William Wyler is the author of perhaps the most popular Vivien Leigh anecdote. When the producer/director came to try and convince Laurence Olivier to play in his new creation Wuthering Heights, Olivier said he rejects... unless his beloved Vivien also gets to play. Vivien also exerted pressure. Wyler's response to her was brutal: I said to her, ‘Look, Vivien. You’re not yet known in America. Maybe someday you’ll be a big star, but you’re not yet known, and for a first part, you’ll never get anything better than Isabella.’ I made this deathless prediction. She sure showed me.
Vivien Leigh was the first ever British actress to receive an Oscar. She won it in the "Best actress" category for her biggest classic - Gone with the Wind.
Vivien was deeply addicted to crosswords, which she was doing her whole life. Her second husband Laurence Olivier even made crosswords especially for her so she could do them while traveling. For example, when the actress was touring Australia in 1961, she ordered The Times to be delivered to her daily, mainly for the crossword section.
One of Leigh's biggest complexes was that her hands are too big, so she often kept them hidden inside gloves. Since she also loved to attire herself, over the years the star's collection of gloves grew to enormous proportions. Some sources claim that at one point in her life she had 75 pairs, others say it's double that! One extra pair she always had in her purse in case of glove-emergency.
Aside from gloves, the actress also carried perfume with her. Afraid someone might took offence in her natural body scent, she masked it behind a wall of perfumes.
To most people around young Vivien Leigh, her acting skills didn't seem good enough to function as sole promotional machine. Most critics thought that she doesn't have them and that there isn't much potential for her to develop in the future. As a child, she played in convent plays, but nobody there considered her acting skills to be above average. Basil Dean and Charles Laughton were two professionals whom she worked with in the early days of her career that had a very bad professional opinion about her and neither was happy after finding out that they will have to work with the young girl. Even Alexander Korda, who later became a firm believer in her, at first rejected her, thinking she's not good enough. Same was with George Cukor, Gone with the Wind's original director.
Viv spent many of her childhood years in a convent. There she was among the most popular girls even though at the moment of joining she was the youngest. Every year, each person voted on many "bests" and "mosts". Vivien was voted as the most precious one and her best childhood friend Maureen O'Sullivan was second.
As a child, she was deeply in love with the play Round in Fifty, which she saw in London Hippodrome (today known as Hippodrome Casino) sixteen times! Some time after that marathon, she stumbled upon George Robey (an actor from that play) in a dining room. Robey's wife was first to notice strange unobstructed attention coming from a young girl across the room and let him know about it. While leaving, Robey went by Vivien's table and gave her few of his photos.
Shortly after getting married to Herbert Leigh Holman, his cousin's husband managed to book her a visit to Buckingham Palace, during which she was introduced to King George and Queen Mary. Having a deep affection for the royalty, Viv had gone to enormous lengths to both pick appropriate clothes and consider every aspect of her behavior to meet the requirements of this set and setting.
After George Cukor was fired from directing Gone with the Wind, Vivien found newly assigned Victor Fleming not nearly as qualified for the job and proceeded to visit Cukor for advice on how to play Scarlett. Olivia de Havilland did exactly the same and, interestingly, did so independent from Vivien.
In 1964, Joan Crawford was making Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte but quit early, so producers contacted Leigh and asked if she wants the role. The actress refused, so next in line was her screen partner from Gone with the Wind, Olivia de Havilland, who agreed to take the part.
In later years of Leigh's life when relationship with Olivier was not the best, she did not shy away from flirting on occasion. She did that most often with Peter Finch, whom she met during the filming of her biggest professional flop sabotaged by her mental illness, Elephant Walk. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Finch had taken a liking to her.
Inspired by Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim, Vivien Leigh's mom played a game with her while Vivien was still a baby: she would put different objects on a tray, wait for her daughter to memorize them and cleared the tray. Viv had to say which objects had been there and where they were exactly. The game must have greatly contributed to Vivien's amazing memory in adult life.
When Vivien's star was still rising, her first manager and Alexander Korda were the two main driving forces behind her promotion. Korda thought that in order to successfully advertise his young star, her exotic childhood needs to be addressed while ignoring the more generic stuff like the fact that as an adult she was living in UK and had a normal family and a child.
Coeks Gordon, Tour Chief Technician of one of Viv's plays has this to say about the star's behavior: When we would arrive in each theater she would ask me to gather the crews together, and then I would introduce her to everyone. She also asked me to find out any particular facts regarding the crew members and she would then ask them about it.
The day Vivien Leigh died, lights in front of all the West End theaters were turned off for one hour to commemorate her.
Both Vivien Leigh and her love Laurence Olivier had India in their past. Viv was born and spent first five years of her life there. Olivier's uncle Sydney Olivier was a prominent civil servant, peaking at the position of Secretary for India. In January 1924, Laurence's older brother Dickie also moved to India, but to work on plantation. According to the pair's official biography The Oliviers, shortly after Dickie's departure, Laurence was so sad that he won't see his brother for at least 4 years that he initially wanted to move to India after finishing school. Fortunately for the cinema, he later changed his mind.
Despite great acting talent, Leigh had one weakness, confirmed time and time again by people around her: voice. In movies it did not matter that much (mic volume can always be increased), but theatre scene is unforgiving. The voice not only needs to be strong and loud, but it needs to be resistant to abuse as well, as stage actors scream their lungs sometimes many hours per day. Vivien's voice was not only on the quiet side, but it was also soft and a bit squeaky. She was fully aware of it all and worked hard on improving it since her early professional days, mostly under the guide of Elsie Fogerty, a legendary innovative voice teacher.
The play Richard II's finish almost ended in a catastrophe. After the last show, entire cast went to an official supper. Coming back from it, extremely overworked Vivien was driving and also in the car were: actress Florence Kahn, Val Gielgud (John's brother) and Felix Felton. While navigating through Burford Road, Vivien fell asleep and the car went off the road and onto a grassy hill. Thanks to how the terrain was shaped, the car did not crash nor fell and it all ended up no more than a serious scare.
Vivien Leigh's parents were French and Irish and so were Scarlett O’Hara’s (Gone with the Wind's main character's). This coincidence might have helped her land that role.
Leigh and Olivier once promised to themselves that they will never fly in airplanes separately. When both were working hard on bringing back the Old Vic to its former glory, Olivier's mental condition worsened due to endless stress and non-stop work. One time in Boston, Vivien was sitting in an airplane, waiting for her husband to join her after a short meeting. He made it even shorter than planned and rushed towards her driven by strong feeling that something might go wrong, but he still did not make it in time for the airplane's departure. When the machine started moving, he was 3 feet away from it. He stopped and began crying intensively. Despite his bad premonition, nothing happened... BUT! Two days later, the pair was in another airplane and during flight one of the four engines started burning and fell off. One wing caught fire because of it and emergency landing in Connecticut had to be arranged. Fortunately, everyone made it out ok.