Vivien Leigh

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 :

Vivien Leigh curtseys to the Queen Mother at the Variety Club in 1954 next to husband Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Sybil Thornduke

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.

Vivien Leigh kissing Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind

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.


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