Rediscovering a hidden treasure
Topsham Museum was founded by Dorothy Holman, Vivien Leigh's sister-in-law from her first marriage to Leigh Holman (1932-1940). Various materials from her life and career were given to Dorothy Holman for display at the Museum.
Several years after Dorothy Holman passed away the nightdress was rediscovered by Topsham Museum steward Ann McMenamin in a carrier bag at the back of a chest of drawers.
Little information exists about how the dress moved from the set of Gone with the Wind to the home of Dorothy Holman. There is some information, however, about how Vivien Leigh might have originally acquired the dress.
A great deal of memos were sent between Gone with the Wind's producer, David O. Selznick, and the wardrobe department during the making of the film. In some of these memos, the nightdress is mentioned.
David O. Selznick is told by wardrobe superviser Edward P. Lambert that: ‘Miss Leigh likes it [the nightgown] so well she is going to have it copied for herself’ (Lambert 1939: 1).
A further memo from David O. Selznick to Edward P. Lambert on 30 May 1939 requests that he ‘please put the nightdress itself to one side and do not use it in any other pictures. I promised to give it to Miss Leigh after it is clear that no retakes are needed in it.’ (Selznick 1939: 1)
There the trail goes cold. No clear archival record seems to exist of Dorothy Holman receiving the dress, either directly from Vivien Leigh herself or from anyone else close to her.