The Movie Waffler Happy Birthday Vivien Leigh! | The Movie Waffler

Happy Birthday Vivien Leigh!

November 5th sees the anniversary of the birth of a legendary actress and Hollywood icon.

Words by Spencer Blohm (@bspencerblohm)

On Nov. 5, 1913, Vivien Leigh, the exotic beauty best known for her roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, was born. So in honor of this iconic actress’ birthday, let’s take a look back at her life and career.
Vivien Leigh was born in Darjeeling, British India in 1913, but was raised in London, where she lived for most of her life. Her discovery of acting came after befriending future movie star Maureen O’Sullivan when they both attended the same school. She chose to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and married her first husband, both in 1931. Two years later, Leigh had her daughter, Suzanne.
Leigh’s acting career started on the stages of the West End as her agent felt she wasn’t ready to start a film career. She earned rave reviews for her first lead role in 1935’s The Mask of Virtue. During its run on stage, Laurence Olivier attended a performance and was so impressed, he went backstage to meet Leigh. The two soon co-starred in Fire Over England and began having an affair, which led to the demise of both of their marriages at the time. Leigh’s first stateside success came in 1938 when she starred in A Yank at Oxford.
In 1939, Olivier moved to Hollywood to star in Wuthering Heights and Leigh soon joined him. She had ulterior motives behind her visit though -- she was on a mission to get herself the role of Scarlett O’Hara in the upcoming film Gone with the Wind. Thanks to a successful screen test and audition, the virtually unknown actress landed the role of a lifetime and an Oscar. In 1940, shortly after the film was released, she married Olivier, with Katharine Hepburn serving as her bridesmaid and one of her witnesses. At a career high, she starred next in Waterloo Bridge, for which she not only received top billing, but also rave reviews.
She balanced stage productions and films during the '40s, including Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, Caesar and Cleopatra and Anna Karenina. However, her mental health was deteriorating following a miscarriage in 1945 and a stressful theatrical tour of Australia with Oliver in 1948. It was during this time that her bipolar disorder first became apparent to Olivier, who previously was not aware of the full extent of it. However, she once again found success on the stage in the West End production of A Streetcar Named Desire and was thus cast in her same role of Blanche DuBois in the film adaptation. For her role, she earned her second Oscar in addition to glowing reviews.
Continuing to strike a balance between stage and screen, she suffered mental breakdowns in 1953 and again in 1956, following her second miscarriage. Her issues began to take their toll on her marriage and the couple eventually divorced in 1960. Leigh began seeing actor Jack Merivale, who proved to have a calming effect on the actress. She continued her acting on stage and earned a Tony Award for her work in the musical Tovarich in 1963.
Leigh died on July 7, 1967 at the age of 53, after contracting tuberculosis for the second time. She will always be remembered not only for her great beauty, but also for her incredible talent on the screen and stage.

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Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger for Being a longtime fan of old movies, he’s continually impressed at Ms. Leigh’s immense talents on screen. He lives and works in Chicago where he really does believe tomorrow is another day...