Most people have an image of Vivien Leigh in their mind’s eye. They will think of her, perhaps, in one of her most famous film roles: as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, having her corset laced up by her slave, Mammy, clinging tightly to a bedpost with each tug on the whalebone, uttering ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ in a faultless Southern accent.
Or they will remember her as Blanche DuBois, the vulnerable heroine of A Streetcar Named Desire, a woman undone by both her beauty and her self-delusion, insisting in a fluting voice that she has always depended on ‘the kindness of strangers’, as she is carted off to the mental hospital.
Or they will think of Vivien Leigh as captured in one of the many black-and-white publicity photographs she posed for during her lifetime: a dazzling, wide-eyed brunette with fine features, tightly waved hair, cupid’s-bow lips and a feline gaze that always seemed to turn inwards, even when the lens was on her. They will know her as the Hollywood superstar, the great stage actress, a woman who won two Oscars and was married for 20 years to Laurence Olivier, before dying, at the age of 53, of tuberculosis.
They might know her as the star who suffered two miscarriages and whose affairs punctuated her stormy marriage. She also struggled with bipolar disorder throughout her life. Those closest to her would witness bouts of restlessness, followed by outbursts of anger and vitriol during each manic phase, followed by a deep depression during which Leigh would not remember her actions.