Vivien Leigh
Busy years before Gone with the Wind

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.


Trying to advance her acting career, Leigh looked left and right for promising play and movie offers, but either nothing satisfied her, or (when something did and she had a good feeling about it) not much came out of it anyway.

It's not to say that nothing Viv did in that period outside Fire Over England was worth watching, but from commercial and career perspective, there wasn't a single production that would push her forward.

Three years of insane activity and unrest to try and follow up the success of The Mask of Virtue, but nothing even came close. She kept on trying though.

The play Because We Must the actress approached without enthusiasm, but she knew that in that time period it's either this or doing nothing and sitting at home. And the latter was unacceptable - there are very few things, if any, that Leigh hated more than boredom.

Promotional photo for
Storm in a Teacup

The next film offer from the Korda camp was Storm in a Teacup - a not too ambitious light comedy based on Frank Bruno's play Storm im Wasserglas. Rex Harrison, who played the main male part, fell in love madly with the star.

One sobering thought kept him from making any sorts of advances towards her: Vivien was obsessed with Laurence Olivier and the feeling was so blatant and ever-present that he didn't believe he has anything in him that could awake his female co-star from the trance that she was in at the time.

Shortly after that movie, Viv switched to theatre again. Sydney Carroll offered her main part in Bats in the Belfry, another light comedy with a short lifespan.

Twenty One Days saw Leigh's reunion with her old nightmare Basil Dean. Even though Vivien was now a proven and appreciated actress, and not a rookie she had been when the two first met, there was still a bone of contention between them.

This time, she had support from Dean's other ex-victim Laurence Olivier, who played as well. There was no more hiding of the feeling between them and the two were spending a lot of time hypnotized by each other and forgetting about the rest of the world.

This attitude, as well as problematic relationship with Dean, have surely contributed to the unmemorable end result. The director's opinion about his female star did not change for the better - on top of everything else, he was now thinking that she's unprofessional.

During the making of Twenty One Days, Alexander Korda agreed for Vivien to take part in a real threat to theatre and Hollywood fans - she and Olivier did Hamlet on stage in Elsinore, Denmark.

The sacrifice wasn't that big in Korda's eyes - everything seemed to suggest that his new production will be a fiasco anyway, so why not keep his star and friend happy and give his blessing to this little distraction?

Not surprisingly, Basil Dean, who had a very professional attitude and worked hard to make something out of this picture, became infuriated when he heard about it.

More than that - he got so mad that he soon decided to end his movie career. By the end of the 1940s, the director came back for a brief spell, but that was it.


A Yank at Oxford was a different kind of reunion. It was with Maureen O’Sullivan, Leigh's biggest childhood friend, whom she had met at her first school in Roehampton.

O’Sullivan had always been saying that one day she will become a famous actress and was Viv's first friend that made it in Hollywood. She served as an inspiration for her, a proof that this dream can indeed come true.

The actress played the main female part, but still found the experience somewhat uncomfortable. Vivien played a lesser part, but still all the attention was on her. For an older and more experienced Maureen it was demoralizing, but on the other hand she felt happy for her friend.

Sidewalks of London

Shortly after a failed attempt to bring together Vivien Leigh and Charles Laughton came another go in the form of Sidewalks of London, this time under the banner of Laughton's Mayflower Productions. He still wasn't enthusiastic about his female co-star, but this time the actor didn't make big fuzz about it.

Still, Laughton's opinion about about Leigh didn't change for the better after the joint effort.

Moderately successful but pleasant to watch, Sidewalks of London is worth checking out by Vivien Leigh fans because she got out of her comfort zone and had to dance and sing in it.

After Olivier got the part in Wuthering Heights, Leigh's dream became to co-star in it.

Director William Wyler shot that dream down during a meeting where he said that Merle Oberon (soon-to-be the first of Alexander Korda's four wives) had already signed a contract for the role of Cathy, and therefore he can only offer Viv a role of Isabella.

The young actress didn't intend to play second fiddle, but Wyler was unbreakable. That conversation is one of the most popular Vivien Leigh anecdotes because Wyler said (as he recalled later): For a first [Hollywood] part, you'll never get anything better than Isabella!.

And few months later Gone with the Wind happened.