“I believe that if you want something with all your heart, you get it.”
“I do long to have another baby, but I would have to stop work if I became pregnant and do precious little for nine months. I don’t think that would suit my nature.”
“I have every reason to be grateful-I seem to have seen everyone I meant to and there have been some hilarious moments.”
“I have just made out my will and given all the things I have and many that I haven’t.”
“I need something truly beautiful to look at in hotel rooms.”–On taking paintings with her when she travelled abroad
“I think Edith Evans is the most marvelous actress in the world and she can look beautiful. People who aren’t beautiful can look beautiful. She can look as beautiful as Diana Cooper, who was the most beautiful woman in the world.”
“I’ve been a godmother loads of times, but being a grandmother is better than anything.”–Said after her first grandson, Neville, was born.
“If you’re in love with something, it’s comparatively easy, but if you’re not, then life is more difficult, isn’t it?”
“Leigh taught me how to live, your father how to love, and Jack how to be alone.”–Said to step-son, Tarquin Olivier, shortly before she died.
“Life is too short to work so hard.”
“When I was at school at Paris, I had special lessons from Mademoiselle Antoine, an actress at the Comedie Francaise, and I was taken to every sort of play. I felt very grand.”
“You know the passage where Scarlett voices her happiness that her mother is dead, so that she can’t see what a bad girl Scarlett has become? Well, that’s me.”
“I was not cast in the mold of serenity and in any case, although you may succeed in being kind at twenty you cannot be calm, with all your life still before you, and your ambitions unfulfilled. I loved my baby as every mother does, but with the clear-cut sincerity of youth I realized that I could not abandon all thought of a career on the stage. Some force within myself wouldnot be denied expression. I took the problem to my husband and asked his advice. He was many years older than I was, a deeply kind and wise man, with that rare quality of imagination that implies tolerance and unselfishness. We decided that I should continue my studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. We took a tiny house in Little Stanhope Street and got a good nanny for the baby.”
“My birth sign is Scorpio and they eat themselves up and burn themselves out. I swing between happiness and misery. I am part prude and part nonconformist. I say what I think and I don’t pretend and I am prepared to accept the consequences of my actions.”
“Her Ladyship is fucking bored with formalities, and would like to be known as Miss Vivien Leigh!”
“It was a romantic first night. I had a part that was both good and decorative, and I was helped by the entire cast, with that wonderful loyalty and generosity of the theatre world towards a newcomer. The fact that I was young and unknown caught the imagination of the audience. The roar of applause when the final curtain fell told me that the miracle had happened. I had arrived.” — Vivien discussing her opening night in The Mask of Virtue
(Click for more quotes on acting)
“Every single night I’m nervous. You never know how the audience is going to react.”
“People think that if you look fairly reasonable, you can’t possibly act, and as I only care about acting, I think beauty can be a great handicap.”
“Sometimes I dread the truth of the lines I say. But the dread must never show.”
“When I come into the theatre I get a sense of security. I love an audience. I love people, and I act because I like trying to give pleasure to people.”
“You can do things reasonably well, even if you dislike them very much. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve done mostly plays in my life that I loved to do.”
“It’s much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh”
“Some commonsense streak in me kept me from having my head turned, made me understand how easy it would be to slip, unless I compensated for my lack of experience by hard work. I struggled far more to keep at the top than to get there.”
“Oh! You boys are crazy! I don’t want to be a movie actress! To sit in a beautiful Hollywood mansion and do nothing for months and months, waiting for some agent to call and say he is working on the possibility of a picture at MGM and then wait for more months–why, that’s not my idea of beng an actress at all! To be an actress is to go down to the theatre every evening, and to go out on stage before an audience and play all kinds of parts. The sage is where I exist, where I feel alive and powerful. When I stand on it I am the queen and I do what I think is right. I don’t have to obey some megalomaniac director who tells me to look left or right, to do more of this and less of that. My whole life has meaning and purpose when I am working in the theatre. I love to go into the stage door and to go into my dressing room, where I feel warm and secure, as I never could in a movie studio. I love the routine of reading my mail, making up, dressing, and thinking about the performance. I love the company and all the workers backstage. When I am in Hollywood, I feel desperately lonely. I call up my friends and ask, ‘What are you doing?’ I never do that when I am working in the theatre; my friends come to my dressing room after the show and I am delighted to see them all, and we go outfor super, either at the flat or some little restaurant where we can sit up till all hours, talking shop, exchanging ideas and making plans. No! I am dedicated to the theatre, and always will be, so there.” –In response to Brian Aherne and Jack Merivale when they told her she was at her best on screen
On making Gone with the Wind
“I wanted to play Scarlett from the first time I read the book. That was in London when I was appearing in a flop play. I fell in love with the novel and I gave the rest of the cast copies of the book as opening night presents. I told them, ‘If I ever go to Hollywood, it will be to play Gone With the Wind.’ They all laughed and said I was crazy.”
(Click for more quotes making GWTW)
“I hope I’ve one thing that Scarlett never had. A sense of humor. I want some joy out of life… And she had one thing I hope I never have. Selfish egotism…Scarlett was a fascinating person whatever she did, but she was never a good person. She was too petty, too self-centered…but one thing about her was admirable. Her courage. She had more than I’ll ever have.”
“When Scarlett wanted something from life, she schemed about how to get it. That was her trouble. I just plunge ahead without thinking. That’s my trouble. Every so often I bump into stone walls and have to pick myself up and climb over them.”
“My first reaction on seeing Vivien Leigh was one of stunned disbelief. I’d thought her beautiful on screen, but was totally unprepared for the personal impact.” — Bernard Braden
“I suddenly remember another time at Notley when my beloved chum Kay Kendall was staying there, and was one evening behaving rather tiresomely, picking and niggling and being naughty in general. And Viv suddenly said, with the sweetest, blinding smile, and that soft pussy-cat voice: “Katie darling, if you are trying to pick a quarrel with me, don’t. I shall win.” And that was that! Later they both went out in a punt on the lake and fell in, or something, I don’t remember in detail, but there was laughter flooding through the garden, and they were having a hell of a time pulling the punt back to the bank.” — Dirk Bogarde
(Click for more quotes about Vivien)
“I was in a position to see the extent of her genuine interest in other people and her delight in giving pleasure… I always felt that in whatever age or class she had been born, she would have found prominence in one role or another – that bright star would have come to the fore.” — Peter Hiley
“My acquaintance with the lovely Vivien Leigh was one of those friendships that endured over the years, sometimes many yeaars passing without our meeting. My most vivid memory of her was when I was in London, and suffering that infuriating affliction of losing your balance. Not serious, but a long bore! I was in bed at the Connaught Hotel, and the phone rang and it was Vivien, who said: ‘Darling, here we are, both of us in bed! Isn’t it ridiculous?’ We shared the same doctor, and it was he who hastened over to me to inform me of her death. He was affraid I would hear it on the tv or radio…She was without a doubt the most exquisitely beautiful woman ever. I wish I had spent more time with her in my life.” — Deborah Kerr
“As a beauty, she was at the top of the tree. She never went through an unbeautiful phase.” — David Niven
“I’ll never forget her arrangements. Nor her love for Alex Korda. Nor all those cats. Her ridiculous laughter, her fabulous generosity of heart, and her guts in adversity.” — David Niven
“I liked her reliability, her staightforwardness, and her good manners which sprang from a lucid impersonal interest in people.” –Athene Seyler
“Only England could have produced her. She was the perfect English rose. When the door opened and she was there, she was so terribly good-looking. She had such an exquisite unreality about her.” — Diana Vreeland
Reactions to Vivien’s death
“Poor, dear little Vivien…I stood and prayed for forgiveness for all the evils that had sprang up between us.”–Laurence Olivier
“Somerset Maugham had hoped to see her play his favorite feminine character, the charming, promiscuous and kind-hearted Rosie Driffield in his own Cakes and Ale, and he had encouraged her to play Bathsheba Everdene, the innocently vain and unstable heroine of Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, but in fact neither of those promising projects for films were carried out. It might almost be said that the roles she did not play and the opportunities that now lay behind her gathered about her lately to form a aura peculiarly her own; but if so, it was an aura surrounding a beautiful woman whose strong character, humour and wit, love of works of art and delight in their collection, had all been proved and were well known.”– The Times
“You know how I loved Vivien. Her passing is unbelievable and tragic, and she will leave an irreplaceable gap amongst the very small circle of my intimate friends besides the hundreds of devoted admirers who adored her both as an actress and a woman.”–John Gielgud to Vivien’s mother, Gertrude
“There are s few whom one could love as much as Vivien, who had so much to give, who made life so fulfilling and happy.”–Tarquin Olivier to Vivien’s mother
“I try hard to concentrate my thoughts in gratitude for the inestimable gift that we have all enjoyed for so long at her generous hands, of the light of her loving friendship and though that light has now gone out, it will always shine on all those who ever knew her, however slightly. She really illuminated life and though deeply sad you must be very proud of someone who has woven an imperishable bond between all those who loved her and whom she loved.”–Roger Furse to Vivien’s mother
“We kept in touch with her wherever she went in the world, for more than twenty years…though the rest of the world may forget, we never shall, we loved her.”–Ivy Pugh, one of Vivien’s devoted fans
“She was the definition of loveliness as a woman and as an artist.”–Tennessee Williams
“I am so terribly sorry for you…I know only too well that there is nothing to say.”–David Niven–who had lost his first wife, Primmie in a freak accident at Tyrone Power’s house in the 1940′s–to Jack Merivale
“Devotion is a rare quality and even I personally used to rest more easily about Viv because she had you. I knew that you would stick. I think she bothered all her friends, but you were the one who delivered the goods–and really enabled her to go on as long as she did.”– Katherine Hepburn to Jack Merivale
“I will miss her, her laughs and her screams, her humour and her toughness and her tenderness.”– Simone Signoret to Jack Merivale
“Condolence is sent for comfort, but there is no comfort to be sought when something so exquisite and young and brilliant and unique as Vivien is torn away from you. I think of all her demanding roles that the most difficult was her own life’s part and but for you and your love and dedication and your goodness she would not, these last years, have been able to play it with such strength, courage and gaiety…Poor valiant little heroine.”–Lady Diana Cooper to Jack Merivale
“She was delicate but she was also dynamic…For Vivien to have left us while she was still young and beautiful I’m sure must have been the way she wanted it. I remember when she was ill how much she disliked ‘old ladies’ as she would call them jokingly…when I first learned of her death I went to the little house on Crescent Drive where we first lived together. I sat there quietly in my car from 9 until 10 p.m. in silent prayer and with tears of both joy and sorrow.”–Sunny Lash, Vivien’s American secretary
“I remember her most now–walking like an eager boy through the temples in Ceylon–walking in the wind near Notley. I always see her hurrying through life. I miss the fact that she is not somewhere in London or Greece or New York, among her friends talking volumes–with those bright eyes always in laughter.”– Former lover, Peter Finch
“A great actress forever and ever. We vote you the young at heart and a true beauty.”– Scrawled in pencil on the column outside Vivien’s Eaton Square flat by a fan
“I went to Viv’s memorial service today. You were very fond of her and I thought you would like me to go representing you. Also I wanted to go for myself. I don’t quite know why, but I felt the urge. Viv had been part of my life for so long, over 30 years. I wanted to say, I don’t quite know what, perhaps good-bye to a great part of my life and with complete sincerity God speed to her soul.
I went with Peggy Webster, going through the side entrance [of St. Martin in the Fields] to avoid vast crowds. We put ourselves on the outside of the very outside pews. The church was packed with those who came because they cared and those who came to rubber-neck.
Emlyn Williams’ John Donne was a masterpiece, beautifully spoken and brilliantly picked. John Gielgud’s address I thought over emotional and unmoving. The Anthem was beautifully sung and of course ‘God be in my head’ always makes me cry. [Vivien's daughter] Suzanne’s little puckered face broke me up.
At the end when I turned to leave I found Larry standing right behind me. In that very large church full of hundreds of people, wasn’t it extraordinary that we should find ourselves together. I put my hand on his as I left the pew and he put his other hand on top of mine and gave it three little squeezes. His face looked gray right through.”– Jill Esmond in a letter to her son, Tarquin who was out of the country when Vivien died and could not attend her funeral
“I was spending the weekend at Chichester to be with David and answered a telephone in his office. It was a journalist politely inquiring for Larry’s private number in Brighton. I asked him if I could help and he told me he had just been informed that Vivien had died during the night. personally shattered by the news I said I would ask Sir Laurence to call him. I rang Larry–who, of course, already knew–and commiserated with him. He was terribly upset and railed against the fates for their ill timing. She was starting rehearsals for a new play within a short while to which she was looking forward. He said he was going to London to offer any help to John Merivale, a great friend of Vivien’s who shared the flat with her. Early the next morning the bell rang. It was answered by the housekeeper who was confronted by a man who claimed to be a personal friend of Miss Leigh. Believing this, in the circumstances, she let him in. He strolled into the flat, confronted Larry and Jack, admitted he was a journalist from the Daily Express and asked them for an exclusive. Wild with rage, the two men turned on him and asked him to leave. He parried this threat with a plea to Larry for a ‘little chat–man to man.’ By now completely incensed they took him by the back of his jacket and frog marched him out of the flat. Vivien’s funeral took place that week. One of the chief mourners was their life-long friend Cecil Tennant. Driving back from it to his house in the country the steering column suddenly broke causing him to lose control. The car his a tree killing him instantaneously. The double tragedy, on top of Larry’s own illness, was almost too much for my own moral courage, but I nerved myself to telephone yet again to offer my sympathies. As customary, when events become too great to take seriously, the reply was disarming. Having heard my condolences he said, “Do you know, my darling, I’m really no longer afraid of dying. I shan’t be lonely; all my friends are up there.” A facile throwaway to cover his intense emotion.” –Laurence Olivier’s former press secretary and friend, Virginia Fairweather
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.
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.