Vivien Leigh and her Legacy

Vivien Leigh (b.1913-d.1967) began her career on the English stage in the early 1930s and went on to achieve global film stardom with her Oscar-winning roles in Gone with the Wind (1939) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), working on both sides of the Atlantic with her frequent co-star and husband Laurence Olivier.

Leigh is a figure around whom a number of prominent narratives have been built. The most immediate involves her relationship with Laurence Olivier, and her position within debates about the cultural hierarchies surrounding film and theatre in Britain across the interwar period. Through her working partnership with Olivier, the pair became known as the 'royal couple' of British acting, consolidating their star power through theatrical endeavours, tours and, in Leigh’s case, relatively scattered film work (she made twenty films overall). Leigh twice won the academy award for Best Actress, suffered quite publicly with mental illness, and instigated a fan following that extends into the present moment. Leigh the star still generates huge public interest. The summer 2017 anniversary celebrations held in her honor and the highly publicized opening of her personal archive at the V&A in 2013 testify to her sustained popularity with contemporary audiences.

Whilst Leigh's life has been documented in a steady stream of popular biographical publications since her death in 1967, until recently relatively scant academic work has been produced on her career and star image.