Vivien Leigh
Career: 1953-1960

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

The Sleeping Prince

Viv after the play's premiere

After the Elephant Walk fiasco that saw Vivien experiencing a devastating mental breakdown, it took some time before she got better.

Her husband Laurence thought that work might help the star to get back on her feet and insisted that she signs up for the upcoming play titled The Sleeping Prince.

She was nowhere near ready at the time and even though she fought her way through it, many cast members saw her mumbling to herself on set and generally acting erratically.

The show suffered from it and the reviews were modest. Soon, it was adapted to big screen under the title The Prince & The Showgirl, where Olivier played too, but Vivien was replaced by younger Marilyn Monroe.

The Deep Blue Sea

Alexander Korda's play The Deep Blue Sea turned out to be a big success, so he started thinking about making a big screen adaptation. As Vivien's close friend, the producer knew well how serious her condition was, but had faith in her and wanted to help. He offered her the leading role.

This was not an easy decision to make. If history with Elephant Walk repeats itself and he will be forced to find himself a new actress because the current one won't be able to continue, it will postpone the movie and cost him up to millions of dollars.

What's worse, now that the public caught up with the actress' mental problems, no insurance company was willing to cover her. Everything that goes wrong, Alexander will have to pay out of his own pocket.

The offer still came Viv's way and she accepted. To make her work more comfortable, she was allowed to hire the remaining cast.

Ironically, the one bad choice turned out to be the most important - Kenneth More, playing the part of Freddie Page. Not only did he perform poorly, but privately he found Viv extremely irritating and their relationship was cold. This contributed to the obvious lack of chemistry in front of the camera.

Even without it the picture would be far from striking high notes anyway. One of the main problems viewers and critics had with it was Vivien Leigh herself. Playing that particular part was outside of her acting range.

As good as Vivien was as an actress, this was an absolute miscast.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre plays

SMT's painting

In 1955, Laurence Olivier asked his wife to join the cast in the now-defunct Shakespeare Memorial Theatre for an entire season. Viv agreed and soon began performing in three of its plays.

First one was Twelfth Night. The famous John Gielgud directed it. Leigh respected him and their private relationship was on the warm side, but professionally they spoke different languages. Whenever the two were working on something together, neither was satisfied with the other.

The play was moderately successful and suffered from pacing issues and lack of cohesion.

Second was Macbeth. At the time, the relationship between one of the Hollywood's most iconic couples was already in shambles, which could spell troubles given that Olivier was playing the title part in it.

Fortunately for the audience, here the story actually benefits from any bitterness and resentment that might be between the two, as the attitude Macbeth and his lady have towards each others grows colder as the play develops.

From the perspective of Vivien's mental state, it was probably not be the best idea to play Lady Macbeth, who grows to become highly unstable herself. Fortunately, there were no major slip ups from the actress.

Her efforts didn't contribute to much though, as many people were leaving the theatre thinking that Leigh is on her off days.

The final play in which she was performing during the season was Titus Andronicus. Here, the story repeats itself - the play was judged average, moderately popular, and once again Vivien was frequently pointed as its weakest link.

South Sea Bubble

South Sea Bubble is a play Noël Coward began working on in 1949, but it took six years for it to reach final form.

Hoping to convince Vivien Leigh to play the main female part, he paid the pair a visit at Notley Abbey. After checking out the script, she found it boring, but Laurence convinced her to accept the role anyway.

Very soon, Coward came to regret his decision. While they were already working on the play, he found out that Vivien is pregnant, even though she had not said anything about it! He became extremely furious with her, for had he known, there would be no deal.

After performing for some time, pregnancy forced her out of the remaining contracted performances, which required Coward to find a replacement.

Duel of Angels, Look After Lulu

Duel of Angels

Come 1958, Leigh signed up for a play Duel of Angels, and this time she was eager to perform without needing any convincing.

In the beginning, everything went well. She was on friendly terms with all the cast and the play got well-received.

After some time, her mental condition started to deteriorate again at an alarming pace, so Vivien decided that she needs to quit before things get really ugly.

To her credit, when she started feeling better again, she came back to give two more performances.

Another work together with Coward was Look After Lulu. The show was a success and the actress got positive reviews.

Two years after Duel of Angels, the play got resurrected. Vivien remained as its central point, but remaining members of the cast were changed.