Vivien Leigh in the South West

Beyond the larger national collections that document Vivien Leigh's life and career, archival materials related to Leigh are also clustered in regional spaces within the UK. In the South West of England, evening dresses belonging to Leigh can be found at Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), accompanied by letters from her daughter Suzanne Farrington. A nightdress worn by Leigh in the filming of Gone with the Wind along with dozens of other personal and professional items of dress and theatrical paraphernalia – hats, muffs, photographs and even a theatre seat – can be found it what was formally titled the 'Vivien Leigh Room' at Topsham Museum in the small town of Topsham in East Devon. These materials were retained as part of the legacy of the museum's founder Dorothy Holman, aunt of Leigh’s daughter Suzanne Farrington and Leigh's former sister in law when she was married to her first husband, the South West-based solicitor Leigh Holman, in 1932.

Whilst Leigh's time in the South West was relatively brief, her connection to the region and to Topsham in particular has been maintained through the practices of local and regional historiography. When Dorothy Holman founded Topsham Museum in the 1960s, she included material donated by Leigh's daughter. In choosing to display these items, Leigh was positioned as a key part of Topsham’s history and identity. The Leigh materials contained at Topsham have gone on to draw audiences from all over the world. Combined with the ephemera and personal affects also on display and behind the scenes in collections at RAMM and the BDCM, Leigh's archival legacy in the South West thus reframes a national and transatlantic star as a local celebrity.

Combining star studies with feminist film historiography and archival methodologies, the project will explore this regional framing. It will use new digital methodologies to document and interrogate the history of the acquisition, curation, meanings and uses of Leigh's material legacy for regional audiences.