Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh in a big green dress.


If someone would construct a list of all the friends that Vivien Leigh had, this list could easily fill as much paper as a small book!

As a child, she had to frequently switch convents and regular schools. Each one in different country, each one filled with hundreds of people. In most of those schools, she managed to become the center of attention, bonding with everyone around.

Geographically, she was all over the globe as well. First, childhood in India, then England, then career in the United States paused by war during which she took part in extended tour in North Africa. Later in her career came another extended tour to Australia... and the list goes on.

As opposed to many celebrities who isolate themselves from the unworthy and tend to themselves, Vivien thrived in company, always wanted to have a relationship with each person that she was working with and wanted it to be a positive one.

At that, she was a true master, people magnet. Even her first husband Herbert Leigh Holman, whom she first started cheating on and ultimately left for Laurence Olivier, remained on her side, kept corresponding with her and came to her aid multiple times when his help was necessary.

Vivien had such personality that made everyone want to be friends with her and her wanting to be friends with everyone.

Hard working

Constantly switching between Hollywood and theater scene, Vivien was always working, and when she wasn't, she was on the hunt for the next big role.

Because Olivier was largely her professional mentor and he loved Shakespeare even more than Vivien Leigh loved Olivier, she constantly set the bar high and was eager to star in ambitious projects that would allow her to test her skills and improve as an actress.

By doing so, she naturally gravitated towards theater, which is much more demanding than cinema (and Olivier's disdain for Hollywood was of course a big factor too).

The problem with it though was that there Vivien Leigh's poor voice was a factor - to fill larger halls with enough decibels a loud and strong voice is necessary, and the actress had the opposite of that. Nevertheless, since early age she kept working on it tirelessly until it developed to the point where it was no longer a problem.

Voice is not the only example - by many accounts, Viv worked her skills up practically from the ground level. She did not stand out as an actress when doing her first play, almost nobody in Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she attended classes, thought that she is gifted.

Every bit of talent that the actress had, she had to work hard to acquire.


Vivien had extremely strong personality when it comes to many things, particularly self-discipline and organization, but for those to function she needed to feel loved and protected.

In her free time, the actress could spend an astronomical amount of time just writing letters to people. She loved it and opening correspondence for her was like unpacking a Christmas present for a young child.

This was the expression of her excessive socializing needs described in the first section, but when the well was dry and letters didn't come she felt lonely, hated that feeling and wrote letters to escape from it.

While almost everyone struggles with emptiness when left to him-or-herself, Vivien was over-sensitive when it came to these things. For a woman so mentally strong that she could get through the horrors on the set of Gone with the Wind, London Blitz and North Africa during WW2, it's fascinating how fragile she was.

Early sign of that dependence came when Viv was 19 years old and married Leigh Holman, who was a mature and successful man much older than her and who was like a father figure to her.

Later, most of that dependence was tied to the passion of her life - Laurence Olivier, without whom she could not imagine living even when they went their separate ways. His love and professional respect for her as an actress were the two most important things in Leigh's life since she fell for him.

Buying the love of others

An important habit that accompanied Vivien throughout her entire life was formed during the convent years.

To compensate for leaving their child at a convent so far away, Ernest and Gertrude started sending her expensive gifts in bulk. The girl got accustomed to it and soon started mimicking this behavior.

Whenever she received a package, all the other girls would gather around, curious to see what she got. These exotic and expensive gifts worked like a magnet to all the other students. Not really needing all those and seeing how much joy it brings to others, she started giving her friends most of what she got.

After her parents left her, she naturally became very needy and with those gifts she found a great way to fill that empty void - surrounded by appreciation and attention of other girls, she felt comfortable and safe.

This gift-giving has become her tool in life. In later years, even if she didn't have too much money, she would always look for ways to buy something to give to her close ones.

It would be unfair to say that this was her conscious manipulation technique because she didn't have that kind of character, and she was so good with people and had so many good friends that she didn't need to do that at all, but all the ingredients suggest that it was a manifestation of a problem. And one that might have never existed if she'd be allowed to grow up alongside her parents in India.

Mentally ill

Leigh's character profile can't be complete without mentioning Viv biggest problem - a bipolar disorder that she battled throughout her entire adult life.

Instead of rephrasing information available elsewhere, I'll just leave a link to the the series of short articles describing her struggles in chronological order.

They can be accessed from the profile page.