Casting for Rebecca
Always looking for an opportunity to play alongside the love of her life Laurence Olivier, Leigh now wanted to play in Alfred Hitchcock's American debut Rebecca.
Olivier was quickly contracted for the main male part, but producer David O. Selznick had no idea who to put in the female role. The race was on, there were many willing and Viv's bargaining position was strong. After all, she was Olivier's second half, they loved each other and had played few times together already.
On top of that, Gone with the Wind had established her position in Hollywood and had made her an instant star. She was the new 'it'. Still not good enough for Selznick though!
To a first casting, she went straight after filming her last Gone with the Wind scene (not counting the later retakes). She did very poorly there, but it didn't stop her from trying again.
Another fiasco followed, but just to be sure Selznick consulted few people before making the final decision. They only assured him that his fears are justified and Vivien is not the girl for the part. She's out.
The movie Waterloo Bridge was supposed to have her alongside Olivier, both playing main parts of course, but it wasn't meant to be again. In the end, Robert Taylor got the male part.
It was a very disappointing moment for Vivien Leigh, for now she understood what it means to be a Hollywood actress.
While the public was (and still is) convinced that these people are in control of their destinies, in reality they often were (and often are) mere properties bouncing between interested parties.
Viv felt like she has very little influence outside a simple agreement or disagreement to play in the picture and she had trouble accepting her predicament.
Still, after beginning to work on Waterloo Bridge, she found herself at home. The story wasn't to her liking, but whole cast got together extremely well, so the atmosphere on set was fantastic. On top of that, everyone was working very hard, which she was happy to see as well.
Despite being no Laurence Olivier, Taylor was still a good choice for Viv, for they had known each other before the film and had been on very good terms with each other.
Romeo and Juliet
Constantly looking for a professional get-together, Leigh's and Olivier's next target was Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. To have full control over the process of making this play, they decided to ditch sponsorship and front their own money.
After gathering $96,000, they rented Vitagraph Studio and there they began creating.
During the World War 2, numerous plays and movies fell in one specific trap that was usually costly to people who backed those productions financially.
Big commercial investments in the entertainment sector were almost always seen as absurd and tactless during wartime, so if any super-expensive picture or play came out, it better had strong patriotic and morale-boosting theme to it!
Romeo and Juliet of course had nothing of the sort and everything about it was expensive. Both Viv and Olivier were very patriotic, but they spent their money thinking exclusively about making the play as good as possible. People didn't care, they were infuriated.
Still, the play itself failed to make an impact on critics who were willing to ignore this factor. Its reviews were mixed.
One contributing factor was that the marketing strategy for the play was to blatantly lie to sell tickets. Potential viewers were informed that there will be lovemaking on stage and crowded to satisfy their curiosity. There was nothing of the sort, of course, so they went home angry.
Premiere saw Olivier making a rare mistake on stage. During an attempt to jump through a wall in Capulet's garden, the actor's upper body strength failed him and he got stuck in the middle, awkwardly and hopelessly attempting to beat the obstacle. Blackout came to the rescue, but bad taste remained.
Vivien was fully engaged in the play, but most weight still rested on Laurence's shoulders. He was its director, coordinated scene decorations, all kinds of technical works, lightning etc.
For him, it was a true professional test. He engaged all the money, talent and experience that he had. It was a sort of all-in, whose outcome was to decide how much is everything he worked for in life worth at the moment.
All this was a gigantic stress injection and Olivier became a half-wreck for the time being. Even more so when test results came and he found out that he failed.
There wasn't much room for interpretation here. In fact, the audience couldn't be more clear - the very next day after premiere hordes of unsatisfied customers came flooding the theatre office demanding they get their money back.
Seeing it happen, a box-office manager called Olivier and asked what he should do. Vivien's beloved answered:
If that's how they feel, give it to them!. That decision was more expensive than he could have imagined - soon he had to pay back tens of thousands of dollars.
That Hamilton Woman
That Hamilton Woman fell into Vivien's laps during a very tough period.
After investing everything she had in Romeo and Juliet, both she and her husband were completely broke and they badly needed money to try and bring their relatives to the United States so they are outside Germany's reach.
And that, of course, required money.
She confessed her troubles to Alexander Korda, who at that point was already the most important figure in her career and one of the closest friends as well. The producer decided to solve her problem (and his) by hiring her for his new costume movie.
There is an alternative version of this story, in which Korda during a flight to Los Angeles was looking for materials for a propaganda movie and after getting hypnotized by the book Admiral Alfred Mahan he decided that a great idea would be to combine its themes by merging the Hollywood production style with a propaganda picture.
Korda decided to direct himself and decided on the title That Hamilton Woman. For production design, he hired his brother Vincent.
Next, he concluded that Laurence and Vivien would be the perfect candidates for main parts in it and soon called Olivier to offer them jobs. As you can see, in this version, the decision to hire them was not motivated by Vivien's financial status.
Which one of these versions is true, it is hard to tell, because both come from credible sources.
One thing that would suggest that the first one seems more probable is that after signing contracts with them, Korda paid each 50% of an agreed sum, so they can get their relatives to the U.S.A. This confirms that Viv's conversation about the subject really took place.
It was an even better offer for Viv and Larry, because in this upcoming picture they were to play two people who are in love with each other!
Unfortunately, the set wasn't emanating with big hit in the making. The atmosphere among the cast was rather gloomy, the budget was relatively small, which forced many cuts and limitations that degraded the end product.
What's more, the picture was made in a hurry, everyone had to rush everything.
After finding out that this movie will be made, Winston Churchill became extremely enthusiastic about the picture and quickly began sending cables to Alexander with suggestions.
The Hungarian director kept those in secret without telling anyone. When he came back to England after a short spell away, Churchill quickly sent his invitation for a game of chequers.
During that meeting, he asked if Korda got the cables, and the response assured prime minister that they were kept in secrecy, as he assumed was the politician's wish. Surprised, Churchill responded:
I meant them to be used, I sent them to put your stock up!
That Hamilton Woman was a decent movie and pleasant to watch, but still fell short of the director's high expectations. Winston Churchill had a different opinion - it became his all-time favorite movie.