charliechaplinfan wrote:Welcome Kendra, I'm so cheered that a new book on Vivien coming out, I already have Alexander Walker's, Hugo Vickers and my favourite the Angus McBean coffee table book. She's my favourite actress too and I would have loved to have watched her on stage but will have to content myself with her films. I have a myriad of questions
How involved was Vivien in the costumes and make up for her parts? I'm thinking particularly of the photos in McBean's book which show her in a variety of stage roles and rarely does she appear as Vivien, very often there is lots of makeup or wigs employed? Most of these roles would have been under the direction of Olivier but I wonder how much of a collaboration their joint projects were or was Vivien happy to let Larry take complete control? (Sorry 2 questions in 1 there)
I'm glad to read a reassessment of Larry, when I was reading about Vivien in the 80s one of the first things I read was Larry's biography and I felt for him, she couldn't have been easy and it did seem that he loved her dearly, was incredibly proud of her and protective too. I also remember reading that he blamed himself for not realising that the role of Blanche Dubois could be detrimental to her and the strain brought about a further breakdown in her health. In the 80s it came across as a magical love affair that went wrong only because of Vivien's ill health and the strain that eventually drove them apart. Nowadays Larry's reputation has suffered a little, an affair with Danny Kaye, an admission by Joan Plowright that Larry was bisexual and admissions by others that he could be arrogant, self serving and prickly. I still think it was only the inability to contain Vivien's bipolar disorder that drove them apart. Do you think Vivien ever blamed Larry for their divorce or did it leave her a broken woman or was their a layer of strength there that is rarely alluded too?
I want to mention too, an episode in David NIven's book Bring on the Empty Horses when he has to cope with a famous actress who was undergoing a breakdown, who I always thought was Judy Garland but have been told in later years that Niven had admitted it was Vivien. Why I wonder did he include it and why name her? He's a great racounteur but just went a little too far for me.
How did she find it joining the American cast of Streetcar? I believe Brando made her laugh with his impressions of Larry. Kim Hunter and her didn't look at all like sisters but were fantastic on screen.
These are great questions!
Vivien may have had some input from Olivier about costumes and make-up for their joint productions, but for the most part, she had control over how she looked. Both she and Olivier were experts at applying stage make-up and Vivien did her own. She also loved dressing up, and loved wearing wigs, even in real life. There are a lot of photos of her in the 1960s where she is wearing pixie cut wigs or bob hairstyles with headbands (which were actually hair pieces). She had naturally curly hair in real life, which she apparently hated, so those wigs were a good way of making her hair appear straight when she didn't have it done professionally. Also, if you look at portraits and candids of Vivien throughout her life, you can see how her style of applying make-up changed over the years. She never had plastic surgery, but when she was older you'll notice she started drawing her mouth on bigger and penciling in her eyebrows in a quite obvious manner. Today people use botox, but back then I think the heavy make-up was an attempt to hide signs of ageing. Whether it actually worked is another matter.
I think Larry deserved a bit of a reassessment in terms of his relationship with Vivien. I'm sure he was arrogant, self serving, prickly and difficult to live with, but as we've also seen recently with books like My Lunches with Orson, it seems like all the great actors of that time (and probably today, too ) had those qualities in common. As for the Danny Kaye rumor, I've never believed it myself and found no evidence to refute or support it. Donald Spoto was the first to publish it, but didn't include a citation in the back of his book - and that's a pretty big claim. We've since learned that he got the info from Michael Korda, who didn't want to go on record as being the source, and later told Olivier's biography Terry Coleman that it was just a rumor. Personally, I take the view that if you can't cite where you got that information, you shouldn't write it. Speculation and facts are totally different things. Even if he had been bisexual (he may have been, who really knows?) that doesn't mean that his relationship with Vivien was invalid, or that he didn't love her, etc. And when writing a book about Vivien, not only would we have to prove that such rumors were true, we'd also have to prove that it actually mattered and had a negative impact on Vivien's life.There's no evidence to back that up. Assuming he was bisexual, I really think she'd have known about it from the beginning, and as we know, she pursued him regardless.
Anyway, I'm sure there were other problems that contributed to the demise of their marriage but all evidence - and there's plenty of it - points to Larry's inability to cope with the strain brought on by her bipolar disorder as the reason why he felt he had to leave. Perhaps if they had been "normal" people and there'd been more help and understanding for such issues they both would have had an easier time and their relationship might not have suffered as much. But on the flip side, if she did have the medication and therapy available today, who knows if she'd have become the Vivien Leigh we know and find fascinating today. That said, I talk in the book about how Vivien had a hard time following the break-up and how she required psychiatric assistance. However, she did understand why he left (there's a great letter she wrote to Larry in the book that alludes to this), and she had a very kind partner in those last years of her life called Jack Merivale. He was very loving and patient and could look after Vivien, and I think he was able to meet her needs more at that time in her life than Olivier could. Similarly, it seems Joan Plowright was able to do the same for Olivier. So, even though Vivien had a hard time accepting things, she did get on with her life and she accomplished things on her own terms, without Olivier's help and, in my opinion, managed to rediscover her own identity and emerge from his huge shadow.
I'm pretty sure that David Niven's story of Vivien Leigh was revealed not by Niven himself but by other biographers. He doesn't name Vivien in his book, instead disguising her name as "Missie." But both Stewart Granger and Olivier wrote of this particular incident in 1953 in their own autobiographies and in those Vivien was named and Niven was mentioned as being there. Those stories corroborate with what Niven wrote in his book. Niven was a great friend of the Oliviers and I'd like to think he disguised Vivien's identity out of respect.
Joining a cast of all Method actors for Streetcar was challenging for Vivien in that she was the odd man out in that sense. But Kazan and her castmates worked closely with her to make her feel comfortable. She came to like Brando during shooting, and respected Kim Hunter. They, in turn, respected her talents and stature as a star. Kazan himself was critical of her acting abilities, but conceded that she was determined to be good, that she worked hard, and that she gave a great performance when she needed to. The only person who didn't seem to like Vivien much was Karl Malden, who preferred Jessica Tandy's less sexual interpretation of Blanche DuBois.