Fan cel­e­brates ac­tress Leigh in pic­tures

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Roger Cur­rie

VIVIEN Leigh was born in In­dia just over a cen­tury ago. Forty-six years af­ter her death at age 53 from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, she re­mains in­deli­bly iden­ti­fied as Scar­lett O’Hara in the 1939 Hol­ly­wood clas­sic Gone With the Wind. She is re­mem­bered as one of the great­est beau­ties to work in front of a cam­era, even though she only ap­peared in 19 films. Ken­dra Bean has pro­duced an at­trac­tive smaller cof­fee ta­ble book, but the reader should not ex­pect any star­tling new rev­e­la­tions about Leigh’s dra­matic pri­vate life that in­cluded a ro­man­tic af­fair and sub­se­quent 20-year mar­riage to Sir Lau­rence Olivier. Be­sides TB, which she first con­tracted in the early 1940s, she also strug­gled with se­ri­ous men­tal is­sues, pri­mar­ily manic-de­pres­sion, which we now know as bipo­lar dis­or­der. All of that is cer­tainly dealt with at con­sid­er­able length in the book, but it is re­ally more of a celebration of an artist by one of her most de­voted fans. Bean main­tains a pop­u­lar web­site Many might con­sider her at least part groupie when it comes to Leigh, but the book is more than that. At least equal in value to the text are the hun­dreds of photographs. Un­like most bi­ogra­phies, where the pho­tos are col­lected to­gether in one or two groups of pages, this book in­cludes pho­tos on al­most ev­ery page. More than half the pho­tos are by An­gus MacBean, a Welsh­man who be­gan tak­ing pic­tures of Leigh in 1937, and was more or less her of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher for the rest of her life. He died in 1990 at the age of 86, and Bean tells us pre­cious lit­tle about him. It leaves be­hind the im­pres­sion his story might also make an in­ter­est­ing cof­fee ta­ble book. In ad­di­tion to MacBean’s pic­tures, the book in­cludes many pho­tos from the per­sonal archives of Olivier, who died in 1989. Leigh and Olivier met in 1937 while film­ing the pe­riod drama Fire Over Eng­land. Both were mar­ried to oth­ers at the time and both had young chil­dren. The ro­man­tic sparks be­tween them were in­stant. They only ap­peared to­gether in three movies, but on stage they were Bri­tain’s most cel­e­brated cou­ple. Bean says the ro­man­tic pas­sion be­tween them was pretty much done by the end of the Sec­ond World War, but most of the world had no inkling there was any­thing wrong un­til 1960, when Olivier left the mar­riage, tak­ing up with Joan Plowright, his younger co-star in The En­ter­tainer. In ad­di­tion to be­ing named best ac­tress for her Scar­lett char­ac­ter, Leigh won a sec­ond Os­car in 1951 for her role as Blanche Dubois in Ten­nessee Wil­liams’ A Street­car Named De­sire. One might have ex­pected prob­lems be­tween Leigh, who was clas­si­cally trained, and Brando, who came from the “method” school, but Bean says they got along very well. Many of Leigh’s screen roles, in­clud­ing Blanche in Street­car, seemed to mir­ror her own life in some way. In 1961, a year af­ter the split with Olivier, she played a wealthy widow who hooks up with 24-year-old War­ren Beatty in The Ro­man Spring of Mrs. Stone. That same year she re­turned to At­lanta with David Selznick and Olivia de Hav­il­land for a ma­jor reis­sue of Gone With the Wind. Bean tells a story from that event that should be some­thing of a cau­tion­ary tale about last­ing fame. She was in­tro­duced to a young Reuters cor­re­spon­dent named Joe Green­ridge, who ad­mit­ted he had never seen the fa­mous movie. He asked Leigh: “What role did you play in the film?” She replied, “This in­ter­view is over.”

Roger Cur­rie is a Winnipeg writer and broad­caster. He is heard on CJNU, 93.7 FM.

Vivien Leigh An In­ti­mate Por­trait By Ken­dra Bean Run­ning Press, 265 pages, $34.50

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