Vivien Leigh would have turned 100 years old on November 5. In celebration of the landmark date, author Kendra Bean has released a fascinating illustrated biography titled Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait.
The book includes hundreds of rare photographs. A large portion of the never-before-seen photos were provided by Angus McBean, Leigh’s “official photographer.
The biography includes an intimate account of Leigh’s entire life, from her birth in India to her untimely death at the age of 53. To gain information for the book, Bean studied personal letters, interview transcripts, film contracts, medical records, and other personal documents.
Vivian Hartley was born in 1913 in Darjeeling, India. When she was 6 years old, she and her family relocated to England. At the age of seven, Vivian declared that she “was going to be famous.”
The aspiring actress attended school throughout Europe, becoming fluent in several languages including French and Italian. Her dreams of stardom eventually led her to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
At the age of 19, Vivian married attorney Leigh Holman. As reported by Biography.com, she eventually changed the spelling of her first name and combined it with her husband’s, creating the stage name Vivien Leigh.
Leigh made her film and onstage debuts in 1935. With her lead role in a play titled The Bash, she gained the attention of producer Sydney Carroll. Leigh’s performance inspired Carroll to offer her a role in the film Things are Looking Up.
The young actress met and fell in love with Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic theater in London, England. Although they both were already married, their relationship was widely known and accepted.
In the late 1930s, American director George Cukor began looking for an actress to portray Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Cukor said he was looking for a girl who was “possessed of the devil and charged with electricity.” Although Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn both wanted the lead role, Cukor took a chance on a “virtually unknown British theater actress.”
Cukor’s decision paid off, as the film was honored with eight Academy Awards, including Vivien Leigh’s win as best actress.
In 1940, Leigh and Olivier were married. Although they were well-known on screen and stage, little was known about their private life.
Throughout the 1940s, Leigh’s mental health began to decline. A miscarriage in 1944 only made things worse. The legendary actress suffered with insomnia, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and a severe respiratory illness.
Despite her declining health, Leigh continued to make her mark as a talented actress. She won the lead in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, and later starred in simultaneous stage productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Caesar and Cleopatra.
Throughout the next decade, Leigh managed to separate her personal struggles and her career. Although she and Olivier divorced in 1960, she continued appearing in hit films and stage productions.
In 1967, during rehearsal for the London play A Delicate Balance, Leigh became seriously ill with tuberculosis. She died on July 8, 1967 at the age of 53.
Vivien Leigh’s triumphs and tragedies are well-documented in Bean’s biography. Leigh will remain one of the most talented, driven, and respected, actresses to ever appear on stage or film.
Slideshow of photos from Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait: Here
Rare photos presented by Life: Here