an effort to get Extase approved by the Production Code Administration (the PCA). The PCA's head, Joseph Breen, called the film "highly—even dangerously—indecent" in a memo and informed the distributor that the PCA could not approve it. It would not be shown in the United States until 1940, and even then in edited form. Even then some local censorship boards demanded even more cuts to the film while others, such as Pennsylvania's censorship board, banned it altogether.

Whether the controversy of Extase would have had an impact on Hedy Kiesler's career is difficult to say, as not long afterwards she married armaments manufacturer Friedrich Mandl. He more or less forbade her from pursuing her acting career. As might be expected, Miss Kiesler found herself miserable in the marriage and in 1938 she left Mandl. She eventually fled to London, where she met the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. Mr. Mayer was in London on studio business, and the two met at a dinner party.  She later sailed to the United States aboard the Normandie, on which both Louis B. Mayer and his wife Margaret were sailing home. While aboard the ship Mr. Mayer offered Hedy Kiesler a contract with MGM. Stories very as to whether it was Mr. Mayer or his wife who gave Miss Kiesler her stage name, the name by which she would become best known, Hedy Lamarr. The surname was taken from late Silent Era star Barbara La Marr, who had died from tuberculosis when she was only 29.

Hedy Lamarr made her American film debut in Algiers in 1938. The film proved to be a success and very nearly established Miss Lamarr as an American movie star over night. She proved to be one of MGM's most popular stars in the Forties, as well as one of the sex symbols of the era. According to Richard Rhodes, author of Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, men serving overseas during World War II voted her the most desirable film actress of them all. While at MGM she made some of her most popular films, including Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Boom Town (1940), Tortilla Flat (1942),  and White Cargo (1942). Disappointed with the quality of scripts she was receiving, Hedy Lamarr left MGM in 1945.

Miss Lamarr's departure from MGM may not have necessarily improved the quality of the roles she received, but it also did nothing to diminish her success. From the late Forties into the early Fifties she appeared in such films as Dishonoured Lady (1947),  Let's Live a Little (1948), Samson and Delilah (1949), and My Favourite Spy (1951). During the Forties Miss Lamarr had been a very prolific actress, making 18 films from 1940 to 1949. With the Fifties, however, her career slowed considerably. The Fifties would see her make only a few films, including My Favourite Spy, I cavalieri dell'illusione (1954), Loves of Three Queens (1954), L'eterna femmina (1954), and The Story of Mankind (1957).  Her final film was The Female Animal in 1958. She made very few television appearances, only appearing as a guest star on All Star Revue, Shower of Stars, and Zane Grey Theatre.

While Hedy Lamarr was one of the most famous actresses of all time, her most lasting contribution to the world would be in a field not generally associated with the bright lights of Hollywood. Quite simply, Miss Lamarr was not only an actress, but also an inventor. And one of her inventions would revolutionise the world. It was in 1941 that Miss Lamarr had an idea for a new torpedo guidance system. She took her idea to her neighbour, composer George Antheil, who had utilised automated control of pianos in his composition Ballet Mécanique. The two of them developed a means of frequency hopping that utilised a piano roll of the type used for player pianos to shift or "hop" between 88 different radio frequencies. It was on 11 August 1942 that Miss Lamarr and Mr. Antheil were granted US Patent 2,292,387 for their "secret communication system. Ultimately the United States Navy would not implement Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil's invention during World War II, arguing that the equipment necessary for it would be too bulky (George Antheil argued that it could be small enough to fit inside a watch). The  Navy would eventually utilise Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil's invention during the blockade of Cuba in 1962.

Miss Lamarr and Mr. Antheil's patent for a "secret communications system" would be rediscovered in the Fifties, when various companies were developing CDMA or code division multiple access, a channel access method used for GPS and the basis for various channel access methods used by mobile phones (such as cdmaOne, CDMA2000, and WCMDA). As a result much of the technology we take for granted today, from mobile phones to Wi-Fi to GPS, might not exist had it not been for Hedy Lamarr! Sadly, neither Hedy Lamarr nor George Antheil would make any profit from their patent.

Of course, here it must be pointed out that Hedy Lamarr was not simply an actress who happened to have an idea for a new torpedo guidance system that would ultimately change the world. She was very serious about inventing, and she even had an entire room in her home devoted to inventing, including a drafting table, tools, reference books, and so on. Among her inventions was a anti-aircraft shell fixed with a proximity fuse that would use radar to detect the target and detonate at a predetermined distance away. She also developed a cube that when mixed with water would make a cola-type soft drink. She also invented a better box for facial tissues (such as Kleenex) and a new sort of traffic light. Unfortunately, none of these inventions would be put into mass production.

As one of the best known film stars and sex symbols of the Forties, Hedy Lamarr would even have an impact on pop culture in the form of a well known comic book character. The creators of Batman Bill Finger and Bob Kane based the character of The Catwoman on a combination of Bob Kane's cousin Ruth Steel and actress Hedy Lamarr, with a bit of Jean Harlow thrown in for good measure. Other than The Catwoman's personality, it would seem Jean Harlow contributed little to the character. Anyone examining of illustrations of The Catwoman from the Golden Age of Comic Books might well notice she looks a good deal like Hedy Lamarr. . Both had oval shaped faces crowned by a head of long, wavy, dark hair. Both also had smouldering eyes (well, Catwoman's eyes were as smouldering as Golden Age comic book illustration would allow) and full, pouty lips. Despite changes in artists over the years (as is well known, Bob Kane employed many ghost artists), Catwoman would continue to resemble Hedy Lamarr until the Sixties when Julie Newmar played the character on the television show Batman.

Hedy Lamarr was often noted for her beauty. Indeed, she was called "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World" for a good reason. It has not been particularly often that she has been noted for her acting talent. I suspect much of the reason for this was that she was typecast early in her career as the beautiful, exotic seductress, a role she played in film after film. That having been said, she could play other roles and play them very well. She was quite convincing in the role of Madeleine Damien, a magazine editor with a double life as a party girl at night, in Dishonoured Lady. She also gave a very good performance as the title character's self reliant coworker Marvin Miles in H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941). I think she also did quite well in what may be her most famous role, that of Delilah in Samson and Delilah (1949). In what could have merely been yet another seductress role, Miss Lamarr gave the character of Delilah considerable depth.

Of course, I have to wonder if Hedy Lamarr would not be better regarded as an actress had she not performed in more comedies. The comedies she made often gave her an opportunity to play roles beyond beautiful mystery women. She was delightful as an Austrian refugee who makes a marriage of convenience with a poor writer (played by Jimmy Stewart) in Come Live with Me (1941). She was also quite enjoyable as a beautiful, European princess who falls for a New York hotel bellbory in Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945). Miss Lamarr also gave a good performance as as Lily Dalbray, the beautiful spy and love interest in the Bob Hope movie My Favourite Spy.  In many of the dramas in which Hedy Lamarr appeared she was used as little more than window dressing and in yet others she simply played another variation on the beautiful seductress. In her comedies, however, she was given a chance to shine.

While Hedy Lamarr remains one of the most celebrated beauties of all time, as one of the best known actresses of her era, there can be no doubt that her greatest contribution to the world was her invention of frequency hopping with George Antheil. It would provide the basis for modern spread spectrum technology, technology that is used in everything from CDMA (Code division multiple access, used in many mobile phones), coded orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (COFDM, used in WI-Fi networks), Bluetooth, GPS, and so on. Eventually Miss Lamarr would be honoured for her invention. In 1997 the the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her their Pioneer Award. She also became the first woman to ever be awarded the Invention Convention's BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. Today it is quite possible that Hedy Lamarr is better known for the invention of frequency hopping than she is as a film star.

In the end whether it is Hedy Lamarr's 100th birthday or her 99th birthday perhaps doesn't matter. She was much more than the Most Beautiful Woman in the World. She was a talented actress with the intelligence to develop something without which the modern world we know would not be possible. There can be no doubt that Hedy Lamarr would have been remembered if she had only been a famous film star. Her motion pictures are still watched and enjoyed by millions today. That she also invented frequency hopping with George Antheil, something which led to the spread spectrum technology on which we rely so much today, has insured that she will be remembered for years to come as a woman who truly changed the world.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hal Needham Passes On

Hal Needham, the stuntman who went onto direct motion pictures, died on 25 October 2013 at the age of 82. At one time he was reputedly the highest paid stuntman in the world.

Hal Needham was born on 6 March 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee. He spent his early years in Arkansas, and his family eventually moved to St. Louis. As an adult he worked as a tree topper before serving as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army during the Korean War. After his discharge from the Army he returned to tree topping. It was while he was recuperating with a broken ankle that another former paratrooper found him work doing stunts in television.

He did stunts for the television series Mike Hammer before getting his big break serving as Richard Boone's stunt double on the popular Western series Have Gun--Will Travel. In the late Fifties he also did stunts for such shows as Laramie, Black Saddle, Coronado 9, and Hong Kong. He also served as a stuntman on such films as The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), The Big Country (1958), Thunder in the Sun (1959), and Pork Chop Hill (1959).

In the Sixties Mr. Needham performed stunts for the films A Thunder of Drums (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), Donovan's Reef (1963), McLintock! (1963), 4 for Texas (1963), Mail Order Bride (1964), Major Dundee (1965), In Harm's Way (1965), The Great Race (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), The Ballad of Josie (1967), and The War Wagon (1967). He received his first credit as a stunt coordinator on The Rare Breed (1966) and in the Sixties went onto serve in that capacity on the films Stagecoach (1966), Beau Geste (1966), Bandolero! (1968), Hellfighters (1968), Chisum (1970), and Little Big Man (1970). He also did stunts for the television shows Gunsmoke, Star Trek, The Big Valley, Laredo, and Mannix.

In the Seventies he did stunts for such films as Something Big (1971), The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), White Lightning (1973), McQ (1974), Blazing Saddles (1974), Chinatown (1974), The Longest Yard (1974), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), Gable and Lombard (1976), Gator (1976), A Star Is Born (1976), Nickelodeon (1976),  and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). His last work in stunts was in the film The Sunchaser in 1996. In 1971 he founded the organisation Stunts Unlimited with fellow stuntmen Ronnie Rondell and Glenn Wilder.

Over the years Hal Needham also acted in various bit parts over the year. In the late Fifties he appeared in small roles in such shows as The Rifleman, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Restless Gun, Playhouse 90, Yancy Derringer, Dante, and Coronado 9. In the Sixties he appeared in the TV shows Riverboat, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Rebel, Tales of Wells Fargo, Combat!, Laramie, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Daniel Boone, Laredo, The Wild Wild West, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke. He appeared in the films Shoot Out at Big Sag (1962), McLintock! (1963), The War Wagon (1967), The Devil's Brigade (1968), and Sometimes a Great Notion (1970). From the Seventies into the Eighties he appeared in the shows Mannix, Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, Charlie's Angels, Simon & Simon, and Sledge Hammer. He appeared in the films One More Train to Rob (1971), The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), The Cannonball Run (1981), Stroker Ace (1983), and Cannonball Run II (1984).

Hal Needham served as a second unit director on the films White Lightning (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), Take a Hard Ride (1975), and Gator (1976). With Smokey and the Bandit (1977) Hal Needham broke into directing. Over the years he directed such films as Hooper (1978), The Villain (1979), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), Stroker Ace (1983), Cannonball Run II (1984),  Rad (1986), and Body Slam (1986). He directed a few television films, including Death Car on the Freeway and four TV movies loosely based on Smokey and the Bandit and its sequels.

While I never was a fan of most of the films Hal Needham directed, I have to admit he was a great stuntman, perhaps the greatest stuntman of all time. He introduced several innovations when it came to stunts in film and television. It was Mr. Needham who introduced the use of air bags on which stuntman could land would performing stunts involving jumping or falling. He also helped develop the the Shotmaker Elite camera car and crane, for which he won a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Among his other innovations were the air ram (a pneumatic device for throwing a stuntman through the air) and the nitrogen ratchet (a device used for whenever a stuntman is supposed to be thrown from a horse or a car). Mr. Needham's various innovations to stunt work were all designed to make stunts safer while at the same time keeping them spectacular in appearance.

Indeed, as a stuntman and stunt coordinator Mr. Needham created some of the best stunts on film. There was the sequence in Little Big Man in which he and another stuntman had to leap from the horses they are riding onto horses pulling a stagecoach, and then from horse to horse. For McQ he performed a stunt in which a car had to rollover on a beach, for which Hal Needham designed a cannon which could flip the car. Regardless of whether it was a Western or an action film Hal Needham could be guaranteed to provide stunts that were spectacular, but at the same time within the realm of reality. And he did all of it without the benefit of CGI.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Marcia Wallace R.I.P.

Marcia Wallace, perhaps best known for playing Dr. Harley's receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show, died on 25 October 2013 at the age of 70.  She was also well known for providing the voice for schoolteacher Edna Krabappel on the animated series The Simpsons.

Marcia Wallace was born on 1 November 1942 in Creston, Iowa. She attended Parson College in  Fairfield, Iowa, where she majored in English and theatre. While there she appeared in various productions held by the college, including Brigadoon and The Music Man. After she graduated she moved to New York City to pursue acting. To make a living she did assorted jobs, including typing scripts, working as a substitute teacher, acting in commercials, and acting in summer stock. Eventually she joined four friends to form the improvisational group The Fourth Wall. The Fourth Wall played from January 1968 to September 1968 off Broadway. Eventually she was noticed by Merv Griffin and she became a semi-regular on The Merv Griffin Show, appearing on it over 75 times.

Marcia Wallace went onto appear in episodes of Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Columbo, Love American Style, and Insight before being cast as Carol on The Bob Newhart Show. She appeared in every single one of the show's 142 episodes. For the remainder of the Seventies she guest starred on The Love Boat, Flying High, and Fantasy Island. In the Eighties she appeared in the film My Mom's a Werewolf (1989).  She guest starred on such shows as Magnum P.I., Gimme a Break, Finder of Lost Loves, Murder She Wrote, ALF, Night Court, and Charles in Charge. It was in 1990 that she was cast as  Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons. She would play the role for the next 23 years.

In the Nineties she provided guest voices on such animated series as Darkwing Duck, Batman--The Animated Series, and The Addams Family.  She guest starred on such shows as A Different World, Full House, George and Leo, and Murphy Brown (on which she reprised her role as Carol Kester). From the Naughts into the Teens she appeared on such shows as Providence and 7th Heaven. She was a regular on That's My Bush and The Young and The Restless. She appeared in the films You Never Know (2001) , Forever for Now (2004), Big Stan (2007) , and Tru Loved (2008). She provided additional voices for the animated film Monsters University.

Marcia Wallace was a gifted comic actress. She had impeccable timing and a gift for creating funny characters. Indeed, it is rare for television actors to play one memorable character in a long running show, let alone two characters in long running shows. What is more, Carol and Mrs. Krabappel could not have been more different. Carol was warm, friendly, and loved jokes, and was constantly on the lookout for a husband. Mrs. Krabappel was bitter, jaded, and known to abuse various chemical substances. No two characters could be more different and yet both were exceptionally funny. A lesser comic actress may not have able to play such different roles over the years, but Marcia Wallace was. She was an exceptional talent.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guest Post on the Margaret Lockwood Society Blog

I am very honoured to have been invited to write a guest post on the Margaret Lockwood Society blog. I wrote about one of my favourite Margaret Lockwood films (which is also one of my favourite Carol Reed films), Bank Holiday (also known here in the United States as Three on a Weekend). You can read it here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

100 Years Ago Today Vivien Leigh Was Born

If one were to make a list of the most famous stars of the Golden Age of Film, Vivien Leigh would most likely be in the top ten. In fact, she could well be "number one" on the list. This is all the more remarkable given how few films she actually made. In her entire career, from her first appearance in Things are Looking Up  in 1935 to her final appearance in Ship of Fools in 1965, she only made 19 films. The simple fact is that today Vivien Leigh remains more famous than many stars of the era who made many more motion pictures. It was 100 years ago today that Miss Leigh was born.

Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on 5 November 1913 in  Darjeeling, West Bengal, British India. She made her stage debut when she was only three years old, playing Bo Peep in a charity production in Mussoorie.British India. She was six years old when she was sent to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in  Roehampton, London. Among Vivian Hartley's classmates was another little girl who would  become a famous actress, Maureen O'Sullivan. Vivian was only seven years old when she told young Maureen of her ambition to become "a great actress." It was while at the Covent of Sacred Heart that young Vivian began preparing for a career as an entertainer. She appeared in the school's productions of various plays. She also studied  piano and violin, and even played the cello in the Covent of the Sacred Heart's orchestra. She also appeared in the school's productions of various plays.

 After Vivian Hartley left the Covent of the Sacred Heart she spent the next several years at various finishing schools in Europe. She became fluent in French, German, and Italian. At age 18 she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. In 1931 she met Herbert Leigh Holman and the two were married in 1932. It was from Mr. Holman that Vivian Hartely would take the name by which she would forever be known, Vivien Leigh. While the two would later divorce, Leigh Holman and Miss Leigh would remain friends for the rest of her life. It was on 12 October 1933 that she gave birth to their daughter Suzanne.

The year 1935 would prove to be a pivotal one for Vivien Leigh. She made her screen debut in a small, uncredited role as a schoolgirl in the film Things Are Looking Up. She also appeared in her first substantial role on stage on London's West End, playing Giusta in The Green Sash; however, it would be her appearance as Henriette Duquesnoy in the play The Mask of Virtue that would make Miss Leigh a star. Prior to the premiere of The Mask of Virtue on 15 May 1935 very few people probably realised who Vivien Leigh was. After its premiere it would have been difficult to find anyone among the theatre going public who did not know who she was. Although today most people think of Vivien Leigh as a film star, she was really much more of a stage actress, appearing in many more plays in her career than she did films. In the wake of the success of The Mask of Virtue she appeared in such productions as Richard III, The Happy Hypocrite, Henry VIII, and Because We Must.

While Vivien Leigh was a busy stage actress in the mid-Thirties, she also appeared in several films during the period as well. In 1935 she appeared in such films as Gentlemen's Agreement (1935), Look Up and Laugh (1935), and The Village Squire (1935); however, it would be the 1937 film Fire Over England that would prove to be one of the most important films of her life. Fire Over England centred on the English victory over the Spanish Armada during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Vivien Leigh played one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, Cynthia, while Laurence Olivier played her lover Michael Ingolby. It was during Fire Over England that Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier began an affair, despite each of them being married to other people. Following Miss Leigh's divorce from Leigh Holman and Laurence Olivier's divorce from actress Jill Esmond, the two would be married on 31 August 1940. Laurence Olivier would have an enormous impact on Miss Leigh's career, and over the years the two of them would collaborate on many projects together.

Not only would Fire Over England lead to what was arguably the most significant relationship in Vivien Leigh's life, but it would also prove to be one of the most important stepping stones in her career. During his search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind, David O. Selznick watched both Fire Over England and A Yank Over Oxford (1938). Although he was impressed with Miss Leigh, he ultimately thought she was too British to play the role of Scarlett. According to legend, when Myron Selznick (who was not only David O. Selznick's brother, but Laurence Olivier's agent as well) watched Fire Over England that he decided Vivien Leigh would be the perfect Scarlett O'Hara. Fortunately, David O. Selznick would reconsider his opinion of Vivien Leigh and she was cast in the role of a lifetime.

Of course, Vivien Leigh would appear in several films before her star making turn as Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. She starred in the comedy Storm in a Teacup in 1937. She also appeared in her first film produced by an American studio, MGM's A Yank at Oxford (1938), alongside her friend from school Maureen O'Sullivan, Her last film prior to Gone with the Wind would be Sidewalks of London co-starring Rex Harrison. Vivien Leigh was also busy on the stage. She appeared as Ophelia in Hamlet alongside Laurence Olivier in 1937, as well as productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Serena Blandish.

While today it seems inconceivable that anyone but Vivien Leigh could play Scarlett O'Hara, at the time her casting in the role was not received as good news by everyone. No less than columnist Hedda Hopper said that casting Vivien Leigh as Scarlett would be like casting Ann Sheridan or any other typical American girl as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. It probably did not help that Miss Leigh, then largely unknown in the United States, beat out such well known actresses as Jean Arthur and Joan Bennett (although the front runner for the role was Paulette Goddard, then perhaps best known for her role in Modern Times). Any naysayers would be effectively silenced with the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta on 15 December 1939. Her performance as Scarlett O'Hara was almost universally lauded by critics, and she won the Oscar for Best Actress, and the  New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress as well.

Not only would Gone with the Wind not only transformed Vivien Leigh into an international film star nearly overnight, it also became the highest grossing film of all time (a title it still bears when adjusted for inflation). With such success many actresses would have launched into a lengthy film career with many films to their credit. This was not the case with Vivien Leigh. 21 Days, a film co-starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Oliver and filmed in 1937, was finally released in order to capitalise on the success of Gone with the Wind.  Her first film following Gone with the Wind would be Waterloo Bridge (1940), based on the  Robert E. Sherwood play of the same name and co-starring Robert Taylor. In 1941 Vivien Leigh starred as Emma, Lady Hamilton in Lady Hamilton (entitled That Lady Hamilton in the United States) opposite Laurence Olivier as Lord Horatio Nelson. Her film career in the United States would be interrupted by the outbreak World War II. Not surprisingly, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Oliver chose to return to Britain.

Vivien Leigh would not make another film for four years, although she remained active on stage. Over the next several years she appeared in productions of Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma, The School for Scandal, and  The Skin of Our Teeth. Her return to film was in Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945. She played Cleopatra opposite Claude Rains as Julius Caesar. She also appeared in the title role in Anna Karenina (1948). Sadly, neither film was a success at the box office.

Miss Leigh continued to appear on stage in such productions as Richard III, Skin of Our Teeth, The School for Scandal, and Antigone. It was in 1949 that she played Blanche DuBois in the West End production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Besides Scarlett O'Hara, it would become the role with which she was most identified. She was cast in the role of Blanche in the 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, the only actor playing a major role who was not a part of the original Broadway cast (Jessica Tandy had originated the role on Broadway). The film proved to be Vivien Leigh's most lauded motion picture since Gone with the Wind. It received almost universally good reviews from critics. A Streetcar Named Desire would go on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and Miss Leigh would win her second Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Blanche.

Even after the success of A Streetcar Named Desire Vivien Leigh would not be particularly prolific when it came to film. During the Fifties she only made one more film, The Deep Blue Sea (1955), based on Terence Rattigan's play of the same name. She continued to appear on stage throughout the decade in productions of Ceasar and Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, and Duel of Angels. The year 1960 would also see the end of her marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier. The two divorced that year.

The Sixties would see Vivien Leigh appear in the stage productions Twelfth Night, The Lady of the Camellias, Tovarich, The Contessa, and Ivanov. She only made two more films: The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and Ship of Fools (1965). In Ship of Fools Vivien Leigh played her final film role, that of divorcée Mary Treadwell, another Southern belle like Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche Dubois. The film was nominated for several Oscars (including Best Picture) and won the awards for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White. While Vivien Leigh was not nominated for her role as Mary Treadwell, it was one of the best performances of her film career and certainly a good role for which it to end.

Sadly, it was on the evening of 7 July 1967 that Vivien Leigh died at the age of 53. She had been diagnosed with  tuberculosis in 1944, and it would be that disease that would ultimately take her from us far too soon.

Today, nearly seventy five years after the world first saw her as Scarlett O'Hara, Vivien Leigh remains one of the most famous and most beloved actresses of all time. There can be little doubt that much of this is due to her incredible beauty. In a poll conducted by Max Factor in 1940 among American women Vivien Leigh was voted the most beautiful film star, beating out such worthy contenders as Hedy Lamarr and Madeleine Carroll. In a 2006 poll conducted by the Bottlegreen Drinks company Vivien Leigh was voted the most beautiful British woman of all time, beating out Elizabeth Taylor, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Princess Diana. There can be no doubt that Vivien Leigh was incredibly beautiful. What is more, her beauty did not seem to fade with age. She was as beautiful in Ship of Fools as she was in Gone with the Wind.

While Vivien Leigh may well have been the most beautiful woman of all time, that does not explain why she has maintained such a fascination for people nearly fifty years after her death. After all, there have been other beautiful actresses, many with more extensive filmographies than Vivien Leigh, who have long since been forgotten by the public at large. The answer is that Vivien Leigh was not simply beautiful, but that she was also an exceedingly talented actress. Vivien Leigh did not make such an impact as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind simply because she was drop gorgeous. She made an impact as Scarlett O'Hara because she was able to convince the viewer that she was Scarlett.

Of course, today many seem to treat Scarlett O'Hara as the sum total of Vivien Leigh's career. In truth, however, she played many great roles over the years and did so convincingly. What is more, those roles were often a varied lot. As Emma, Lady Hamilton, in Lady Hamilton Miss Leigh played a woman who was as strong willed as she was coquettish. She was equally convincing in Waterloo Bridge, in which she goes from a sweet natured ballerina to a woman who finds her life torn apart from war. And while there are those who consider Vivien Leigh's performance in the title role in Anna Karenina inferior to that of Greta Garbo, I actually prefer it. To me Miss Leigh was much more convincing as Anna, the aristocrat who risks everything on an affair. If one needs no further proof that Scarlett O'Hara was not Vivien Leigh's only great role, one need look no further than A Streetcar Named Desire. While both are Southern belles, there could be no different character from Scarlett than Blanche. Scarlett is a strong willed woman who self reliant nearly to the point of ruthlessness. Blanche is a fragile woman who constantly relied on others for support. Scarlett needs no kindness from strangers (although one suspects she would take it if offered). For Blanche it is a way of life.

It is not simply for her beauty, then, that Vivien Leigh is still remembered today. She was an extremely talented actress who was able to make a lasting impression on film goers with only 19 films to her name. This is all the more remarkable given her bouts with both tuberculosis and biploar disorder. In many respects Vivien Leigh had as tragic a life as any of the heroines she played, yet she was still capable of delivering far better performances than many actors with happier lives. It should then be no surprise that Vivien Leigh is still regarded as one of the best loved actresses of all time 100 years after her birth and nearly 50 years after her death.