Vivien Leigh
Career: last years

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

Getting to play in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was problematic. As part of insurance company's routine procedure, every performer had to go through basic health check.

Vivien's organism at the time was regularly crippled with alcohol abuse, heavy cigarette smoking, barely having any food and sleeping very little. And yet she somehow got through the tests and got accepted.

The picture was initially supposed to be shot in Rome, but after reading the script, the Italian government decided that it is too improper and denied them rights to film.

It was a directing debut of Jose Quintero, possibly Panama's greatest theatre director, popular for his interpretations of works of Eugene O'Neill.

The person who was to share the spotlight was Warren Beatty, a big star still in the making at the time (it was his second film). According to Viv, his ego was a bit ahead of his status which caused her to resent him.

During the making of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, the actress had an accident. While filming the horse-riding scene (she didn't want a double for it), nobody knew that the clapper sound will make the horse start to canter. As a result, Viv hit a tree branch with her head and fell to the ground

Fortunately, it didn't cause any serious injury. To the terror of people gathered on set that day, Viv stood up and insisted that she wants to repeat the shooting of that scene. The following take went well.

The end result of this and many other sacrifices was an average picture that didn't turn many heads. Viv was outshined by another actress Lotte Lenya, who got nominated for Oscar and Golden Globe.


Leigh was offered to perform in the play called Tovarich, but decided to dodge it the moment she realized that there is singing involved, as it was never her strong suit.

Her life partner at the time Jack Merivale read it too though and he loved it. He thought it will be great for his beloved, so he begged her to reconsider.

He wasn't the only one who did that, as soon its producer Abel Farbman came to New Zealand to pay Viv a visit and try to personally convince her to take the role. That was enough of a push to make her study the script again and with a new-found enthusiasm, she accepted the offer.

Unfortunately, her initial fears turned out to be justified. Her voice was a constant obstacle at rehearsals and playing in a musical turned out to be full of nooks and crannies alien to her.

Very often she was confused and did not know what to do. All the big screen and theatre experience only did so much. On that scene, Viv felt like a new actress that only begins to decipher the absolute basics of the trade.

Determined to succeed against the depressing odds, she began to work as hard as ever. That made her mental condition considerably worse, but the efforts did not go to waste.

Not only did Leigh surprise even the more cynical critics who had been sure that with her minimal singing experience she will fail hard, but she even managed to win a Best Actress in a Musical trophy!

Ship of Fools, La Contessa

When Vivien was on holidays with Merivale in Tobago (fresh after the country achieved independence from Great Britain), she received an offer from producer/director Stanley Kramer to play in his newest film Ship of Fools, which was to be based on Katherine Anne Porter's popular book of the same title.

After familiarizing herself with it she did not like it, but Viv was a huge Kramer fan and agreed to take part in it just to be able to work with him.

The experience of working with the female star tormented by mental health problems made Kramer another person who later reminisced how absurdly hard was it for Viv to pull herself together and continue shooting every day.

Even more than feeling sorry for her fragile state, he was full of respect when seeing that off-screen she was often standing by the wall and completely shaking as if she would be about to fail the biggest test of her life and then moments later she'd go in front of camera and play her part flawlessly as if she'd be perfectly fine, only to leave the scene and instantly come back to her terrible state again.

Cast members had many negative experiences with her, later talking about her spikes of violent moods, but everyone knew about her state and whenever she did something, people didn't take things personally and instead blamed the illness.

Soon, Leland Hayward asked Leigh if she'd like to play in Paula Osborn's La Contessa, a biographical play depicting the colorful and eccentric life of Luisa Casati.

Vivien's state of mind was one of many things troubling the play from the first minute to the last. Ultimately, this proved to be such a fiasco that La Contessa became the only play Viv participated in that didn't even live long enough for a London debut.

Last play, career end

One year later, Leigh acted in her last ever play: Ivanov, in John Gielgud's adaptation. This was a dream come true for the actress, as she had always wanted to play in one of Chekhov's many great creations but had no opportunities to do so until 1966.

Producing it was very cheap, which made for a rare case where pre-show ticket sales already covered all previous expenses.

When the play was on tour, a supporting actress Ethel Griffies had an unfortunate accident in her hotel room, where she tripped on a chair and broke her rib. Despite that, she continued giving performances.

Griffies was a tough woman even by Viv's standards, as she was 88 years old at the time and at that age people rarely play on stage, let alone go on tours and perform with broken ribs.

Vivien Leigh's acting career ended with Ship of Fools. She considered playing other roles, but did not commit into any for two years. In 1967, she was preparing for Edward Albee's play A Delicate Balance when tuberculosis came back to take her life.