Vivien Leigh

Young Vivien Leigh in a dress.

Father: Ernest Richard Hartley

Vivien Leigh's father was born on May 25, 1884 in Bridlington, Yorkshire. He was the youngest of six children.

Ernest Hartley profile picture

At a young age, he moved to Calcutta to work as a clerk at Piggott Chapman, located at 5 Royal Exchange Road. The company is alive and well to this day.

Being drawn strongly to arts, Ernest was not happy just spending his days in the office. It's there that he got inspired though, because one of his pals was an amateur actor performing for fun in Royal Theatre Company after work. Hartley decided to give it a go as well.

RTC was pretty popular with local population, who found it a perfect escape from the drudgery of daily work. One play involving Ernest that was very popular with the audience was "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" (Arthur Conan Doyle's classic lock room mystery converted to a theatre play format by Doyle himself) and a pantomime mashup in which Ernest Richard ended up playing Bad Wolf.

His other hobbies included polo and horses in general. He took a liking to the second one especially and quickly became an expert at horse anatomy and began working on breeding racehorses at Royal Calcutta Turf Club (Wikipedia), which at the time was a horseracing powerhouse.

With this much on his hands, he had to forget about theatre. Even though he had much fun with it, he was neither good enough nor charmed enough to consider acting as a career for himself.

Fast forward a decade or so, while visiting his birthplace on vacation, he met Gertrude Robinson Yackje - a woman he fell in love near-instantly. The feeling was reciprocated, and so much in fact that the very same year they became husband and wife.

Far away as India was, Ernest was still tied to both his career and beloved hobbies there, and Gertrude was about to become a housewife. There was no other choice for her but to move with him to Calcutta. They reached the Indian shore on December 2, 1911. Soon, Vivien was born.

When World War I broke out, Ernest was planning to leave Gertrude and Viv in India where they would be safer and return to England and serve his country. Instead, he was convinced that he will be more useful assigned in a cavalry unit on the spot, given his robust knowledge of horses. He agreed.

Soon, he got stationed in Darjeeling and his girls had to follow and rent a house in a nearby village of Mussoorie. About two years later, he had to move again, this time to Bangalore, so the rest of the family went to Ooty (a wonderful tourist destination, by the way!).

Worried that India might not be the best place to raise their only child, Gertrude urged Ernest to consider coming back to England after the war. He was interested at first, but then was offered a promotion at Piggott Chapman back in Alipore, which he accepted.

One other hobby which Ernest was not willing to let go was chasing women. Even marriage did not see him come to his senses. Pretty quick, Gertrude realized it when rumors began reaching her ears.

To come back at him and put him under pressure for his deeds, one time she organized a house party for which she invited every single woman she suspected him having an affair with.

Hartley's long and generally healthy life ended in 1962. He got ill very quickly and undertook a serious operation in a Los Angeles clinic. Unfortunately, even highly qualified doctors were unsuccessful and shortly after he died. He was 78 years old.

Mother: Gertrude Robinson Yackje

Ernest was a very busy man, both with his work and hobbies. On top of that, during wartime he was obviously away from family most of the time. Despite his wife Gertrude being much closer to Vivien, we actually know much less about her than about Viv's dad.

Gertrude together with young Vivien.

We know she was born on December 5, 1888 but the exact location is uncertain. For example, Geni mentions Darjeeling but that's just a theory. Another possibility is 14 Belgrave Square in Bridlington, as that is where her parents were living.

A blog named Chater Genealogy makes a very well-researched case for her having Armenian roots. It is a long and fascinating lecture which you can find here.

Brought in a convent, Gertrude she took a liking to a strict, disciplinary upbringing. This later caused her to wish for the same misfortune to be imposed on young Viv, which at first took it terribly but by the end was also satisfied with the results.

Fresh after getting married to Ernest Hartley, she moved with him to India. Fourteen months later, she got pregnant with Vivien. To provide better conditions for the pregnant lady, Ernest arranged her a house in a beautiful part of Darjeeling.

Since Vivien's early age, Gertrude was a full time mom in every sense of the term and took the job of bringing up her child very seriously.

For example, it's thanks to Gertrude that Vivien fell in love with theatre in the first place. When visiting her daughter in a convent, she noticed that Viv shies away from more serious plays and instead opts for repeated rounds of "Round in Fifty", and so she took her to see "Hamlet". The youngster enjoyed it greatly, to her own surprise.

In one of Vivien Leigh's biographies, there is a mention that in Gertrude's older years, she went into the beauty business, but nothing beyond that.

Like many people back in her days, she was extremely superstitious and often schooled Vivien on what to do and not to do to avoid bringing doom into her life.

Daughter: Suzanne Farrington

Just like Gertrude got pregnant shortly after getting married, so did Vivien. Together with her husband Leigh Holman, they went to extreme lengths to make sure their child will be properly taken care of. Both nanny and a cook were hired.

Suzanne and her three boys
Suzanne and her three boys

In their preparations, they did not consider that their daughter will come to this world a month early though. Suzanne was born on October 12, 1933 at a nursing home at 8 Bulstrode Street.

Despite being extremely enthusiastic at first, Vivien Leigh quickly found herself seriously bored while tending to her daughter at home. For her entire life, she was used to always being in ten places at once, always socializing. On top of that, she was warming up to a professional career as an actress that was now brought to a halt.

This coldness came as a surprise to whoever was close enough to notice. Given how open, friendly and polite Viv always was, people would bet on her being the best possible mother material. Unfortunately, it was far from the truth.

Seeing that both the nanny and the cook can be left alone with Suzanne and having near-zero pleasure of staying around the child, Vivien began looking for ways to sneak out and perhaps resurrect her acting ambitions.

Gertrude picked up on it and tried to change Vivien's attitude, but to no avail. So instead, she stepped in and tried herself to fill that missing mother role as much as possible. Suzanne's father also made effort to be with the child frequently.

When the World War II broke out, the married couple decided that the child has to move, so Gertrude and Suzanne came to Canada and stayed with aunt Florence Thompson. There, she continued education.

Not only the relationship between mother and daughter was weak and fragile. Holman and Vivien also became distant, not to mention Vivien's complete obsession about Laurence Olivier from the very moment she saw him for the first time. For quite some time, divorce seemed like just a matter of time.

In 1940, the split became formalized and Holman gained custody of Suzanne.

Just like her mother and her grandmother, Suzanne spent considerable part of her childhood surrounded by females only. She was sent to and finished Sherborne School for Girls (official website).

After that, trying to follow in the footsteps of her mom, she decided to study in Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (where Vivien had also attended).

Unfortunately, Suzanne did not inherit the good looks from Viv, and no acting talent either. On top of that, she must have seen how tiring and damaging this high intensity working environment was for Vivien.

After two years, she quit RADA to become a housewife just like Viv did. But unlike the Hollywood star, she never came back to it.

On December 6, 1957, Suzanne married Robin Farrington, an insurance broker approaching his 30th birthday. Pretty soon, she became pregnant with a boy. They decided to name him Neville Leigh Farrington.

After Neville, Suzanne and Robin had two more boys: Jonathan and Rupert.

The end of marriage between Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier marked the beginning of an improved relationship between Viv and Suzanne. The reason was not that Laurence was some sort of an obstacle, on the contrary: what little contact that there was between the two girls, it was often provoked by him.

The reason was Jack Merivale - a long time enamoured fan who rose to the occasion and took the spot next to Vivien. He was more active and more successful at bridging the gap between mother and daughter.

Soon, Suzanne began visiting frequently to Vivien's new beautiful Tickerage Mill estate, where the actress' ashes were later dispersed after she died.

When that happened, Suzanne was mentioned in the star's will as receiver of a large majority of her riches. On top of that, Suzanne became the owner of many of her mother's diaries and letters.

That meant plenty of paper, as Vivien Leigh was known for her rich and frequent correspondence, and when left alone with pieces of paper, she was also extremely effusive.

Suzanne Farrington died at age 81 on March 1, 2015 in Wiltshire, England. Exact cause of death was not published and remains unknown.