Vivien Leigh
Acting career: beginnings

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.


A love for theatre and cinema was something Vivien Leigh instinctively manifested since early childhood, but she could thank her mother for sparking the interest.

Always wanting to introduce culture and sophistication into young Viv's life, Gertrude often took her to see plays and interesting pictures. No convincing was necessary - the future actress was always watching with full attention and by the end usually eager for more.

In her first school (a convent in Roehampton), she befriended a girl named Maureen O’Sullivan, who was two years her senior. Maureen's dream was to become a big movie star and she often talked about it. It proved to be more than just a temporary childhood fantasy - at the age of 19, she made her Hollywood debut and quickly rose to stardom.

Acting studies

Looking at this success story of her dearest childhood friend, Vivien became encouraged to try and make it in acting as well. At the age of 19, with approval of her parents, she started studying in Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

There, she made two new passionate friends who soon made their own mark on stage and on big screen: Rachel Kempson (who few years later married Sir Michael Redgrave and gave birth to an army of renowned actors and actresses) and Leueen MacGrath (mostly known for the role of Clara in Pygmalion - IMDb).

Determined to achieve success, Vivien studied hard and always tried to give her best in school plays. Some in which she took part were: The Rivals (her entrance audition), Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, St. Joan.

As for how well she was actually performing, opinions varied. Some were mildly enthusiastic, some were not, but it is safe to say that barely anyone was seeing a great star in the making in the young Vivien Leigh.

For a short period during the studies she became distracted and started thinking whether or not to move to India. There, her parents had many friends who could perhaps accommodate her.

After thinking hard about it, she came to conclusion that if she is to become an actress, now is the perfect time to make steps in this direction and India offers no such opportunity.

Marriage interrupts acting

An obstacle that ruined her professional plans soon emerged. She fell in love and got married to Herbert Leigh Holman. He insisted on her quitting school and instead starting to live like an ordinary housewife, concentrating on daily chores.

Vivien followed his advice and quit RADA. Hyperactive by nature, she could not stand vegetating at home for days and watching paint on the walls.

Sir Kenneth Barnes, her teacher at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, was not happy about losing her: I usually congratulate people who are going to be married, but I feel you could have done very well as an actress.

After a short period of deprivation, Viv began thinking of coming back to school and do so in such a way that would not infuriate her husband. Under the pretext of French lessons, she sneaked back in.

What she didn't tell Leigh Holman about was that she started tackling her worst quality, which was her voice. She was most often criticized for having an uninteresting tone and a throat incapable of producing sound loud enough for the theater - which was an automatic disqualification on bigger stages.

Working extremely hard on it quickly brought positive results. Soon, she got pregnant though and this spelled an ultimate farewell to RADA.

Vivien's first role

Ironically, after the baby was born, a career option presented itself. A beautiful girl was needed for an episodic role in Things Are Looking Up (IMDb). Vivien was eager to try and land the main gig, but Mary Lawson was already promised it. Still, she was good for the minor one.

Timing of the offer couldn't be worse, as the freshly wed were planning a cruise together. When the wife came to the husband with an idea of possibly postponing it for the time being, all hell broke loose - he didn't want to hear none of it. The man of the house won.

During the cruise, the message came that it's the shooting is about to begin. Since Viv at the time was just another pretty face in the City of Angels, nobody would wait for her. Either she takes the opportunity or someone else will.

It was time for another confrontation with Leigh Holman, but on this occasion the wife didn't budge. Neither did he, so Viv went back to London alone leaving behind a fractured marriage.

Terrible news awaited her at home - due to delays, the filming was postponed. The premature comeback was for nothing! To escape her husband's wrath when he finds out about it, she temporarily went to stay at her friend Clare Sheridan's house.

In the end, the beginning actress took part in Things Are Looking Up, but she went uncredited and her role was episodic to say the least. She is only present in one scene, where she says a single line of text: If you are not made headmistress, I shan't come back next term!. You can view it below.