Vivien Leigh: Steps Must Be Gentle

   Vivien Leigh


Fragments deleted from Follies of God

Tenn on Vivien Leigh:

    "When she walked into a room, you were encountering both a ghost and an ambulatory block of the finest Dresden, or some painstakingly crafted bolt of tapestry. I cannot think of a woman who was more beautiful: there were certainly women who were more sexually alluring, more confident--both actress and citizen--but Vivien was crafted from particles of the moon, and with a precision so lapidary that you were momentarily stunned when you saw her. The eyes were not only beautiful in color and shape, hidden behind an insane abundance of lash and secrets, but they communicated in such a way that when conversation ultimately began, it was, shall we way, in media res, because she had focused on you, pegged you, and begun the relationship."

     Was her mental instability ever a problem? "No; in fact I think that it was exaggerated. We came to know, long after Streetcar, that she was manic, perhaps schizophrenic, perhaps nymphomaniacal, perhaps all three, but I was in the presence, I felt, of a highly skilled, deeply competitive actress, whose greatest curse, in my opinion, was her inability to trust. Vivien did not trust my play or the actors with whom she worked in London, or the cast of the film. She flirted with both the man Kazan as well as the director--she was inherently sexual, and she knew that her beauty was one of her greatest assets, one of her greatest weapons. But Kazan was masterly at gaining the trust of almost everyone with whom he worked and upon whom he fastened his attentions, and so that problem disappeared. I would have liked to have been closer to her--my weakness, of course, is that I seek and enjoy the friendship of the women with whom I work, but I do not think that she had the gift of friendship; I do not feel that she was capable of that intimacy."

John Gielgud

    "It was a mercurial experience always with Vivien, and fewer people have sent me into so many paroxysms of anger, only to have the deepest affection follow. Viven was very much the gorgeous and precocious child, and when, during the London production of Streetcar, we toyed with the idea of having photographs of the young Vivien be placed in Blanche's trunk as emblems of her privileged Southern youth, I looked over these images, clearly expensively produced and maintained and loved, and I was struck by the fact that very little had changed in Vivien's appearance or carriage or ability to find and capture the eye. She epitomized for me the little girl in Saki of whom it was said 'Romance at short notice was her speciality.' But I loved her, and I loved her talent: she was utterly ruthless in the discharge of her abilities. She cared, of course, about her beauty, and she maintained it, but she never allowed her care of the self to interfere with her characterization. However, she was her own worst enemy, and she sensed calamity and treachery at every corner, and so there was never a smooth passage, but I still think of her work, and I think that it was worth it all. And in our friendship, the rewards far outweighed the disadvantages and the betrayals and the quarrels. I remember now only the valiant fight she waged to remain healthy and employed and appreciated."

Kim Hunter

     "She knew that she was limited as an actress, but she made the most of what she had. All of us are limited, of course, but Vivien was anointed to be a great and famous actress, so the pressure on her was immense. I think now--and I thought then--that she made great use of her talents, of her beauty, and her time. She was so young, and so young when we lost her. I'm amused when writers or critics or both comment on her small output, and then I think of what it entailed: Williams, Shaw, Shakespeare. Not to mention Scarlett O'Hara; a musical; modern British drama. Hers was what Terence Rattigan described as a 'short bolt,' but it was a brilliant one, not soon to be forgotten. I never had a problem with her, but I was never a threat to her: I was her acolyte, not her competition, so to me she gave everything, both on the set and off."

Elia Kazan 

    "The feeling on the set [of the film of Streetcar] was that Vivien captured the sexual maladjustment of Blanche, along with the ability to seduce so many at the Tarantula, but, unlike Jessica [Tandy], did not make one think of a schoolteacher. I thought that was an unwise, downright stupid assessment, because I think the point was that Blanche never found any level of comfort, much less in her profession. I think Blanche probably perplexed her students as often as she beguiled them, and I can only imagine what a parent-teacher meeting might have been like with her. I asked her once to talk about Blanche, and I was initially disdainful of her catalog: it was all physical. There was talk of lilac--the color and the scent--and hair and makeup and shoes and accessories. In time she honed in on the mental, the psychological inventory of Blanche, and it was frightening. Vivien could describe what she imagined the sex was like for Blanche and her husband; Blanche and sailors; Blanche and traveling salesmen who might buy her a steak or front her the mortgage payment. She had guts when going into the dark places, and I think that's why her performance is so shattering. I only had to make her comfortable. That sense of comfort I gave her, but the performance was something she crafted out of her command of the text and her understanding of people, of women, and of that particular woman. Brando terrified her, but Brando terrified everyone. A talent of that size will do that. There was never any intention to terrify her, but these things happen. Very rarely, but things like Marlon Brando do happen."

Marlon Brando

     "We did not agree on a number of things, but we agreed on the play and we agreed that the goal was to get it right, to make it true. I wouldn't agree that she was distant, but I would agree that she was deeply engaged in getting it right. We all were. There wasn't a lot of chatting. We were exhausted. We earned our exhaustion."

Mary Ure and Vivien Leigh in Duel of Angels

Kim Stanley

     "All the things I work so hard to achieve--truth, detail, emotional honesty--she walked on the stage with. Katharine Cornell overwhelmed me when I was a young girl and I saw her on the stage, because I had never seen anyone so pretty and cool and composed and well-dressed and sure of herself. I didn't respect the acting of Katharine Cornell, but the presentation of the woman was astounding. Well, Vivien Leigh had the assurance of Katharine Cornell, an ability to bring a profound light on a stage or press it into film, and then scare the hell out of you with some emotional truths that were so intense you wanted to look away. I did a couple of plays--Cheri and A Far Country, and I needed a particular look, a particular and exact way of looking and moving, and I would think of her and the way she removed a glove while breaking your heart or sauntered across a stage while planning the most diabolical revenge. I think she was remarkable."



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