To my mind, Vivien Leigh was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen. Her romance and marriage to Laurence Olivier fascinated the public- they had left their respective spouses for each other and the electric talent and good looks of each of them inadvertently made them one of the early power couples of showbusiness.
Vivian Mary Hartley was born in India in 1913. She always wanted to become a great actress. She married barrister Leigh Holman in 1933 and started taking on small film roles from then on, her agent having persuaded her to change her name to Vivien Leigh, which was thought to be more theatrical. In 1935, she was cast in the lead for a play called ‘The Mask of Virtue’, for which she received rave reviews and became an overnight success in England. In the audience had been the actor Laurence Olivier, already a famous actor in his own right. She left Leigh Holman, and Laurence his wife the actress Jill Esmond, in 1937.
During this time, the race for the role of Scalett O’Hara was hotting up and Vivien was obsessed with getting the role, despite being considered by most to be a hopeless outsider due to her being relatively unknown in the United States. She flew to the States to meet David Selznick, the director, who had already started filming. Film legend has it that she walked in on the set while filming the burning of Atlanta and he was instantly captivated. Vivien, as we know, won the role and was awarded the Academy Award for her portrayal of Scarlett.
Vivien continued to work to critical acclaim, both on the stage and the screen. Her second Academy Award was to come from her role as the troubled Blanche DuBois in the 1951 film version of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Sadly, her life was blighted by manic depression and her role of Blanche exacerbated it. Laurence did not know how to cope with it and the couple divorced in 1960. Vivien found love again with the actor Jack Merivale but Vivien died in 1967 at the age of only 53.
When she was well, Vivien was known to be a highly cultured woman with immaculate taste. Her clothes and houses were always the last degree of elegance without seeming contrived. As a child of Victorian parents, her taste in jewellery could be best described as ‘restrained British’, with a few very good pieces and a fondness for sentimental jewellery. The most important piece is undoubtedly a 19th century bow brooch set with old cut diamonds, with a detachable diamond tassel. There are also several pairs of earrings set with green stones such as jade and emeralds, no doubt worn to highlight her extraordinary green eyes.
Her charm bracelet is surely undervalued at £1000-£1500 and includes a gold charm of a ‘Gone With the Wind’, inscribed ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on the inside. A tangible testament to the passionate love they enjoyed is the engraved gold band, inscribed ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally’.
‘Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection’ is open to viewing at Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London, 22nd-25th September 2017. The auction will be held on the 26th September 2017.