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.

Rewind Time With This Blockbuster-Themed Party Game

Amazon/Big Potato Games
Amazon/Big Potato Games

With only one Blockbuster location left in the world, the good old days of wandering video rental store aisles and getting chewed out for late fees are definitely a thing of the past—but like so many relics from the '90s, the pull of nostalgia has ensured that Blockbuster (or at least the brand) won't disappear for good. Now the video store is back in the form of a party game from Big Potato Games that is designed to test the movie knowledge of you and up to 11 friends.

Marketing itself as “a movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie,” the Blockbuster party game consists of two parts. In part one, players from each team compete head-to-head to name as many movies as they can that fit under specific categories (e.g., movies with Tom Cruise, famous trilogies, movies with planes). In the second half, two teams face off against each other to test their skills at a game of movie-related charades. The catch? Players can only describe movies in one of three randomly chosen ways: acting out scenes, rattling off a famous quote, or describing the films with one word.

The real selling point of the whole package is that Big Potato fit all the game cards and buzzer into a box that is virtually identical to the old-school Blockbuster VHS rental cases, right down to its distinct color scheme and shape. All it's missing is the membership card. 

The Blockbuster board game costs $26 on Amazon and $20 at Target. That’s a fair price for getting the chance to rewind time.

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8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

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