After giving birth to her daughter Suzanne on October 10th 1933 at the age of twenty, things seemed to have settled into domestic life for Vivien. However, this was bound to change as she heard of the chance for a small part in a new film entitled Things are looking up. The year was 1934, when Vivien started work on her first film. Work progressed slowly and when the film was finished, her short one line dialogue was cut from an already small role.
And a minor comedy in which she played an unemployed typist. Her husband hoped she would return to her domestic role of wife and mother, but it now seemed unlikely - Vivien was determined to continue acting.
To continue her contract with Alexander Korda, Vivien would now star in a second feature alongside Olivier, entitled Twenty-One Days. A low budget drama about a convicted killer and the wife of the murdered man. Filming began in May of 1937, scripted by Graham Greene.
Vivien was loaned to MGM to make A Yank at Oxford to increase her American exposure - a move that would benefit both Alexander Korda's role as her producer and Vivien's career, especially if she was to be considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in a movie production based on the best seller novel Gone With the Wind.
Vivien started shooting St. Martin's Lane (aka Sidewalks of London) in January 1938. This was her 9th film, and co-starred Charles Laughton and Rex Harrison. She played a busker that rises to stardom in London.
Vivien was fascinated by Margaret Mitchell's book and determined to get the lead role in the movie. Vivien did screen tests for her dream role. Both Selznick, and the film's director George Cukor, were impressed by her talent and beauty. Vivien completed her work on June 27th and as they say, the rest is history. Her performance carried the film and helped create the success and popularity that would never cease, even today, six decades later.
Vivien in her dream role Scarlett O'Hara
-Awarded with 8 Oscars, nominated for 13
-One was Best Actress in a Leading Role Vivien Leigh
After doing some retakes for GWTW, Vivien next was given the lead role in MGM's Waterloo Bridge as part of her new Hollywood contract, although she would have preferred working on Pride and Prejudice along Olivier.
In September, the new "Mr and Mrs Olivier" began working together on the set of That Hamilton Woman,. It was difficult to receive a production code of approval with a story that involved a man living in sin with another man's wife, but after several changes in the script, That Hamilton Woman (Lady Hamilton) was released in America in July 1941.
Not wanting to return to America, she signed onto a film version of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, which didn't begin shooting until June of 1944. Production was very difficult with the war occurring on every side and sets were large and expensive, causing delays. The dialogue made things worse with co-stars not performing up to standard since Shaw's script was very complex in comparison to costume and Hollywood dramas of the time. In September, Vivien fell badly on the set and suffered a miscarriage shortly afterwards. This period was also the beginning of noticeable swings into manic depression - a disease that was both misinterpreted and difficult to control at the time.
Vivien began work on Anna Karenina at Shepperton Studios, a return to cinema after 2 years, playing a role she very much desired.
Although the filming of Anna Karenina was not pleasant, and there were reoccurring bouts of depression, Vivien enjoyed playing the part of Anna. She knew that her performance would be compared to Greta Garbo's earlier infamous role, so she not only played the character differently, but with her own personal approach to the book; causing some critics to praise her skill, while others said she was a skillful actor presenting a completely unsentimental and un-true character. In the end, the film was a disappointment, 'a beautiful failure', which added to Vivien affliction.
In the summer of 1950, Vivien left England to return to Hollywood after nearly a decade absence, and began work on the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Warner Brothers paid Vivien $100,000 for her 3 months of work.
Vivien purposely made her self look older and unflattering for the film - using heavy makeup, wigs, and drastic lighting which would hide her still beautiful features. Audiences in the autumn of 1951 were stunned to see such a different person, barely recognizing the actress that played Scarlett so exquisitely a decade earlier.
Marlon Brando and Vivien as Blanche DuBois
-Awarded with 4 Oscars, nominated for 12
-One was Best Actress in a Leading Role Vivien Leigh
(Vivien Leigh was not present at the awards ceremony. Greer Garson accepted on her behalf)
-Nominated for 3 Golden Globes, won 1
Vivien's illness progressed into a nervous breakdown. She took an extended break at home in England and much of the time she was unfortunately mentally and physically unwell.
After further rest and what seemed a return to health, Vivien agreed to play the lead in the film Elephant Walk opposite Peter Finch.
February 1953, shortly after filming began, Vivien's health deteriorated rapidly and the film's producer feared she would be unsuitable to continue work. She became emotionally uncontrollable and began recounting passages from her earlier film. In March, the studio realized that they could no longer keep her in the film and she was put into hospital care. Her part in Elephant Walk was taken over by Elizabeth Taylor and the film itself was not commercially successful once released.
A few months passed and her heath improved dramatically. At the age of 40, she began filming The Deep Blue Sea, a role she was eventually criticized as being miscast in. The film was not successful at the box office, though her performance was as professional as always.
Vivien began work on a new film, the first in 5 years, written by Tennessee Williams called The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. It was about an aging actress who forsakes her career to take care of her ill husband. After he dies, the widow is left in Rome and is taken advantage of by a young gigolo. Her co-star was a very youthful Warren Beatty, and Vivien wore a graying light blonde wig for her role. Reviews of the film were positive, and Vivien had returned to the screen in a new and impressive light.
Vivien left England once again, this time to return to Hollywood to make what would be her final film, Ship of Fools.
Having several more shock treatments in July, she was able to complete the film without many incidents, though her physical condition had worsened.
Vivien as Mary Treadwell.
She became very ill and refused to be admitted to a hospital. She had tuberculosis, with a severe patch on her left lung. Olivier had left her some years ago, because her depression worsened. She continued to smoke and entertain her many friends and visitors, preferring to live as she always had. Vivien once wrote, 'I would rather have lived a short life with Larry than face a long one without him.'
On Friday July 7th 1964, at age 53, Vivien Leigh died from complications resulting from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis.