An image of Vivien Leigh, staring into the camera with her green eyes, lives on in the memory of everyone we’ve ever seen gone With the Wind. Mischievous, dignified, haughty, Scarlett O’Hara continues to challenge us almost eighty years later: not to fall at the feet of a film that many consider obsolete in our time, not to admire this capricious young woman incapable of love… She challenges us, but we cannot win. when the actress read the huge novel by Margaret Mitchell on which the movie was based and thought that he was facing an eternal character, he was not mistaken.
This November 5 marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of Vivien Leigh, who chased Scarlet like her life depended on it: An agent was sought, contracts refused and David O. Selznick’s acquaintances tracked down until you can interview for the role. The talent that the film brings together is enormous, but make no mistake. She alone sustains the epic, historical and romantic four-hour marathon that continues to penetrate, from time to time, hundreds of thousands of homes.
We all share this memory: the film begins after lunch and ends at nightfall, when the entire family emerges from under the blankets as if from a trance. We should have some dinner but we still feel emotional, betrayed and exhausted from the intensity of what we have just witnessed: conflict, illness, stormy love and struggle. Imagine living a life similar to his.
Vivien Leigh, the stubborn
Although she became the image of the idealized American South, Vivien Leigh (who went by the name Vivian Mary Hartley) was a british actress. A daughter of her time, she was doomed to a miserable life: historians today say that she had a bipolar disorder that was not correctly diagnosed and that caused the nervous problems for which she was subjected to horrific electroshock treatments and for which Hollywood, which one day elevated it, ended up turning its back on it. Scarlet Mirror and Blanche DuBois, her character in A Streetcar Named Desirehe suffered from his appetites and his ghosts and had no good luck.
His end was sad and early: he was only 53 years old when he died of a relapse of his tuberculosisweakened by the psychiatric treatments that were applied in the 50s and 60s. But not only the darkest parts of her life, such as the mourning she always had for her failed love with Laurence Olivier reminiscent of one Romantic heroine: Vivien Leigh was as stubborn as Scarlet and moved mountains to get what he wanted. When she decided that Olivier was going to be the great love of her life, he followed him to a hotel in Capri and didn’t stop until he left her wife to go with her. full of desirethe infidelities in their relationship were mutual, and she was never afraid to get into controversial roles that alluded to sexuality or female emancipation and showed strong outbursts of character.
In her last years and despite her poor health, she continued to work, not only in the cinema but in the theater (a discipline that she always preferred, because she was a rigorous actress whom the cinema never quite took seriously). Elia Kazan, who directed her in the famous Tennessee Williams adaptation, A Streetcar Named Desire, acknowledged that I didn’t think, at first, that besides being pretty she was a good actress. How wrong was he! She ended up acknowledging that Leigh, who put a lot of pressure on herself, “he would have crawled over broken glass if he thought it would help his performance.”
The effort and passion that accompanied her off screen. In 1957, when the actress was leading a protest in Great Britain to save the old theater of St. James from demolition and burst into the House of Lords screamingWinston Churchill himself wrote him a letter “admiring his courage and disapproving of his ways.”
Nor is it true, by the way, that in the filming of gone With the Wind Clark Gable and she hated each other. Although they were never friends, the respect was mutual, and he had to live with the certainty that an actress with fewer boards completely dominated him on screen.
Olivia de Havilland’s toughness
In the most stark scene of gone With the Wind, Clark Cable didn’t want to cry.. It was Olivia de Havilland who convinced the gallant of gallants that a few tears could lift him up: we owe her the scene in which Rhett Butler feels that Scarlet’s abortion is his fault and collapses. Like in the movie, Olivia, who brought Melanie to life, was the flame that kept alive the spirit of a very difficult shoot. In appearance she could be shy and quiet, but in reality she was a powder keg.
Getting the part was not easy. In her case, because she had a contract with Warner so abusive that once had to hide in the toilets of a ship so that the production company’s workers wouldn’t drag her out of her first vacation. She was George Sugar, the original director who would later be replaced by Victor Fleming, who took an interest in her. “You don’t know me, but would you be interested in dating? Gone With the Wind? And would you mind doing something illegal?“He suggested over the phone.
He met her at night and secretly outside his office, did the tests and presented her to David O. Selznick, who was delighted. Between the three of them they had to soften Jack Warner to release her by pressing the only button that worked: winning over his wife at a party, and convincing her to convince him. They succeeded, and the film brought him glory. Although for Olivia, who had star material, she was also a great humiliation.
Where Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel they won two Oscars, she was left out: she was the loser and maintains that no member of the team spoke to him. At first she was devastated, though her pragmatism saved her. “She was nominated in the wrong category, best supporting actress. But I was also a star. David placed me there to favor Vivien. When I understood, he stopped hurting.”
When she died at the age of 104, Olivia de Havilland was the oldest actress in Hollywood and the last witness to the splendor of her golden age. But I didn’t idealize anything: Born in Tokyo to British parents and raised for show business, she quickly rose to fame from the movies she starred in alongside Erroll Flynn. Her stepfather, surnamed Fontaine (from whom her sister, Joan Fontainewould take his stage name), he mistreated them; the complicated situation at home and the competition between the two would truncate their relationship for life. Eating disorders, pressure and loneliness accompanied her in the beginning of her an industry in which “it is not possible to have real friends”. In the 1960s she left Hollywood between satisfaction and disenchantment, and she died in Paris practically in seclusion.
The Oscars would end up repaying his debt to her: he won it in 1947 for The intimate life of Julia Norris and in 1950 by the heiress. . . . Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are the only two sisters in history who have won the Oscar for best actress. Once even competed against each other, staging in the process the story of her life: the little girl, Joan, had always tried to get out of the shadow of the older sister. She got it: she won the Academy Award for her work on Suspicion, by Alfred Hitchock, taking it from Olivia. But this did not temper her relationship, and when her sister tried to congratulate her, she rebuffed her and went upstairs to collect her award.
Olivia continued to live in Paris and remained separated from her sister, who passed away in 2013 without speaking to each other. Both of her marriages ended in divorce and her first child, Benjamin, died of Hodgkin’s disease. In the last years of her life, she granted an interview in which she remembered Vivien Leighwith whom he never had a close relationship, as a kind young woman, and she asked history “not to judge her too harshly”.
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Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland, the long-lived and the tragic