Vivien Leigh was always a great beauty but never a
great actress. She was a fascinating creature but her career was dogged by
ill-health. She desperately yearned to be successful and did her level
best to get to the top. She decided she wanted to wed Laurence Olivier –
even though at the time they were both already
married. She to a barrister, he to actress Jill Esmonde. When she found
success she lived the life of the star performer. Larry and Vivien were
called the “:Royal Family” of the theatre – but she was only touched by
greatness by associating with the most famous British actor of his
generation and at the time a Hollywood matinee idol. Marrying Olivier was
the making and the breaking of her.
In Vivien Leigh – The Last Press Conference writer and
actress Marcy Lafferty tells – mostly in Vivien’s own words, the story of
the actress’s life from childhood to near death in one of the most moving
evocations of a real-life person that I can remember.
She is funny and tragic and, much like the original.
Infuriating and petulant. But Miss Lafferty brings the woman staggeringly
and brilliantly to life. Leigh was a complex character and Lafferty
inhabits the role for real, holding her audience mesmerized for nearly 90
minutes in a monologue of epic proportions.
Leigh’s life was defined by three roles: Scarlett
O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire
and as Lady Olivier wife to the Lord of the manor at Notley Abbey, their
11th century residence. She was a success in the first two personae, parts
that changed her life, but when she tried the classical theatre she had
neither the range nor the technique to sustain a role. Fine as Scarlett,
OK as Blanche, both of which earned her Academy Awards, but Juliet?
Cleopatra? Anna Karenina? – forget it. She had a tragic end to her life as
she succumbed to tuberculosis, manic depression and near madness and she
probably resented not being more talented than she was. Her marriage to
Olivier broke up, she had other affairs and subsequently died aged 54. It
is ironic that it takes an infinitely better actress than Leigh herself to
recreate the life of this beguiling but exasperating woman.