Vivien Leigh
Failed productions, Fire Over England

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

Cyrano de Bergerac, The Happy Hypocrite

I. Jeans, I. Novello and V. Leigh

New found popularity did not suit Vivien Leigh well. Most people would be overjoyed and star-struck, but she was highly critical of herself and only saw enormous expectations that she will now have to try and meet.

The actress' career indeed gained traction, but her prophecies were right: she struggled to followed the play up with something of decent value.

The first fruit of Viv's new professional relationship with Korda was supposed to be Cyrano de Bergerac. Charles Laughton was to play the main part, but he had many reasons to complain, and one of them was Vivien Leigh. He did not share the enthusiasm of many critics and found her acting average at best.

And it was just the top of the iceberg. So many things went south with Cyrano that it had to be postponed indefinitely.

Next proposition also had the makings of a hit - Leigh was offered the main female part in The Happy Hypocrite play, alongside Ivor Novello.

The hugely popular male actor worked extremely hard on his performance and so did Vivien. After the debut performance, Novello's locker room got fully filled with his friends who were so amazed by his performance and wanted to share the euphoria with the man responsible for it.

Still, the play didn't become as successful as it looked at first. Despite good reviews, it did not sit well with the audience and got shelved after three months.

More disappointing productions

During her first meeting with Olivier (which turned out to be more about business than romance), the actor suggested that she queues up for John Gielgud's (also present at the meeting) play Richard II. She agreed and soon got the part.

Here, her lack of experience wasn't a problem - together with Florence Kahn they actually were the only professional actors. The end result was average.

The young actress' next venture was another Gielgud affair, this time on big screen though. It was a spy love story called Dark Journey.

Its filming process was so chaotic that even after completion Leigh was very confused about her character and its purpose. That disorganization leaked to the screen and contributed to Dark Journey being largely a dull affair.

Following was the role of Anne Boleyn in Sydney Carroll's play Henry VIII. It was another moderate success, but the future star had bad memories related to it because right after the end of production she had a really bad case of influenza.

Fortunately, all her obligations were already fulfilled at the time and she recuperated well.

Fire Over England

A dream opportunity for the star came in the form of Fire Over England. The reasons had more to do with her love for Laurence Olivier than with her love for the cinema though.

For quite some time, she had wanted to perform alongside him and the dream was finally coming to life. What's more, the pair was playing characters which were in love with each other.

Alexander Korda was a co-producer of this picture and he often came on set to check things up. Very quickly, he noticed that the pair often disappears somewhere together.

One professional stimuli for Vivien was that Fire Over England was a first opportunity for the Hollywood's most powerful producer at the time - David O. Selznick - to see her in action.

Korda used the film largely as vehicle for Leigh - he was grooming her to be the next big star and was looking for all possible angles to increase her star value, and with that his potential profit.

The picture had its fair share of issues. One of them was casting selection. Somehow, producers overlooked the fact that despite its strongly British theme, the cast is from all over the world, resulting in the inner conflict and the feeling of lack of authenticity that accompanies it.

To complicate things further, the story was altered so much that A. E. W. Mason, the author of the original novel, became infuriated once he saw the end result. Quickly he confronted Korda and declared that if they will ever work together in the future, he will never again allow to deform the story's core so much.

Fire Over England was Vivien Leigh's American debut, but even though she was always extremely ambitious, the biggest victory regarding the picture was that this is where her relationship with Laurence Olivier kicked off.