Vivien Leigh – A Fragile Beauty

Day 182 of Colourisation Project – November 5

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, 5 November 1913, Vivien Leigh was a British stage and film actress, who achieved legendary status by playing two of American literature’s most celebrated Southern belles, Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois, two roles which won her Best Actress Academy Awards.

Vivien Leigh

Publicity Still – Vivien Leigh 1937 – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

1,400 women had been interviewed for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) but only 31 women were actually screen-tested. It is difficult to imagine anyone else but Leigh in this role. She made it hers and she won an Oscar for it, becoming the first British actress to win an Academy Award. Her second Oscar came twelve years later for the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, a role she had already performed on stage in London’s West End in 1949 before appearing in the film version in 1951.

As well as the Oscar, the role earned her a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best British Actress, and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. These two films alone have guaranteed her film immortality.

Despite her legendary stature, Leigh made fewer than twenty films in her career. Her personal life was plagued with instability caused by depression. In 1944 she fell during a rehearsal for Anthony and Cleopatra and suffered a miscarriage. Some say this was a turning point in her life. Married to Laurence Olivier at the time, her triumphant yet tumultuous life plummeted into manic depression.  She suffered from bipolar disorder and underwent electroshock therapy for it. Treatment for bipolar disorder was in its infancy as the condition was little understood. Lithium was not yet in use and shock therapy was not administered with the same level of care as it is today. A second miscarriage precipitated a nervous breakdown. To make matters worse, chronic bouts of tuberculosis and heavy drinking continued to take a heavy toll on her physical health.

Leigh finally succumbed to tuberculosis, on July 8, 1967, in London, at the age of 53. TheLondon theater district blacked out its lights for a full hour in her honour.

In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Leigh as the 16th greatest female movie star of all time.

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“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.”  –  Vivien Leigh

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