November 5, 1913 - July 8, 1967
"A lucky thing Eva Peron was. She died at
32. I'm already 45"
Vivien Leigh was married to Sir Laurence Olivier for twenty years.
They divorced in 1960. Leigh, a diagnosed manic depressive, contracted tuberculosis in 1945.
Strange, because this disease was all but obliterated in this century.
According to several published
sources (grain of salt) Vivien was mentally troubled. These days she would
have been diagnosed bi-polar, but back then she would probably have been
institutionalized for her irrational behavior. I've heard the stories of
casual (like very very casual) sexual conquests. Taxi drivers, strangers
and the occasional scissor sister.
In another form of fiery
expressionism, in 1957 she was ejected from the House of Lords when she
shouted from the galleries protesting the demolition of the 200-year-old St.
James' Theater in London.
Vivien was living at 54 Eaton
Square, Belgravia, London.
Findadeath friend Dominic Druce
provides: "Vivien returned to Eaton Sq from [her country home] Tickerage on 31 May 1967 to prepare for rehearsals for A Delicate Balance (Albee) with Michael Redgrave as co-star. On getting into the hall she felt faint and breathless and went to bed where she began coughing up blood. Her doctor, Doctor Linnet was sent for and took an X-ray in her
bedroom (how?? aren't those machines big enough now let alone 1967?) as she refused to go to a hospital, and found a big black hole on her lung. Her comment on her medicine was, 'Tastes perfectly
awful!' She was to have few visitors, no alcohol, no
cigarettes (it is surprising she did not give up there and then).
This discipline however lasted a short time. Her last "companion"- actor Jack Merivale
- was performing nightly in Brighton (in a PLAY) and knowing she was alone, friends came round to her room and soon the scene resembled a cocktail party. Redgrave came round to rehearse lines, the
room (rose chintz on walls, four-post bed and cushions AND en-suite bathroom) filled with flowers. She began smoking again, more concerned that Olivier was in St Thomas's Hospital suffering from prostate cancer.
July 2 - Noel Coward visited Vivien first,
then Olivier. He wrote in his diary, "Vivien was sitting in bed
looking pale but lovely, and smoking, which she shouldn't have been doing.
She was gay and enchanting as she always is."
From then she would spend an hour a day out of
bed, mostly watering plants and arranging flowers.
July 6 - Stanley Hall, her friend and
wigmaker, called in the evening to keep her company and to discuss the grey-streaked
wigs she had requested for the Albee play. He brought a 16mm projector
with him which he set up in her bedroom, and they watched a documentary called,
"Rembrandt's Paintings," and a Merchant-Ivory film called
July 7 - she watched the Wimbledon Men's
tennis finals on television with boyfriend Jack Merivale, before he went out to
do his evening show. She snuggled up in bed with a pile of recent
her cat PooPoo Jones, and signed letters her secretary had typed for
her that day. Merivale phoned her from his dressing room and she seemed
tired. She took her sedatives and fell asleep.
Photo provided by Drumork
Merivale returned at 11 p.m. and looked in on
her, and she was asleep, PooPoo beside her. He went to the kitchen to
heat up some soup. At 11:30 he looked in again and found her lying on the
floor, half way to the bathroom, a drinking tumbler beside her.
Her lungs filled with fluid and
she would have felt choked, and went to get
a glass of water. She was still warm, and he gave her the kiss of life
(mouth to mouth) to no avail, before lifted her onto the bed.
telephoned the doctor. "It's Lady Olivier - something's
happened!" The doctor responded "I'll say. You're voice
sure got deep. No really. Sorry. Where was I? "It's
Lady Olivier - something's happened. I think she may be dead!"
He then called two friends who came immediately. The doctor then confirmed
that she was dead.
July 8th - Merivale rang St. Thomas's Hospital
to break the news to Olivier, who immediately discharged himself and was driven
to Eaton Square. Rumors were already circulating and the press had begun
to gather, so he had to enter the flat through a side door (which we should
have a photograph of soon.). Olivier was left alone with her and wrote
later that he, "stood and prayed for forgiveness for all the evils that
sprung up between us." (Or one that didn't.)
Thank you, Dominic.
It was July 7, 1967. She
As a sign of respect, on July 8th at
10 p.m., every theatre in the West End
turned out their exterior lights for one hour. The theatre district mourned her passing.
There was a requiem mass at St. Mary's, Cadogan Street on the 12th of July,
attended by about a dozen of Vivien's family and close friends. John Geilgud
spoke the eulogy.
Although a Catholic,
Vivien opted for cremation. The deed was done at Golders Green Crematorium, in London.
October, her ashes were scattered on the water of the old mill pond at Tickerage, her
country home. The home was put on the market, and sold almost immediately.
A Blue Plaque historic marker has been
erected on her home in Eaton Square.
"Vivien Leigh 1913-1967 Actress,
More info from Dominic - her estate totaled
£ 252,681 gross, £ 152,573 after death taxes. That's several million
today. She had shrewdly invested in art and furniture. Apart from
gifts to friends, the estate went to her daughter, Suzanne, Mrs. Robin
Farrington, by her first marriage to Leigh Holman.
Trivia: Marilyn Monroe in 1956, made continuous headlines in London, when filming,
"The Prince and the Showgirl," with Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien's husband. As
production started, Vivien announced to the press that, after 16 years of marriage, and at
the age of 42, she was pregnant. With this news, she replaced Marilyn on the headlines of
every paper. Certainly wrongly accused of trying to outdo Marilyn for attention, she
miscarried a few weeks later.
My friend Jayne Osborne saw
this in the windah and just had to take a pikcha. Thanks!
In February 2007, UK Death Hags
and myself met up for several pints and a pose in front of Vivien's home in Eaton
Pass the mint julep, I have the