About the project

Reframing Vivien Leigh: Stardom, Archives and Access is a 20-month Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Fellowship funded project led by Dr. Lisa Stead at the University of Exeter.

The project examines how the legacies of screen star Vivien Leigh are archived and curated by a range of public institutions in the South West of England, taking audiences behind the scenes of local archives and museums. Whilst Vivien Leigh's time spent in the South West was relatively brief her connection to the region has been maintained through the practices of local and regional historiography. The sedimentation of archival artefacts from her life and career within heritage institutions across the region have reframed a national and transatlantic star as a 'local' celebrity.

To explore these processes, Reframing Vivien Leigh forged new collaborations with the following institutions:

  • Topsham Museum in Devon holds the most extensive Vivien Leigh collections in the South West. Materials relate to her film and theatrical roles in films like Gone with the Wind (1939) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), such as dresses, costumes, personal affects, theatre ephemera and letters. Other items relate to her relationship with the Holman family and Dorothy Holman, who founded the museum in the 1960s, and her first husband, Leigh Holman.
  • The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter displays items related to Vivien Leigh from its Costume and Textiles collections and holds other Vivien Leigh dress items at the Ark, RAMM's off-site storage facility. RAMM's Vivien Leigh holdings were donated by her daughter, Suzanne Farrington (née Holman).
  • The Fashion Museum, Bath holds several dress items that belonged to Vivien Leigh which were donated to the museum by her daughter in the 1960s. These donations were facilitated by the relationship between costume designer Beatrice 'Bumble' Dawson and the museum's founder, fashion historian and collector Doris Langley Moore, who had worked with Vivien Leigh for her 1949 book The Woman in Fashion.
  • The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDCM) in Exeter holds a variety of ephemera produced to market Vivien Leigh's films and her star image, including fan magazines, toys, games, posters and dolls.

Navigating the Reframing Vivien Leigh site

This site collates the key research outputs from the project. It enables you to explore new digital catalogues in our Collections, looking in detail at materials from each of the institutions above and from other sites and venues in the region which have a connection to Vivien Leigh.

You can experience the research process as it unfolded through photographs, video, audio and text in our Exhibits.

Our 3D models will allow you to get up close to some of the dress artefacts we encountered and learn about their history, their uses, and their local and global meetings.

Our StoryMap enables you to trace the story of one unique archive item – a costume from Gone with the Wind – over space and time.

Finally, our podcasts will allow you to hear what you cannot easily see. Each episode takes you behind the scenes at different museums to speak with curators, researchers and volunteers about unique Vivien Leigh artefacts, investigating what they tell us about her place in film history, but also in local history.