18 Fascinating Facts About Vivien Leigh

Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Vivien Leigh is famous for beating 1400 other actresses to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. But Leigh’s own life, which was filled with dramatic highs and lows, was as colorful and tumultuous as Scarlett herself. Here are 18 things you might not have known about the iconic actress.

1. SHE ALWAYS KNEW SHE WANTED TO BE AN ACTOR.

At age three, Vivian Mary Hartley recited "Little Bo Peep" for her mother’s theater group and was hooked. Her friend Maureen O’Sullivan—who went on to play Jane in the Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller—said of her childhood friend, “Vivien always wanted to be an actress. She was single-minded. She was the only girl in the school to take ballet, for instance. She took it alone, the only one. I thought it was rather brave of her.”

2. SHE HAD A GREAT MEMORY.

When Leigh was just a child, her mother played a game from Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim to help develop her memory. She would put objects on a tray, let Leigh study them, and then clear the tray so the child could recreate the tableau. As an adult, Leigh had a near-photographic memory. She knew all her lines after only one or two readings of a play.

3. SHE NARROWLY AVOIDED BEING CALLED APRIL MORN.

When Leigh was 19, she married a wealthy barrister named Leigh Holman. Her new position as wife didn’t deter her acting ambition one bit, not even when she got pregnant with her daughter, Suzanne. Her agent wanted her to pick a stage name and made several suggestions, including “April Morn.” Instead, she settled on Leigh, her husband’s name, and changed the spelling of her first name from Vivian to the more feminine Vivien.

4. LEIGH'S FIRST MOVIE WAS THINGS ARE LOOKING UP.

In 1935, Leigh was cast as an extra in Things Are Looking Up. She only had one line.

5. SHE BEGAN A PASSIONATE AFFAIR WITH LAURENCE OLIVIER.

In 1936, Leigh saw Olivier in a play and whispered to her friend, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” Her friend pointed out that she was already married—and so was he. That didn’t stop Leigh from visiting Olivier in the dressing room, where, as she was leaving, she kissed the back of his neck.

They were cast in Fire Over England together and a long, guilt-ridden affair began. In 1940, they finally divorced their spouses and got married. (Check out this steamy love letter Olivier wrote Leigh around this time.)

6. SHE TURNED DOWN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

When Olivier was cast as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Leigh campaigned to play opposite him as Cathy. Instead, director William Wyler offered her the supporting role of Isabella. Leigh, who was perhaps already focusing on Scarlett O’Hara, said, “I’ll play Cathy or I’ll play nothing.” Wyler thought she was crazy and later recalled saying, “"For a first part [in Hollywood], you’ll never get anything better than Isabella.' I made this deathless prediction. She sure showed me.”

7. FILMING GONE WITH THE WIND WAS EXHAUSTING.

Famously, Leigh won the role of Scarlett O’Hara over hundreds of actresses, including heavyweights like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, and Paulette Goddard. During filming, Leigh worked 16 hours a day, six days a week, for 125 days. Cammie Conlon, who played Bonnie Blue Butler, said, “I have candids of her taken on set. She is exhausted. She is exhausted. She was in every scene, almost.” To deal with the stress, Leigh chain-smoked, burning through four packs of cigarettes a day.

Incidentally, Leigh was paid $25,000 for Gone With The Wind. Clark Gable, who worked 71 days, was paid $120,000.

8. DESERVEDLY, LEIGH WON AN OSCAR FOR HER PERFORMANCE IN GONE WITH THE WIND.

Leigh took home the trophy for Best Actress in 1939.

9. DESPITE HER SUCCESS, LEIGH WAS REJECTED FOR A PART IN REBECCA.

When Olivier was cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Leigh set her heart on playing Mrs. de Winter. But no one—not even Olivier—thought she was right for the character, who is supposed to be timid and weak. Leigh was thought too fiery and confident, and the part went to Joan Fontaine. (You can watch her screen test for Rebecca above.)

10. A FALL DURING FILMING LED TO A MISCARRIAGE—AND A BREAKDOWN.

During the filming of Caesar and Cleopatra, Leigh discovered she was pregnant with Olivier’s child. One day, while filming a scene where she had to run across a polished floor, she slipped and fell, causing a miscarriage. Some believe this trauma led to a mental breakdown. Leigh became deeply depressed and started lashing out at people over nothing, or she became hyperactive, staying up all night long. She was showing signs of what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

11. SHE WON A SECOND OSCAR FOR PLAYING A SOUTHERN BELLE.

In 1949, Leigh starred in the London production of Tennessee Williams’s new play A Streetcar Named Desire, playing Blanche DuBois, a faded Southern belle on the verge of psychosis. Olivier directed the play. Soon after, Leigh was hired to star in the movie version opposite Marlon Brando. The performance won her a second Oscar.

12. LEIGH BELIEVED PLAYING BLANCHE “TIPPED” HER INTO MENTAL ILLNESS.

While A Streetcar Named Desire was a professional triumph, playing Blanche took a toll on Leigh’s mental health. Identifying with someone so near insanity was overwhelming for Leigh and she absorbed Blanche’s psychology in a way that was hard for her to let go of. Later, when she was ill, she would often recite lines from the play. As she put it, “Blanche is a woman with everything stripped away. She is a tragic figure and I understand her. But, playing her tipped me into madness.”

13. SHE WAS REPLACED BY ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN ELEPHANT WALK.

The final mental break came for Leigh during filming of what would have been her next movie, Elephant Walk. On the set, she was erratic and paranoid, and then she began to hallucinate. She was sent back to Los Angeles, where she was hospitalized and given electroshock therapy—the only treatment for bipolar disorder at the time. Elizabeth Taylor took over the role.

14. THE MOVIE THE V.I.P.S WAS BASED ON LEIGH’S AFFAIR WITH PETER FINCH.

Speaking of Elizabeth Taylor: Part of Leigh’s illness manifested in increased libido, which led to several extramarital affairs, including one with Australian actor Peter Finch. This, along with the strain of her illness and other factors, led to the breakdown of her marriage. The Oliviers divorced in 1960, after 20 years of marriage.

In 1961, Leigh told screenwriter Terence Rattigan that she and Finch almost ran away together. They got to the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport when they learned that fog had grounded all the flights. While waiting for the fog to lift, Leigh decided to stay with Olivier. Intrigued by this idea, Rattigan wrote The V.I.P.s, starring another famous couple, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

15. SHE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED STAGE ACTRESS.

While we think of Leigh as a movie star, she worked as much—if not more—in the theater. Despite mental and physical illnesses, she was constantly rehearsing or performing. She played major Shakespearean roles, from Ophelia to Viola to Lady Macbeth, and starred in works by contemporaries like Thornton Wilder and Noël Coward. She also won a Tony for the Broadway musical adaptation of Tovarich in 1963.

16. SHE HAD NO PATIENCE FOR CONDESCENDING CRITICS.

Here she is putting one in his place:

This clip is from the TV show Small World, hosted by Edward R. Murrow, where Leigh discusses film with critic Ken Tynan and producer Samuel Goldwyn. It speaks for itself.

17. SHE WAS ONLY 53 WHEN SHE DIED.

In 1944, Leigh was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and continued to battle it throughout her life. In the spring of 1967, she suffered a recurrent bout of the disease, but seemed to get better after convalescing. Then in July, she was trying to make her way to the bathroom when her lung filled with liquid and she collapsed and died. She was only 53 years old. The West End theater marquees were kept dark for an hour in her honor.

18. SHE WAS A FINE DANCER.

Here she is dancing the Charleston in her last fim, Ship Of Fools.

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

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