Vivien Leigh

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Vivien Leigh (1913-1967)

Vivien Leigh (November 5, 1913July 7, 1967) was an English actress who was born Vivian Mary Hartley in Darjeeling, India. She and her parents later moved to England, where young Leigh grew up. She attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton, England, along with fellow actress-to-be Maureen O'Sullivan. She then went on to graduate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

She was married in 1932 to Herbert Leigh Holman, and they had a daughter, Suzanne, in 1933.

Leigh's career began on the stage. Her first play was The Green Sash, though it was Mask of Virtue that really brought her to stardom. In 1935, she began her film career with such movies as The Village Squire, Things Are Looking Up, and Look Up and Laugh. In 1937), Leigh starred opposite Laurence Olivier, who was on the fast track to becoming a theater legend, in two films: Fire Over England and 21 Days (The latter of which was shelved until 1940). Leigh's best known role, however, is Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. The much-coveted role had an exhausting "talent search" in which many popular actresses were considered for the role opposite Clark Gable including Norma Shearer, Bette Davis, Jean Arthur, Katharine Hepburn, and Barbara Stanwyck. Producer David O. Selznick had secrectly selected Leigh for the role after seeing her in the MGM film A Yank at Oxford, but told no one until late 1938, when filming began. Paulette Goddard was close to be cast as Margaret Mitchell's Southern belle.

In 1940, Leigh arranged for a divorce from Holman and married Laurence Olivier. The pair had met in 1935 and had begun a rather public love affair. At the time, both were married (Olivier to actress Jill Esmond who was pregnant when the affair began).

In 1944, the actress was diagnosed as having a tuberculosis patch on her left lung. Though she continued her career with such plays as Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth, the 1946 film Caesar and Cleopatra, and the 1948 epic film Anna Karenina, her illness was getting worse. In 1952, however, Leigh won a second Academy Award for her portrayal the previous year of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

By the early 1960s Leigh had suffered two miscarriages, and the severity of the tuberculosis was incapacitating. She had also been plagued by manic-depression for some time, which was believed to be a factor in the failure to cure her ailment. In 1960, she and Olivier divorced on supposedly friendly terms. Leigh continued to keep a framed photograph of him on her bedside table, even while living with her companion, actor Jack Merivale.

The actress died of chronic tuberculosis in her London home. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered on the lake at Tickerage Mill pond, near Blackboys, Sussex, London.

Leigh has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6773 Hollywood Blvd.


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