vivien leigh bertram park

Vivien Leigh by Bertram Park, 1935 © NPG

Last week, Twitter launched an initiative called #MuseumWeek wherein the denizens of the social media network got virtual tours behind the scenes at some of Europe’s hallowed cultural institutions. I have had the good fortune to team up with Terence Pepper and Clare Freestone to co-curate the Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration, currently on in room 33 at the National Portrait Gallery. And I was honored to be asked to represent the NPG for #AskTheCurator day.

On Friday from 2-3pm, I answered questions about the display, and about what it’s like to curate a museum exhibit. (It’s really fun. I think I’ve found my calling!) You can view the entire conversion below:

Clarence Sinclair Bull Vivien Leigh Clark GableClarence Bull (center, to right of camera) photographing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh for Gone With the Wind. Notice the famous red ostrich feather dress designed by Walter Plunkett being used as a backdrop.

A couple of years ago, London’s National Portrait Gallery mounted a major exhibition in partnership with the John Kobal Foundation titled Glamour of the Gods, a photographic retrospective paying tribute to some of the greatest portrait photographers in Hollywood history. Among those included were Laszlo Willinger, George Hurrell, Robert Coburn, and perhaps the greatest of them all, Clarence Sinclair Bull.

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vivien leigh gibraltar 1943

I was honored to be asked to do a recent blog post for the National Portrait Gallery about Vivien Leigh‘s wartime contributions. Take a look. Comments welcome and encouraged on the NPG website:

One of my favourite items on display in Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration is the eye-catching issue of LOOK magazine from 17 December 1940. Earl Theisen’s striking cover photograph of Leigh posing stoically against a loud red, white, and blue background whilst knitting for Bundles for Britain highlights one of several interesting ways the actress used her fame to contribute to the British war effort.

Leigh was in California in September 1939 when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that England was at war with Germany. She had signed a typical seven-year film contract with Selznick International Pictures in exchange for the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, but these new political complications threw any plans of contractual fulfilment into disarray.  Fiercely patriotic, Leigh, along with her fiancé Laurence Olivier, wanted to return to London as soon as possible. However, they were advised by Minister of Information Duff Cooper that British actors in Hollywood would be of more use by staying put for the time being.
Leigh’s first unofficial wartime assignment was the 1940 tearjerker Waterloo Bridge, for which she was loaned to Hollywood’s most powerful studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The following year she appeared in a more overtly patriotic film: Alexander Korda’s Lady Hamilton, a propagandist biopic in which she played Emma Hamilton to Olivier’s Horatio Nelson. In her spare time she took part in several ensemble radio broadcasts, performing dramatic readings from famous works, including Noel Coward’s ‘Cavalcade’. She also appeared at Red Cross charity events in New York where she and Olivier ended an unsuccessful production of Romeo and Juliet, and knitted clothing for British soldiers as part of the Bundles for Britain initiative headed by Natalie Wales Latham.

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Read the full article at the National Portrait Gallery website

 

 

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Gertrude Hartley Vivien Leigh's mother

Gertrude Hartley photographed in 1958

While helping a good friend sort through some of the vintage magazines in his collection recently, I spotted this unique article in a 1958 issue of the The Tatler & Bystander, a weekly magazine catering mostly to upper-middle class and wealthy British women. It profiles Gertrude Hartley’s Academy of Beauty Culture in Knightsbridge, an institution mentioned several times in Hugo Vickers’ Vivien Leigh biography. This was not the first time the Academy of Beauty Culture had been featured in the media. In 1953, British Pathe recorded newsreel footage of Gertrude and her students at work (those laser treatments look painful). What I find most interesting about this article is the lack of mention of Vivien Leigh (except for the caption relating to the photograph of Suzanne Farrington, below). Perhaps Gertrude wanted readers to know that it was her business and didn’t need or want the endorsement of her famous offspring in order to draw attention to it? What do you think, readers?

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Making a career of glamour

by Jean Cleland
The Tatler & Bystander, 23 April 1958

A career which is becoming very popular with the young is that of beauty culture, and I find that requests for advice on it are rapidly increasing. My correspondents ask what opportunities it offers, how long the training takes, and what sort of things one has to learn.

To get a reliable and comprehensive answer I went along to see Gertrude Hartley, who has just moved in to a new premises where her already famous “Academy of Beauty Culture” functions under ideal conditions. Since there is more space than formerly, there are more opportunities than ever for students to gain a wide and sound knowledge of this absorbing subject.

“Let us,” I said to Gertrude Hartley, “start at the beginning. Tell me what, in your opinion, are the most important assets for a girl who wishes to take up beauty culture as a career?” The reply was prompt and decisive. “First and foremost she must have sympathy and understanding, and be willing to give a great deal of herself. Many women who come in to have treatments for the first time are shy, and perhaps a little apprehensive. This makes it difficult for them to relax, and that is why the personality of the treatment girl is so important. She need not be glamorous to look at – indeed if she is too beautiful and sophisticated this may tend to be a little ‘off-putting’ – but she must have warmth, and the intrinsic kindness that puts people at their ease. In addition, she must have good hands for massage; strong, yet with a sensitive touch. She must, too have intelligence and the will to learn and to tackle a carried curriculum.” Mrs. Hartley went on, “Beauty culture is a wide subject requiring considerable study, and the mistake some girls make is in thinking that it can be learned without much trouble. They don’t know that to give a good and reliable facial, and a really effective massage, one must understand the principles of anatomy and physiology, and have a knowledge of bone formation and underlying muscles.”

I asked if I could see the school, and we went upstairs to a large airy room, where a number of students were busy writing and doing the theoretical part of their studies. Subjects include anatomy and physiology, already mentioned, correct massage, vitamins and dietetics, for which on certain afternoons a doctor comes to give lectures. The practical side of the course – which lasts five months – takes in both facial and body massage, make-up, ray therapy, and a number of other subjects.

Suzanne Farrington Academy of Beauty Culture

 

Suzanne Farrington demonstrates massage to students at the Academy of Beauty Culture

To develop the expertness which is essential to facial massage, students practice first on dummies, then on each other. Finally, when they are really good and only lack salon experience, they go to a special treatment room upstairs, where they give facials to clients for half the cost of the ones given downstairs. This is excellent both for the girls and for those people who want a good treatment for a modest price.

As I said goodbye to Mrs. Hartley, I asked one last question. “When the course is finished, what are the prospects?”

“For girls who have taken their training seriously, and done well,” she replied, “there are plenty of opportunities. They can set up on their own, or work for other beauty firms, or even work up a private clientele, going to people’s houses. My greatest pride is the number of girls who have trained in my Academy of Beauty Culture, and are now making a success of their profession, not only in this country, but in other parts of the world.”

Vivien Leigh book launch Daunt Books

Another year over, but what a year it was! 2013 was definitely the Year of Vivien Leigh – at least around here. The events that occurred this autumn to celebrate Vivien’s centenary proved that her legacy hasn’t been forgotten. She was brought back out into the much-deserved spotlight as people from around the globe descended upon London to pay tribute to this unique artist and woman.

On a personal level, 2013 was one of the most fulfilling years of my life. It was also a year of many firsts: I moved in with the person I love, we got a cat, and of course, there was all that business with Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. When I signed that book contract for Running Press last year, I could never have foreseen the rich experience that would follow. I’ve travelled, met a plethora of extraordinary people, had many discussions revolving around a shared appreciation for Vivien Leigh, and had the honor of collaborating with the National Portrait Gallery, the British Film Institute, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I’m really excited to see what 2014 will bring. But first, here’s a round-up of things that happened this year:

Travel

2013travel

2013travel2Devon  // Notley Abbey // Rome // Shaw’s Corner // East Sussex // Conwy and Chatsworth // Barcelona // Paris 

Book Launch

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait book launchPhotos by Jodie Chapman

October 10, 2013 saw the culmination of five years of dreaming and working. Daunt Books in Holland Park hosted the launch party for Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. Emotions ran high (I cried!) as I was overwhelmed by the turnout and support. So many friends, fans, and distinguished guests came along to toast the publication of my first book. My mom and her sister made their first-ever trip to London just for the occasion. My friend Marissa travelled from New York. Someone even came from Finland to join the party! Imagine my surprise when Claire Bloom walked in the door! I’d offered to take her to lunch a few times since she agreed to pen the foreword, but she always had something else going on, so it was an honor to finally meet her in person.

Writing a book is only half the journey. Once it’s published, there’s still promotion to do. That in itself has been an interesting adventure. The overall reception has (thankfully) been really positive and I’ve learned so much along the way. Here’s the full list of press mentions and interviews.

Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration

Starring Vivien Leigh

I never thought I’d be asked to co-curate an exhibit at a museum, let alone a show about my favorite actress. So you can imagine my surprise when I received an invitation over the summer from curators Terence Pepper and Clare Freestone to help with the Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. I’d been a fan of Terence’s photography books for years (Beaton Portraits, anyone?). Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time working on this project and helping out in the Photographs department. It’s been a wonderful learning experience. Thank you for reaching out, Terence and Clare!

New Friends and Old

Vivien Leigh fans

Without a doubt, one of the best parts of this year was connecting with so many fellow Vivien Leigh fans. You guys are dedicated! Whether I’d met you before, had “known” you for years and only now got the chance to meet you in person, serendipitously met you at an event, or have only corresponded with you via email, I’m glad to call you my friends. All of the hard work in putting a book together and maintaining this website and the associated Facebook page isn’t worth much without other people to share in this passion. I’m sure Vivien would be happy to know she’s still loved by so many!

Thank you for your support and continued interest throughout this long and challenging journey. I hope 2013 has been fulfilling for all of you and wish you the best for 2014 and beyond.

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