Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh was an English actress that is best known for her roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire as well as enjoying a stage career that lasted thirty years.

Laurence Olivier is one of the most revered actors of his generation on both big screen and stage, although it is his theatre work that he is mostly honoured. But it was their twenty year romance that really captured the imagination of the public. He was Heathcliff and she was Scarlett O'Hara.

Leigh married barrister Leigh Holman in 1932 at the tender age of nineteen and gave birth to their daughter Suzanne a year later. Similarly Olivier well Jill Esmond, a fellow actor, in 1930, she gave birth to their son in 1936.

Olivier met Leigh after seeing her performance in The mask of Virtue and a friendship developed after he praised her for her performance. The pair worked together in 1937 in Fire Over England and although they were both happily married at the time they began an affair.

But Esmond and Holman both refused to divorce their spouses and for the next three years the pair discreetly lived together while they tried to finalise their divorces which would allow them to marry.

But superstardom came for both of them in 1939 as Olivier took on the role of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and Leigh played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. The pair were both Oscar nominated for their performances but it was Leigh who walked off with the gong on the night.  

Just a year later in 1940 Jill Esmond and Leigh Holman finally agreed to divorce but Esmond was granted custody of her and Olivier's son Tarquin while Holman got custody of his and Leigh's daughter Suzanne.

Just months later Leigh and Olivier were married in Santa Barbara in California with only Katherine Hepburn and Garson Kanin there as witnesses.

Leigh lost out on the main role in Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice, in which Olivier starred but the pair did go on to star together in Waterloo Bridge in 1940 and That Hamilton Woman in 1941 as well as working on a production of Romeo and Juliet for Broadway.

It was during this time that the adulterous beginning to their relationship was criticised by the American press. During the war they returned to England where Olivier served in the Royal Air Force as well as performing for the troops in the theatre along with his wife.

But the years after the war brought heartache for the couple as Leigh's health began to deteriorate and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the left lung. Despite returning to the big screen in 1945 in Caesar and Cleopatra the actress discovered she was pregnant only to suffer a miscarriage.

She suffered from serve depression and the first sign of her biopolar mood disorder began to appear after physically attacking her husband.

But her poor health meant that she could never work as she had done in the past and she never regained her status as an equal to her husband falling into his shadow. Olivier was knighted in 1947.

Olivier began to struggle with Leigh's mood swings, due to her manic depression, and he sought solace in his theatre work. After a tour of Australia in 1948 Leigh revealed to Olivier that she didn't love him anymore, yet they stayed together for another decade.

But during this time Leigh's mental health grew more unstable and unpredictable, as well as an affair with actor Peter Finch. Olivier could no longer stay with his wife and the split in 1958 and were divorced two years later.

Leigh never married again but did have a relationship with John Merivale between 1960-67 but she passed away in 1967 from tuberculosis aged fifty three.

Olivier married Joan Plowright in 1961, just three months after divorcing Leigh, he died in 1989 aged eighty two.

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw


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