November 5, 1913 – July 8, 1967
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 “Shakespeare Wallah.
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 biographies, 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.
He then 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 was 53.
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.
In 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, Lived Here.”
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 Sq.
Pass the mint julep, I have the vapors.
6 thoughts on “Vivien Leigh”
She lived two doors up from Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, who would die seven wks later!
Tickerage was up for sale in 2014 again and was expected to sell for £3,500,000. Not too shabby considering Vivien purchased it for only £200,000 in 1960.
Tuberculosis was not that uncommon in the first half of this century, and antibiotics weren’t available for treatment until the 1940s. Leigh was diagnosed in the mid-1940s and probably had an advanced case by then due to her crushing work schedule and disregard fortreatme t. She may have tried to keep it as secret as possible because some countries didn’t allow infected patients to travel freely or work. It is still common practice to force recalcitrant or severely-infectious patients into state-run hospitals (I know for a fact that the state of Texas still does) for mandatory quarantine and treatment. As you pointed out, the dangers of smoking were oft-ignored.
Ditto for mental illness; the stigma persists today and was worse then because it was not understood. What the medical establishment considered “treatment” was often barbaric and amounted to legal torture as well as being useless. Again, Vivien could not afford the liability. If the public at large had known she would have been considered a woman of no morals – look what happened to Ingrid Bergman!
She was an incredible talent and her untimely death is a great loss to her profession.
I’m naming my next cat PooPoo Jones.