Vivien Leigh
The Doctor’s Dilemma, Caesar and Cleopatra

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

The Doctor’s Dilemma

Preparing for the role.

Some time after the beginning of World War 2, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier came to Great Britain to fulfill their civic duties. Olivier wanted to become a pilot and take part in raiding missions while Viv had no idea what to do, but wanted to somehow contribute anyway.

After arriving, the star's mental condition worsened, so she quickly started to look for some work to escape it.

The role of Cleopatra in a movie Caesar and Cleopatra seemed interesting, and then there was a play The Doctor’s Dilemma, in which she would be performing as Jennifer Dubedat - the only female part in it.

The latter didn't seem too interesting by itself, but there was value in participating - its director was George Bernard Shaw - Caesar and Cleopatra's writer. Vivien's idea was to get to know him, play the part and hope that the doors to C&C will get opened.

For a private casting, she went to his apartment in Whitehall Court, London. Shaw was not hard to convince - he instantly felt that she's the girl for the part and hired her on the spot.

The play turned out to be a success far above the writer's expectation - it was played for 13 months total, which was the longest in his career.

Fans who enjoyed watching it over and over again were probably anything but bored. During its course, as the main male part was recast 4 times!

First, there was Cyril Cusack, but he got sick and got replaced by his understudy.

A week later Peter Glenville came, but after few months he got sick as well, which required participation of another understudy.

Then, John Gielgud offered his candidacy and given his status, he was welcomed with open arms.

Caesar and Cleopatra

During the war, Hungarian producer Gabriel Pascal went to the United States to look for the cast for his upcoming picture Caesar and Cleopatra. Leigh was interested, but at the time she was entertaining troops in North Africa.

In England, works on the picture were slowly starting. Various town locations were created in the studio, and so was a giant Sphinx replica.

To make a strong impression of a living, breathing town, two thousand people were hired as extras. The sand was imported from Egypt. Even though film's budget was mind-blowing to begin with, they quickly ran out of money and had to pump more and more into it.

Caesar and Cleopatra was thought of as an attempt to finally conquer the American audience with a British production. Given how much money giant Hollywood studios spend on their costume movies, people behind C&C knew that they can't be stint.

Unfortunately, outside finances these high ambitions were nowhere to be seen on set and when looking at the end result of all that effort. Disagreements were plenty, and people involved later testified that the atmosphere at work was horrible.

There even was a strike of technicians. Despite positive initial signs, Shaw's relationship with Leigh proved to be problematic too. Main reason was that Viv did not tell him about her pregnancy, afraid that it might cost her the part. Which it probably would.

The weather played tricks on the cast and whenever they tried to shoot outside, fog and rain awaited them. Attempting to get an Egyptian weather in November in Great Britain was a challenge in itself.

For Vivien Leigh, all these troubles paled in comparison with a personal tragedy that she went through at the time. When filming a scene where Vivien rushes through the corridor to declare that she's the real queen, she slipped and fell. It didn't look serious, but Leigh was pregnant.

Few days later (August 31), she miscarried. The fall might had been the main culprit.

Despite the picture being a big shiny not-much, it did make some money, but costs were so high that it only broke even.

What's more important, Shaw's mission did not get accomplished. American people did not like it, their opinion of British cinema hasn't changed one bit for the better.

Vivien Leigh saw her performance and the whole picture as a fiasco, and coupled with her miscarriage trauma, she couldn't force herself to watch it for six years.

She did it as part of preparations for the theatre play of the same name, which ended up a much better affair.