Cinephagous loves: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, as if you were never going to stop

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Oliver
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Oliver in Lady Hamilton.

The most apt simile I can think of is to compare Vivien to something that lifts you up into the sky, only to drop you suddenly, as if you were never going to stop..

(Laurence Olivier)

An old man watches an old movie on the TV. The black and white images reverberate on his face, tired of years. But his dead gaze still lights up and he moistens when he sees her appear onscreen. Beautiful and challenging. The body of her young her again. As if wounded by desire, the old man moans more than whispers: “This, this was love…”. Legend has it that, in his later years, Laurence Olivier he repeated these words every time he watched a movie of his beloved vivien leigh. Years of separation, distance and death had passed, but the actor never stopped remembering his second marriage as the great love story of his life.

Vivien and Laurence were two stage beasts. Two actors who lived for and for acting. In a way, their marriage was a play that unfolded over twenty years of their relationship. They met in 1935. Vivien was then playing The mask of virtue and Laurence, as he confesses in his memoirs, was captivated by “an attraction of the most disturbing nature that I have ever seen.”

A short time later, Laurence was interpreting Romeo and Juliet and it was she this time who demonstrated her fascination. They were in the dressing room and he kissed Laurence’s bare shoulder. A declaration of intentions. From the warm kiss they went on to an adulterous relationship that lasted for two years. At that time, the actor was married to the actress Jill Esmond and Vivien was the lawyer’s wife Herbert Leigh Holman. Neither of the respective spouses compromised with the divorce and thus the scandal was born in a society still steeped in Victorian morality. The actor portrayed those clandestine years as follows: «Two years of furtive life, of lies. Two years of doing everything on the sly. At first I felt like a veritable adulterous worm, sneaking between another man’s sheets, lending itself to the game of the studio or the theater’s dressing room, consecrated by generations of lustful actors, exposed to a sudden intrusion.

The cinema gave them the opportunity to live their relationship freely. The inflamed title fire over england, from 1937, showcased their on-screen chemistry. Hollywood knocked on Laurence’s door. English actors were trading on the rise in the brand new sound industry. The adaptation of wuthering heights it was a blockbuster. Laurence’s success in Hollywood helped Vivien land the role of Scarlett O’Hara in gone With the Wind. All the actresses had read, or claimed to have read, the bestseller of Margaret Mitchell. They all wanted to play the impudent, capricious, attractive, persevering, courageous and fascinating Scarlett. The producer David O. Selznick mounted a clever campaign of marketing around the cast, and there was much speculation about who would take the southern cat to the water. Disparate names sounded in the limelight: jean arthur, Lana Turner, Paulette Godard either susan hayward. Selznick had also noticed that beautiful English actress with the velvety eyes and stubborn little mouth, but he considered her too british to transport it to the extensive cotton fields. According to Olivier —and it is the version that the film legend has bequeathed to Wikipedia—, it was Myron Selznickrepresentative of the actor and brother of the producer, who brought Vivien to the set of gone With the Wind while the Atlanta fire was being filmed. When David saw that blue gaze tossed by the intense flames he knew right away that he was in the presence of Scarlett O’Hara.

Consecrated and laureates. they were finally able to get married. On August 21, 1940, in an intimate ceremony in Santa Barbara. The Second World War involved financial urgency. Taking advantage of the media pull as a couple, they filmed Lady Hamilton, of alexander korda, a period drama that tells the romantic and adulterous story between Emma Hamilton and the hero of the Napoleonic wars lord nelson.

Marriage, however, tempers those furtive urges of secret and socially stigmatized lovers. Now they are celebrities. The artistic cream. Laurence establishes himself as the great hermeneutic of shakespeare. To the film adaptations of Henry V Y Richard III we must add his direction at the Old Vic Theater. These are years of professional success but, at the same time, a routine is imposed on the couple that will end with a feared phrase; that “I don’t love you anymore” thing Vivien threw in the living room of her house in Durham Cottage. As Olivier notes: “I must have been as stunned as I really was, because then he added, ‘It’s not like there’s another one or anything like that; I want to say that I still love you, but in a different way. I don’t know, as if you were a brother…». He used those very words. And for me it was the same as if they had told me that they had sentenced me to death.

That death sentence resulted in a civilized pact whose main clause established that, with discretion and respect, everyone could sleep with whoever they wanted. Truth be told, according to gossip and gossip about the movie thing, it was Vivien who took the most advantage of the new rules of the relationship. Her sexual fury knew no bounds. More than showing off, she was showing off desperate and peremptory. Nobody, at that time, still suspected her mental health problems. The luckiest simply took advantage of her situation. For its part, the marriage was adrift. Screams, hysterical discussions and fights with flying objects followed. Of such magnitude were her shows that they became known as “the fabulous Oliviers.”

Free rage attacks, hyperbolic euphoria, millimeter obsessions, inexplicable despondency. Vivien’s behavior went from bad to worse. Finally, the psychiatric diagnosis: depressive mania. What is now known as bipolar disorder. At that time, the treatment to use was by electroshock. An expeditious method that did not always achieve satisfactory results. In Vivien, among other changes, it caused affective and sentimental changes, without prejudice to an overflowing sexual compulsion.

But the beginning of the end came with a tour of Australia and New Zealand. “I lost you in Australia,” she said to him on the way back. If all seemed lost, the confirmation of the debacle occurred when the Australian actor appeared on the scene Peter Finch. And never better said, because it was after attending the representation of tartuffe in Melbourne that Laurence decided to sign the then unknown actor. Vivien also set her eyes (and something else) on the young Finch. That tour, otherwise, was a disaster. On one occasion, Vivien lost a shoe and refused to go on stage. Furious, Laurence gave her a resounding slap, which she did not hesitate to return. Quite a spectacle for the company, which she watched in astonishment, from behind the scenes, that gale of open-handed hosts.

In the cinema, however, life seemed happy. Despite a more low-key career than her husband’s, Vivien had swept the colossal portrayal of her as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). For her part, Laurence continued to print character and acting quality onscreen. In 1956, he received an offer to direct marilyn monroe in The prince and the showgirl. I was elated. He even fantasized about making that desired body his own, that hazy dream made of swaying flesh. His desire passed with the deal. The actress’s erratic and capricious behavior during filming was pure joke. So Laurence went through that hell with as much dignity as possible and made a defensible film; perhaps the one that shows the lack of chemistry between the protagonists, but that, as a light romantic comedy, is still visible and does not cloy.

Some biographers involved in moral censors —case of donald spoto— They reproach Laurence for having abandoned his wife; to have left her in the arms of the disease when she needed him most. Thorny issue, considering that the relationship had become a self-destruction for both. Rather than immolation, Laurence preferred to leave the forum. Although not for that reason he was haunted by a certain feeling of guilt: «It has always been impossible for me not to believe that I was, in a way, the cause of Vivien’s disorders, that they were due to some fault that was in me., no matter how much each one of the many psychiatrists with whom our situation forced me to contact, assured me otherwise. Enough to make one go crazy, isn’t it? It was what he thought when Jack Merivale, the actress’s husband at the time, called him to give him the news of her death from chronic tuberculosis. Vivien was only fifty-three years old, but her body had aged prematurely. There remained, however, in that face marked by illness and its excesses, glimpses of Scarlett O’Hara’s adorable impertinence and obstinacy, that Atlanta fire crackling in the velvety blue of her iris.

Laurence redid the last stretch of his life together with Joan Plowright. The gossip press was rumored about the possible homosexuality of the actor. There was talk on the landings of the thing about a relationship of years with the actor danny kaye; of burly black sailors in port taverns at those hours when alcohol clouds wills and derails the senses; of beardless and Apollonian youths stuffed into tight tights… Anyway, what does it matter.

We are only interested in that old man who, ritualized the custom, when everyone is sleeping and the house is quiet, at night serves himself a restrained brandy, sits in the old armchair and turns on the television. The light magic of the images prevails over the dense darkness and illuminates that gaze, which now recalls the moments in which life was a brilliant script, with a solid argument and a magnetic plot. The actors, splendid, but above all is her. The camera wants her, chases her and frames her. That beautiful face dances reflected in the old man’s. The energetic, clear voice speaks of Tara and a promise just before the music runs wild with emotions. The old man’s wet eyes. The image of her trembles as if reflected in a pond tossed by the wind. It fades with the crescendo of the strings and brass. She almost disappears at times. She is about to get lost in a shapeless blur when the old man’s moan invokes her with words that have become a prayer and, over the years, will become a melancholic legend only suitable for stubborn film-eaters: “This, this really was love…”.

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Cinephagous loves: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, as if you were never going to stop