By Thomas Myler
She was perhaps the most iconic actress of the 20th century. As Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche Du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien Leigh took on two of the most pivotal roles in cinema history. Yet she was also a talented theatre actress, with West End and Broadway plaudits to her name.
But behind the spotlight and away from the enraptured fans who delighted in her performances whether on screen or stage, Vivien was a tortured soul. Delicate and small-framed, she was diagnosed a manic-depressive and plagued by tuberculosis and physical exhaustion all during her career and after. She also had a serious drink problem.
Yet despite all that, Vivien is remembered as one of the most exquisite beauties in the history of the entertainment industry. Petite of build, with dark brown hair and expressive blue-green eyes, she captivated movie audiences from the 1930s through to the 1960s with sterling performances resulting in two Best Actress Oscars.
She was once reminded that the English drama critic Kenneth Tynan pointed out that she was typecast because in two of her most iconic roles, Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, he said she played ‘vulnerable, breakable and knocked around Southern women’.
“I never had any problems with that kind of thing,” she said. “You take the role because you feel it’s a good part. They were two totally different women, absolutely. “In any event I never wanted to be typecast, ever. Typecasting can be a menace. You get too used to doing the same thing and that can never be good.”
Maureen O’Sullivan, the girl from Boyle, Co. Roscommon, who became famous when she went to Hollywood and played Jane in the Tarzan movies, knew her well. Maureen remembered of her childhood friend, “Vivien always wanted to be an actress. She was single-minded.