The Unexposed Side of Lady Leigh

The Victoria and Albert Museum pays tribute to Great Britain’s shining star, Vivien Leigh, for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Text: Avra Charitou


The biggest cultural event comes this fall and all eyes are set on Victoria and Albert’s Museum which is prepared to exhibit, for the first time, personal items of two-times-Oscar-winning Vivien Leigh.


The objects, which were donated by actresses’ grandchildren, include photographs, albums, theatrical and cinematic scripts, her diaries from 1929 to her death in 1967, a visitor’s book and her correspondence which numbers over 7.000 letters from important figures not only in the art and the literature world but also in the political as well. Among them are T.S Eliot, Graham Green, Arthur Miller, Merilyn Monroe, Winston Churchil, Edith Sitwell, Elia Kazan (director of A Streetcar Named Desire), Tennessee Williams and Laurence Olivier, just to name a few.

The last one was Vivien Leigh’s second husband with whom she had often correspondence during the filming of “Gone with the wind” in April-June 1939. The “golden couple”m as it called, starred many times together in films and plays in the time of  their 20 years of marriage. There are over 200 letters, telegrams, notes, photos, newspaper clippings, and postcards which are the proof of a stormy and uproarious romance that ends in 1960.

Vivien Mary Hartley, as her real name was (Leigh is the little name of her first husband, Leigh Holman) or Lady Olivier, as became known later, despite being a woman of dazzling beauty and endless inexhaustible talent, she faces serious medical problems from a very young age as she suffers from bipolar disorder. That, of course, never stopped her to incarnate some of the greatest roles on stage and on set with most popular Scarlett O’Hara, Anna Karenina, Ophelia, Cleopatra and Blanche DeBois. After the end of film “A Streetcar named Desire” she fell ill from tuberculosis and died on July 7 1967 aged 54.

The Victoria and Albert Museum through this exhibition gives a fresh insight and a more clear perspective for the famous Lady as it covers unknown -till now- aspects of her life. At the same time, this exhibition is an effort to remove her name from the shadow of Laurence Olivier, that her career connected closely (after all is well-known that after their divorce her professionally course get on sparsely), and honors her in the way as she deserves.

As Martin Roth, director of Victoria and Albert Museum, said: “Vivien Leigh is undoubtedly one of the UK’s greatest luminaries of stage and screen and along with Laurence Olivier, remains a true star of her time. We are thrilled to acquire her achieve intact in this centenary year of her birth and to be able to make it available for the public for the first time. It not only represents Vivien Leigh’s life and career, but also a fascinating insight into the theatrical and social world that surrounded her.”

To add to the magnificent project of the Museum, the British Film Festival, which is starts the same period, is going to show most of the 19 films that Vivien Leigh makes in her 30-year -old career. In this way, we could enjoy a taste of good classic cinema with Leigh to impress us with her acting and to prove in every performance her multilateral talent. Besides, justly the American Institute of Cinema includes her in 25 greatest stars of all time.

It seems that the Wind blows us to Britain after all!

Info: The exhibition at the V&A Museum hasn’t set a date yet! Stay tuned to official web site!

The British Film Festival starts 15th November in London with an HD screening of “Gone with the wind” of 22nd November.