Vivien Leigh
Career: end of World War II

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.

The Skin of Our Teeth

Producer David O. Selznick was incredibly angry with Vivien Leigh due to her temporary move to England. He had taken a risk with an unknown actress and made her a star, got a contract signed to chain her to him and was ready to cash in on his discovery, but she came back to her homeland.

The fact that there was a war going on and London was getting bombed made it even worse. He got a great return in money and prestige from Gone with the Wind and now it looks like that may be it.

What's more, the actress was extremely stubborn. He demanded that she does not perform in Olivier's latest play Romeo and Juliet, believing that it would only decrease her value. Viv played anyway, the play got a poor reception and her market value probably dropped indeed.

He wanted to keep her waiting until some sure shot comes to properly follow her initial success in Hollywood, but she did the opposite of that.

Fearing her value will decrease further into obscurity, David sent many cables urging her to not take any more roles below her new status and come back to Hollywood so he can find her a proper picture. Not only did she reject the idea, now she found herself another play: The Skin of Our Teeth.

Infuriated, Selznick decided that enough is enough and went to court to prevent her from acting in it, confident that signed by the contract, his actress will have to respect its terms. The verdict surprised him - she can play if she wants.

The Skin of Our Teeth was Laurence Olivier's idea. One reason why he decided to make it was because he thought that the role of Sabina will give his wife a perfect opportunity to show her talent and demonstrate the world that she is not another dumb pretty Hollywood face.

This time, he was spot on - the response was exactly that! Viv found a very satisfying challenge in Sabina and left critics praising her well-developed acting skills and stage presence.

For Olivier, it was another opportunity to throw everything on the line and evaluate his worth.

He was so stressed from it that when the critic James Agate got 10 minutes late to one of his performances, Laurence rushed towards him the moment he saw him and punched him in the arm, as if James was a child that did not do his homework despite promising earlier.

For Vivien, it was a sacrifice too. The longer the play was performed, the worse the actress began looking. Not only overworked, she also started coughing ugly. One day, after someone suggesting she better see a doctor about it, she found out that she was suffering from tuberculosis and had to immediately stop working and begin treatment.

Realizing the seriousness of the situation, she did just that.

When Leigh went to England despite Selznick's protest, the producer felt defeated. He would be even more so had he known that it will take her six years to come back to Hollywood.

Even then it wasn't a "David, I'm back!" kind of entrance. Her husband was touring in New York and the actress just decided to accompany him.

Anna Karenina

The perspective of playing in Anna Karenina first appeared on the horizon when Alexander Korda came to Italy to visit Vivien. At the time, she was helping her husband with preparations for an adaptation of Hamlet.

He approached her with an offer and the actress instantly liked the idea and agreed to take part in it.

Leigh probably quickly began to regret her decision though as many things went south on set. First, her mental health deteriorated quickly and made every day at work a living nightmare. And not only for her, too - the star became quite venomous and quarreled a lot with the director, costume designer and numerous cast members.

One from the latest group was her co-star Kieron Moore. The actress was extremely disappointed (and vocal about it) that such an unknown fresh face was allowed to play next to her in such a high budget production.

It was extremely hypocritical of Vivien, given how much faith and money was put into her earlier in her career when she was in the exact same spot, but this attitude was probably an extension of her temporary mental illness more than of her general attitude in life.

As for the director Julien Duvivier, he had a vision of Vivien's and Kieron's roles that was very far from what the actress believed they should look and behave like.

And so she engaged in a power struggle that went nowhere but polluted the atmosphere tremendously.

The picture was complete nevertheless, but the end result is poor. Leigh gave a hardly convincing and absent-minded performance. Fans and critics alike were very disappointed.

Some of them did not know that they dodged an even bigger bullet. Producer Alexander Korda had been toying with moving novel adaptation action action from the 19th century Russia to modern France, but the idea was met with such an enormous fury from all sides that he decided to let it go.

The School for Scandal

The School for Scandal was a play produced under the banner of the Old Vic repertory company, with Laurence Olivier behind the steering wheel (Old Vic's main brain at the time).

It debuted in England, but then the whole crew packed their bags and went to Australia and New Zealand where the remaining performances were to take place.

Main parts were played by the married couple, which by itself had an enormous drawing power. There was so much enthusiasm that even if Viv and Larry would come completely unprepared and gave half-cooked performances, not many would have noticed!

Old Vic had a busy schedule for the occasion and besides The School for Scandal, The Skin of Our Teeth and Richard III were played as well.

The whole tour had two objectives to fulfill: to introduce British talent to an Australian audience, thus extending the international reach of British theatre, and to test out many new young prospects who crowded the casts of the three mentioned plays.

Vivien Leigh later came back to Australia in 1961 for another round of performances, also under Old Vic. That time, she performed in Duel of Angels and The Lady of the Camellias.