Interesting little gossipy snippet in the British Newspaper Dail Mail about Vivien Leigh. From this article it does seem that she was passed over for an Honour in the eartly fifties – speculation below as to why :
She is seen here – above -
Vivien Leigh curtseys to the Queen Mother at the Variety Club in 1954 next to husband Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Sybil Thorndike
Gone With The Wind star Vivien Leigh was twice deemed unsuitable for a damehood in the British Honours System of the time – with her fragile mental health and scandalous affairs possible reasons for the snub.
Two unidentified experts who were asked to consider Leigh’s suitability vetoed the honour when she was twice considered in 1952 and 1954.
They deemed the actress – who had fallen for Sir Laurence Olivier when married, and also had an affair with actor Peter Finch – suitable only for a lower-ranking CBE. In the end she was not honoured at all.
The comments are revealed in Cabinet Office papers obtained by this newspaper under Freedom of Information laws.
It is not clear whether the individuals quoted were civil servants, politicians or other experts consulted as part of the honours process.
One of the pair writes: ‘There are contrary opinions about her merits as an actress.
‘Personally I think she is underrated, and see no reason why she should not have a CBE [Commander of the British Empire] but certainly not a DBE [Dame Commander of the British Empire].’
The other wrote: ‘I am a great admirer of Vivien Leigh as an actress both stage and film.
‘Apart from her gifts as an actress, she has won great public admiration for the courage with which she has in recent years faced illness.
‘Personally I doubt whether she is at present quite what may be called “The Dame Class”, eg Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike. I, therefore, venture to express the view that CBE appears to be more appropriate than DBE.’
The star was 39 at the time of the first snub and was enjoying huge international acclaim for her performances in the film and stage versions of the Tennessee Williams classic A Streetcar Named Desire.
But she had suffered from lifelong depression and had previously taken an overdose on the set of Gone With The Wind in 1938 – the film in which Clark Gable as Rhett Butler famously told her: ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’
In 1953 she went on to suffer a complete mental breakdown after having an affair with co-star Finch while filming Elephant Walk.
She was replaced in her role by Elizabeth Taylor and admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Leigh’s biographer Hugo Vickers believes that legendary actor Olivier could have been behind at least one snub.
He said: ‘I think it quite possible that she was turned down because she was too beautiful and too feminine. She clearly didn’t fit the idea of a theatrical Dame at that time.
‘But these individuals would have been aware that she had health problems and that she had been married twice. Clearly these things still mattered in the Fifties.
‘I just wonder if Olivier himself had any input into the matter, because he was such a powerful figure in the theatre world.
‘He was jealous of her always and so beastly to her basically that he could easily have said, “I don’t think she would want such a thing.” ’
Mr Vickers said it is unlikely the actress, who was married to Olivier from 1940 to 1960, would have been aware of or bothered by the snub.
The above article is a very interesting one and gives an insight into the thinking of the day, and also such things as the acceptance or perceived acceptance of the British Public to such a thing as divorce – only a year or two later Princess Margaret was forced to end her relationship mainly due to Peter Townsend’s previous marriage ending in divorce.
Vivien Leigh here – above - in a still from Gone With The Wind. Laurence Olivier , according to his elder son, would have quietly seethed with jealousy at the accolades she received following this film and more so when she received the Oscar – which he didn’t. He may well have been a powerful and wonderful stage actor but on film he wasn’t anything special – he maybe thought he was though.