When Vivien Leigh portrayed Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, she instantly earned a permanent place in the pop culture lexicon. Although the public will always best remember her as Scarlett, Vivien did not let Scarlett define her life. She had little interest in becoming a conventional Hollywood star and was selective about her subsequent films. After the success of Gone With the Wind, she returned to the stage in England, determined to prove that she had more to offer. She certainly succeeded at that and alongside husband Laurence Olivier, they became the king and queen of British theater. They were one of the ultimate celebrity couples and when they took their show on the road, audiences flocked to see them. But, like everybody else, Vivien’s life had its ups and downs. Her marriage to Olivier eventually came to an end and she struggled with bipolar disorder. But two things that could never be taken away from her were her drive and her talent.
As far as classic film biographies go, the ones I always most enjoy reading are ones that are real labors of love. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is most definitely a labor of love. Author Kendra Bean has spent the last five years in England researching this book and has been able to access sources that no other biographer has used before, most notably the archives of Laurence Olivier. Since Olivier did not speak with the authors of other Vivien Leigh biographies, having access to his personal documents and correspondence allowed Bean to offer a more personal look at their relationship and at Vivien’s struggle with bipolar disorder than past biographies were able to. Bean was also able to interview people who knew and worked with Vivien, including Claire Bloom (who also provides the book’s foreword) and Olivia de Havilland.
I simply can’t fathom how any fan of Vivien Leigh wouldn’t enjoy Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. Although not a comprehensive biography, it has enough information that someone like myself, who has long appreciated Vivien as an actress but never knew much about her personal life, can learn quite a bit from it. After reading it, I had a newfound admiration for Vivien’s drive and professionalism. Any Vivien fan is sure to love the hundreds of magnificent photographs featured in the book, including many rare and previously unpublished photos. It is a true feast for the eyes.
Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait was published just in time for the hundredth anniversary of Vivien’s birth and is a wonderful, very fitting tribute to such a fine actress.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher.