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.
Read the full article at the National Portrait Gallery website
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?
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 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.”
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:
Photos 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
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
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.
Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh watching rushes for Powell and Pressburger’s The 49th Parallel
It was pouring down rain when I arrived at the Victoria and Albert Museum on the morning of November 5. One of the museum’s press officers met me in the lobby and escorted me up the stairs, through the darkened jewelry exhibition, and into the Theatre and Performance gallery. I was there to see curator Keith Lodwick, the lucky person overseeing the newly acquired Vivien Leigh archive. Having met Keith a few times prior to this meeting, I was looking forward to an interesting and lively discussion about the selection of material currently on display to commemorate Vivien’s centenary. He didn’t disappoint. Keith’s passion for his job is palpable; a plus for researchers doing work in the Theatre and Performance archive at Blythe House, as well as Vivien Leigh fans who have been and will be lucky enough to hear him talk about the treasures in his care.
Vivien’s papers had been handed down from her daughter, Suzanne Farrington, to her three grandsons. The V&A entered into negotiations for the acquisition in 2002, but the Farrington family suddenly withdrew for undisclosed reasons. Luckily, the negotiations started again in 2012 and the collection was purchased for an undisclosed sum earlier this year. As an international celebrity, Vivien’s cultural appeal remains as prominent in America as it is in Britain. Keith mentioned that Suzanne came in to the museum not long before the display went up and said that she was glad the papers stayed in the UK to be preserved for the nation. There are over 10,000 items in the archive, including press cuttings books compiled by her mother Gertrude Hartley, diaries beginning in 1929, thousands of photographs (including 1000 color stereoscopic slides taken with Vivien’s own camera in the 1950s and 60s), over 7,500 letters, awards, and other ephemera.
Last Thursday I had the opportunity to give a lecture about Vivien Leigh at the National Portrait Gallery here in London to kick off the opening of the “Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration” exhibit, which I was also invited to co-curate. Vivien proved to be a very popular subject last month, with a hugely successful BFI film retrospective, some of the V&A items going on display, and now the NPG show. There have been numerous articles and mentions of her life and work in newspapers, magazines, on the radio, and across the web. I feel honoured to be involved and to have been able to contribute to the resurrection of Vivien’s memory in some way.
Needless to say, the free lunchtime lecture at the NPG (they have them every week, usually to coincide with one of the exhibitions) was hugely popular. The house was completely full, and apparently about 50 people had to be turned away due to lack of space. This was my first-ever big lecture, and I was terrified. Kind of like Vivien used to do before her performances, I was shaking and grasping my boyfriend’s arm with ice cold fingers before I went on stage. But once I got into it, I felt a lot better and was glad that the audience was so responsive. It was a wonderful learning experience and it has given me confidence for my next major talk in February at the Victoria and Albert Museum, as part of a Vivien Leigh symposium (more on that soon).
I really enjoyed speaking about my love for Vivien, and I hope you enjoy it, as well. If you’re in or around London between now and the end of July 2014, I highly encourage you to stop by the NPG to see the Starring Vivien Leigh display. It’s free and it’s a great selection of photographs and ephemera showcasing her unique career.
VivAndLarry.com is an historical archive and film blog dedicated to preserving the memories of classic screen and stage stars Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and to the discussion of classic Hollywood and world cinemas. The site is designed and edited by Kendra Bean, a film scholar, writer and photographer living in London. What you'll find here: A cabinet of curiosities brimming with vintage articles, video footage, the largest archive of Vivien Leigh and/or Laurence Olivier photos on the Web, and much, much more.
This site is updated frequently, so pull up a chair and stay a while! Or, subscribe to be notified whenever new posts are made.
The current header was designed and drawn by the brilliant Laura Loveday.
My book, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, is now available for purchase at fine book sellers in the US, UK and Canada. You can also order online!
Read Vivien Leigh: Becoming Scarlett by Kendra Bean in issue no. 75 of Bright Lights Film Journal
Read Kendra's article Style Icon: Vivien Leigh at The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower
My running list of films watched in 2013.
- academia (6)
- articles (20)
- book news (7)
- books (8)
- cinema archive (20)
- cinema experiences (9)
- classic film (53)
- collecta-belle (6)
- contests (5)
- documentaries (4)
- events (24)
- film diary (11)
- friends of the oliviers (3)
- general discussion (44)
- gone with the wind (16)
- guest post (10)
- interviews (5)
- laurence olivier (43)
- link love (2)
- lists (12)
- london (36)
- photography (49)
- reviews (7)
- screentests (3)
- site updates (8)
- the oliviers (58)
- theatre (7)
- travel (29)
- tv appearances (5)
- video post (2)
- vivien leigh (100)
- vlogs (7)