Vivien Leigh
Relationship with Jack Merivale

Vivien Leigh in a green dress


Jack Merivale was born into a family for which acting was both primary source of income and deep passion.

His father was Philip Merivale, a stage and movie actor. His most recognizable role was that of Judge Adam Longstreet in Orson Welles' The Stranger. His mother was the famous Gladys Cooper. We all saw her as Beatrice in Rebecca and Mrs Higgins in My Fair Lady.

That came with many things. His parents knew most of the major actors, producers and directors in the business and he had the pleasure of socializing with some of those characters since early age.

On the other hand, this exerted an enormous pressure in case he decides to follow in the footsteps of his parents. They raised the bar pretty high as actors and, unfortunately, it did not seem like little Jack is a particularly good one.

He was also a very shy person, which did not help his career much either. But he was decent, determined and thanks to his parents, had connections.

Because of where he was naturally put in life, he had many opportunities that a mere mortal like him might normally never have. One of those was getting to know Vivien Leigh.

Getting together

In the 1937, Jack became an understudy in a play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that would become his stage debut. It was being performed in Old Vic, so both Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were there. There, he began casually chatting with Viv whenever he got the chance.

And because he wasn't just some another understudy but Gladys Cooper's son, the actress must have been very open to him from the start. After all, one of her better friends was John Buckmaster, Jack's half-brother from Gladys Cooper's first marriage.

In 1940, he played Balthasar in Romeo and Juliet, which was directed by Laurence and starred Vivien in the main female role. As the married couple saw him daily anyway, they decided to ask him to stay for the night at Snedens Landing (now Palisades) in New York on one occasion. He happily accepted the invitation, but if he'd be seeing into the immediate future, he'd be less enthusiastic to know what he got himself into.

On that evening, Olivier was busy with his aircraft lectures. He wanted to join the military and serve as a RAF pilot, but had zero experience and as little knowledge about airplanes, so he was playing a catch-up game in his spare time.

Lucky for Merivale (already deeply in love with Leigh), as he and Viv were left to themselves. The unfortunate reality of that day was that Vivien's mental state by that time was already fragile. She already had her trademark attacks and Jack was to become the victim of one of her biggest ones to that point in time.

They were casually playing a game when without any reason she accused him of cheating and then started verbally tearing him apart. Alarmed by the noise, Olivier came and began trying to calm his wife.

Merivale escaped the situation as soon as he could and went to his room, where he stayed for the remainder of the night. Shamed and scared, in the morning he escaped again - without alarming hosts, he slipped away from the apartment as silent as possible.

When the two met some time later, they spoke to each other casually, both pretending that nothing had happened.

When Vivien's marriage was in shambles, Jack sniffed his chance and started appearing on the horizon. On one hand, he did not want to move forward. He had plenty of respect for Laurence, also as his employer. On top of that, he was shy and not the conquering type which made it even harder.

The worst thing for Merivale though was that he knew Vivien is deeply in love with Laurence, and possibly in a way in which she would never be able to love Jack. Even if he'd get into relationship with her and Vivien would cease all communication with her husband, she'd probably still dream of them being together, which would leave Gladys Cooper's son to play second fiddle.

But she was flirting with him, if very subtly, and in a way which suggested that in some form this might work out. He decided to act on it.


Since the first moments of being with each other, Leigh and Merivale became two puppies madly in love. They wanted to do everything together, to spend as much time off work as possible and travel, cuddle and relax. Viv began calling him Angel, he called her Angelica.

That fresh start rejuvenated Vivien greatly and it seemed like her mental problems are behind her. Unfortunately, after the initial phase of their relationship, they began coming back.

At first, it came as a complete shock to Merivale, which had been thinking the entire time that the press is making a big fuzz out of nothing in all those articles about the actress going crazy.

Soon he found out that what came his way that dreadful night in New York was just a warm up for Vivien. All kinds of slurs began coming his way and so did many objects which Leigh was throwing vigorously.

Since their relationship was still fresh at the time, most men would have considered this relationship a sinking ship and run, but Jack stayed. He learned to tolerate the attacks more, explaining to himself that it's not her personally insulting him, but her sickness taking control and acting on its own.

Arming himself in as much patience as possible, he remained, trying to be as supportive and helpful as possible.

Vivien's mother Gertrude had been devastated after finding out that Viv is getting divorced, and even more so that almost instantly she got a new boyfriend. During their 'lovebirds' phase she went pretty hard on Jack whenever she had the chance.

Things changed when she saw how much he cares for her and how much he supports her in the actress' roughest moments. Sometimes, Gertrude and him were doing the damage control together and were good as a team.

During Jack Merivale's term, Vivien's attacks were still prevalent, but somewhat rarer and not as brutal as what Olivier had to withstand. Whether it was due to her condition improving, or Jack's more active approach in dealing with it, as opposed to Laurence's shutting down and running away, is anyone's guess.

In total, Merivale and Leigh were together for 9 years, but did not get married. His function in that relationship was sometimes more that of a protector and caretaker than of a husband.

An abrupt end came on July 8, 1967 when the star died in her bed. Jack Merivale was alone for the next 19 years. Then, he married Dinah Sheridan (IMDb) at the late age of sixty-nine.