Vivien Leigh
First plays, early movies

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

Leigh's very first agent

Excited by the perspective of playing in her first movie Things Are Looking Up, Vivien became very disciplined and ruled out partying for the time being.

On the other hand, on one of the parties her friend Beryl Samson overheard a conversation between a talent agent John Gliddon and another man, in which the first one was saying how well Hollywood operates.

He especially complimented its system of doing massive castings for beautiful women in hopes that among them there will be a future star. In England, this was almost never practiced and Gliddon insisted that they ought to start doing it as well.

Samson picked up on the subject and suggested that she knows a girl who might just be it - her friend Vivien. Willing to give her a chance, John agreed for a meeting the very next day. Viv was thrilled.

The meeting went well and confident in the girl, Gliddon sketched out initial terms of their agreement. One thing bothered him though. Her surname 'Holman' did not sound too marketable, he wanted it gone with the wind.

After few suggestions, they settled on the new one. From then on, she was to be known as Vivien Leigh.

Failed audition, first main part

John Gliddon turned out to be a very good and effective agent. Soon, Alexander Korda himself offered her a casting! It was a stressful experience for Viv, as she knew that this is possibly the biggest career opportunity in her life. If she fails, who knows if another such chance will ever again present itself to her?

Despite the pressure, the future star was very satisfied with her casting performance. More than that, she felt that she made a good impression. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

The producer/director soon told Gliddon that Leigh lacks quality which would make her feel unique and that he won't sign a contract with her.

It was a hard blow for the emerging actress, but her agent made sure that she doesn't have too much time on her hands to dwell on that failure.

Shortly after Korda's audition, she was hired to play her first main role. The movie was nothing compared to what Korda could have offered, but just one of many quota quickies (Wiki).

The film's title was The Village Squire (IMDb). She got contracted for 5 guineas per day of filming, which summed up to 30 guineas for the entire picture.

Just like most quickies, the film turned out to be a flop, but Leigh was not ready to give up on her dream just yet.

Gentleman's Agreement, The Green Sash

Leigh quickly followed that role up with one in Gentleman's Agreement (IMDb, not to confuse with Elia Kazan's picture with Gregory Peck released 12 years later).

The reception to it was even colder than to the first one. Most newspapers didn't notice and ones that did were extremely hostile towards it.

One good thing that came out of it though was that there Vivien met David Home (who played Sir Charles Lysle). That friendship benefitted Leigh soon after the picture was done with. He was preparing for the play named The Green Sash, where they needed an actress for the main female part. Viv agreed without giving it much thought.

It was a break that she needed, as while the play itself was rather coldly recepted, her role was seen as the best thing in it. For the first time in Leigh's career, she received compliments from the press.

Stressful times under Basil Dean

Basil Dean

The acting world was not about to let her enjoy herself though just yet. Shortly after came one of the most traumatic professional experiences of her career. For Look Up and Laugh (IMDb), she was about to work with Basil Dean.

A known stage actor turned producer and director looking over her shoulder seemed like a great next step, but ended up mostly being a nightmare experience. Dean did not like Leigh's acting one bit and he was not the type who keeps his observations to himself.

Right from the start, he was fixated on her, constantly putting her down, constantly finding out flaws in her performances. At his worst, he was screaming his lungs out in disapproval.

Obsessed as he seemed, there were plenty of things she really did not do well with, and the enormous pressure that he put on her caused the stress to make an even bigger mess of it. At times, the fresh face felt so lost and shaken that she couldn't even communicate eloquently with other cast off-camera.

In Dean's eyes, Viv was just an inexperienced child who shouldn't be allowed at all to play in the films like his.

The actress got a short end of the stick this time, but perhaps comforting piece of intel for her was that an entire club of Basil Dean victims could be formed. In the director's other pictures there were other victims who were equally treated.

Unfortunately, working under him came with the added risk of experiencing a mental breakdown somewhere along the way.

Few years back, one of Dean's numerous victims had been Leigh's future husband Laurence Olivier. The actor had the doubtful pleasure of working under Basil and for him it was also one of the most terrifying career experiences.