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

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.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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iStock
The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
iStock
iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare

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