June 3, 2012
Gosh I can’t believe how long it has been since the last Sunday Style Icon, please don’t look, I’m actually more than a little embarrassed! Especially as they are actually one of my favourite posts… of course that may possibly be the problem, as I all too easily become engrossed in finding beautiful images befitting my ‘Style Icons‘.
Anyway, this post has been a long time coming! I have already featured the first Mrs Olivier as a very Chic Vintage Bride and today’s Sunday Style Icon, Lady Olivier, is one of my absolute favourite actresses. For one role she played in particular, she will always be remembered and loved, I am of course talking about Vivien Leigh…..
And that role could be none other than Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind – one of, if not the, greatest films of all time and by far my most favourite ever!
Oh the gowns were so exquisite….so opulent! My favourite was the Garnet Gown! “Nothing modest or matronly will do for this occasion!” Rhett Butler venomously states, selecting a dress for Scarlett to wear to Ashley Wilkes’ birthday party, supposed to make her look like the brazen hussy she was. Never did she look more beautiful, or vulnerable!
Costume designer Walter Plunkett was responsible for giving Scarlett O’Hara her sense of style. Known for his period costumes, Plunkett’s inimitable flair for fashion past and an uncanny understanding for Scarlett’s fiery personality, created gowns so perfect they became characters in their own right and remain today some of the most memorable, and reproduced, film costumes of all time.
Before Vivian Leigh became Scarlett O’Hara, or Lady Olivier, she was born Vivian Mary Hartley in Darjeeling, Bengal, India (British India) in 1913. An only child, Vivian spent her childhood in India, before travelling to Europe with her father and returning to England in 1931, where she convinced her parents to enrol her in RADA. However, her time there was short lived as she met her first husband Leigh Holman in 1931 and they were married on 20 December 1932.
In October 1933, Vivien gave birth to her daughter Suzanne, but not settling to domestic life, she took a small role in the film ‘Things Are Looking Up’, her film debut, engaged an agent, John Gliddon, and took the name ‘Leigh’ to form her professional name.
It was right at the start of her career on stage, in 1935 that Vivien met Laurence Olivier, and just two years later, whilst filming ‘A Fire Over England’ they began a passionate affair.
The role that was to make her a star, an Oscar winner and a Style Icon soon followed. I often wonder, knowing now what we know of Vivien’s delicate state of mind, whether her life may have been happier, if not better, had the role never been hers.
In February 1940, Vivien and Laurence Olivier were each granted a divorce, although it meant each losing custody of their children. They were married just 6 months later in a ceremony attended only by their witnesses, Katharine Hepburn and Garson Kanin.
By the time Vivian received her Best Actress Oscar for Scarlett it would appear to all the world as though she had everything any woman could ever want to make her happy. However Vivian Leigh never truly achieved happiness or peace in life. Suffering from little understood at the time, bipolar disorder Vivien suffered terrible bouts of depression, earning her the reputation of being difficult on set, as well as being diagnosed with tuberculosis, both of which ultimately limited her career.
It was whilst filming Caesar and Cleopatra, some 18 years before the famous Cleopatra of Elizabeth Taylor, that Vivien suffered her deepest depression, following the miscarriage of her second child.
It wasn’t until The Streetcar Named Desire that Vivien Leigh recaptured any of the screen presence and fame, first achieved by Gone with the Wind. Although initially unimpressed by her ‘small talent’ director Elia Kazan eventually became full of admiration for “the greatest determination to excel of any actress I’ve known.” Vivien was rewarded with her second Academy Award for Best Actress.
A second miscarriage in 1957 threw Vivian into a severe depression and effectively ended her marriage. Olivier said of her illness after their divorce “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.”
Although appearing content with her new partner Jack Merivale Vivien confided that “would rather have lived a short life with Larry than face a long one without him.”
It is so sad that a love, talent, beauty and life could be so wrecked by such a terrible illness.
Vivien Leigh was one of the most beautiful actresses of her day, an actress who never really attained the greatness she was destined for and I hope you agree a true Style Icon!