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Who is Vivien Leigh?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) was a very successful actress, starring in 20 films over the course of her lifetime and bringing home Oscars for two of them. She is best remembered for her Oscar winning role in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, although she also played Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, for which she won an Oscar as well. Vivien Leigh is remembered as a startlingly beautiful woman, with expressive features and a distinctive arched eyebrow.

Vivien Leigh was born in Darjeeling, India, where she lived until 1920. Her British parents had wanted to go home to England, but decided to remain in India for the First World War, since they felt it would be safer. Upon their return to England, Vivien Leigh was enrolled in a convent school, because her mother felt it would provide her daughter with the best possible education. During Vivien's time at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, her mother introduced her to the theatre, and Vivien Leigh also appeared in many school productions.

Even at a young age, Vivien Leigh struck observers with her beauty, delicacy, and poise. In the early 1930s, she finished her convent and finishing school education and married Leigh Holman, a barrister. After giving birth to a daughter in 1933, Vivien Leigh attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London to refine her acting skills. In 1934, she won a small role in Things Are Looking Up and was introduced to the silver screen.

Vivien Leigh went on to be in a number of popular British films, including The Mask of Virtue in 1935, which turned her into an overnight star. Leigh Holman began to suspect that Vivien Leigh had more than a passing interest in acting and realized that she was unlikely to be happy as a wife and mother alone. In 1937, Vivien Leigh left Holman for Lawrence Olivier, whom she followed to America in 1938.

It was this trip to America that ended in Leigh's most famous role, that of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, playing opposite Clark Gable. She captured the love of cinema goers on both sides of the Atlantic with the role, and it is still considered one of the best roles of all time, in one of the best films of all time. Encouraged by her success in the film, Vivien Leigh tested for numerous other Hollywood films, eventually appearing in Waterloo Bridge in 1940.

Vivien Leigh appeared in a number of films during the war years, but her life took several bad turns during this period. She had health problems compounded by an infection with tuberculosis, and she struggled with her personal life and screen roles. Unlike many actresses who suffer personal difficulties, however, Vivien Leigh remained very popular at the box office, making several high grossing films during the 1940s and 1950s.

Vivien Leigh's final role was in the 1965 production of Ship of Fools, and she succumbed to tuberculosis two years later. Vivien Leigh captured many imaginations with her stunning good looks and fiery personality, and she is often cited as one of the most famous Hollywood actresses of all time. Had her life not been cut short by tuberculosis, Vivien Leigh probably would have gone on to make many excellent films in her middle age, as other actresses such as Katharine Hepburn did.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By chrisinbama — On Oct 25, 2010

Here’s an interesting fact: For the movie “Gone With the Wind”, Vivien Leigh was paid between $25,000 and $30,000 for her role as Scarlett. Clark Gable was paid $120,000 for his role as Rhett Butler.

By CellMania — On Oct 25, 2010

While it is true that Vivien and Leigh Holman divorced, the circumstances are rarely talked about. Vivien met Lawrence Olivier while filming “Fire Over England” in 1937. They immediately fell in love although they were both married to other people. They continued their affair until both of their spouses granted them divorces. Leigh and Olivier married after their divorces were final. Katharine Hepburn was one of the witnesses at their wedding.

By DinoLeash — On Oct 25, 2010

While reading a Vivien Leigh bio, I learned a lot of things about her that I didn’t know. When Vivien began working with her talent agent at the beginning of her career, her legal name was Vivian Holman. Her talent agent suggested that she change her name to “April Morn”. Vivien did not like that name and would not change it. Instead, she changed the spelling of her first name from “Vivian” to “Vivien” and changed her last name to “Leigh” after her husband, Herbert Leigh Holman.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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