Vivien Leigh
The Mask of Virtue

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

Initial casting

Maxwell Wray's The Mask of Virtue was Leigh's second confrontation with professional theatre, but this time the role wasn't easy to grab.

The play was in advanced stages of production, and yet the part of Henriette Duquesnoy was still open. It's not like there were no candidates, but none seemed to suit the role well.

One of the main factors was simple - the girl had to be as stunningly beautiful as possible. Leigh's agent John Gliddon convinced producer Sydney Carroll that he represents a young actress that meets and exceeds this criterion.

Among many others, she got booked for an audition. Wray was not supposed to be engaged in casting but changed his mind at the last minute.

As the director passed a hall full of waiting actresses and entered the interrogation chamber, he half-jokingly said If Vivian Leigh is the girl dressed in black sitting at the end of the table in the outer room, then as far as I am concerned, the part is cast. She got through to the last stage.

Final casting, name change

Carroll and Wray were at least as nervous as the actresses readying up for the final test of skills. They were afraid that their decision of mostly relying on physical attributes in the choice of the main part might come to bite them in their bums.

The fact was that they needed someone talented more than someone pretty and they only got girls that were pretty but don't seem particularly skilled in acting.

Viv was extremely disappointed with how she performed in that final casting, but to her surprise she got the part.

It is then that Vivien changed the writing of her name (her surname had been changed few months back). Up until then, she had been known as Vivian, but Carroll was of an opinion that Vivien sounds more attractive and he pushed for the change

Viv agreed and, as we all know, stuck to it.


The Mask of Virtue became a huge success both among the critics and the general audience, and most compliments came Vivien's way.

She was under an enormous pressure, which was doubly devastating because she was also the least experienced cast member on set. Viv's opening performance was top notch nevertheless.

What's more, after repeated invitations of her producer friend, Alexander Korda himself witnessed that performance. Was this that same bland and ordinary girl that he had deemed expendable a while back?

After the final curtain, he came to the locker room to personally congratulate her and admit his error in judgement. Now wanting to correct his mistake and snatch her before any other producer does, he asked Gliddon to come and pay him a visit the very next day.

During that meeting, he pushed for signing an initial contract. His offer was £750 for a year, but Gliddon seeing Korda's eagerness knew that he can work out a better deal and left the room with a 5-year contract starting from £1300 and ending on £18,000.

Ironically, the play ended after only a dozen of performances despite initial popularity and warm receptions, but given how things turned out for Vivien, she probably couldn't care less. Finally she was closing in on the big world of Hollywood.