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"If you want a label for her type," said a caption in Vogue under one of Cecil Beaton's earliest gallery portraits of her wearing Stiebel's blue and green plaid velvet jacket over dark skirt, "call it "exotic."
Anthony Quayle: I think Vivien was a rare phenomenon. She is certainly one of the most remarkable women I have ever known. In the days of matriarchy she would have been one of those Cretan goddess-priestesses, capable of making men great and equally capable of destroying them. She could have been the model for the little faience snake-goddess which was found at Knossos and is now in the museum at Candia — fascinating, alluring, compelling, and potentially dangerous, not only to others but to herself.
Betty Harbor (a school mate of Vivien’s in Paris): Vivien was not sixteen until 5 November that winter and was the youngest in the school. And she looked a little girl compared to the rest of us - quite petite. She spoke excellent French. I was in the bottom class an she was in the top. We had acour de danse each Saturday night when Mademoiselle’s friends would come for a soirée and play bridge and their sons came to be our dancing partners- young men from St Cyr University, etc. The first time the girls would be assembled in the grand salon talking nerviously in French to the young men who were equally shy. Suddenly they all turned round - Vivien had come into the room, in a short simple little dress when all the rest of us had long ones, and no makeup. The rest of us were deserted and all the boys excused themselves to go and ask Vivien to dance. She hadn't said anything. We were just talking and doing our best to be animated - these ghastly girls - and then suddenly she was there. She had that charisma.
Colin Clark: She had a mind which left most people behind. Most of us simply don't keep our minds in diamonds-cutting gear all the time. We get lazy. We watch the snooker on television or whatever. We suffer by it and make foolish remarks - engage our mouths without making sure our minds are in gear. We say all sorts of trivialities and inanities which we really don't work out. And we get through life like that. It's one of the cushions that we just need. Vivien didn't do that. Vivien's mind was just like a diamond drill or something. And I suppose that must have been the reverse side of the mentally depressive coin.
Far be it from me to compare myself to the great Vivien Leigh - but this is a better description of how my mind works then anything I have ever come up with, and one of the many reasons why I love Vivien as much as I do.
She was cultured, that's one of the most awesome things about her. She spoke like 4 languages fluently, and just sounded really intelligent in interviews and whatnot.
David Conville: Alan Webb said to me that if you found yourself naked with Vivien in the Sahara Desert with absolutely nothing, twenty-four hours later you would be coming out in a Rolls-Royce, covered in minks and drinking champagne.
David Niven (actor): I'll never forget her arrangements. Nor her love for Alex Korda.
Nor all those cats. Her ridiculous laughter, her fabulous generosity of heart, and her guts in
David Niven: As I said, Vivien Leigh is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen outside an art gallery, and remember I've seen her in dusty jodhpurs, slacks, in a kitchen dress. In person, she's dainty, speaks quietly, and moves gracefully. With Larry's restless stride, his shoulders hunched always as if he's wearing armor, they make an amazing-looking couple wherever they are.
David Selznick (about Scarlett O'Hara role): I took one look and knew that she was right. (1938, before "Gone with the wind")
Douglas Fairbanks: I first saw her in "Mask of Virtue" — her first West End success, and shared the general enthusiasm for her staggering beauty, engaging personality, unique quality of voice, remarkable talent and for her undeniable possession of what Noel Coward has called "Star quality." In person she was equally attractive, except, in those days, more shy and less sure of herself or poised.
Elaine Dundy (wife of British theatre critics, Kenneth Tynan): To me Vivien Leigh was a tragic heroine of classic proportions: chosen, blessed and abandoned by the gods. Obstinately she tried to control and defy her destiny and to know her story is to be inspired by pity and terror.
George Cukor: Vivien was a really wonderful screen actress. Quite apart from her
looks she had something very strong and individual and interesting. I also saw her act very
well on the stage. She was brilliant as Shaw's Cleopatra, and she made a damn good stab at
George Cukor: (about Scarlett O'Hara role) I saw her in "A Yank at Oxford" and she seems to be a little static, not quite sufficiently fiery for the role.
George Cukor: In the scene with Douglass Montgomery - that was before Leslie Howard was cast - you can see why she [Vivien Leigh] got the job. (March 1968)
George Cukor: There was something tragic even when she was at her happiest. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised when I heard she died. And Kate Hepburn said, “Oh, thank God!” because she’d suffered so much and was so miserable, really, from the time her marriage with Olivier broke up to the end of her life. Although most of the time you’d never suspect it. She was Rabelaisian, this exquisite creature, and told outrageous jokes in that cool voice and pretty enough to make you weep.
Gertrude Hartley (mother): She was never a sleepy child.
John Gielgud (actor): I am very proud to have known Vivien as a close friend during
the later years of her life—from the 1940s onward, and she is one of those I most miss today.
What can I write that will bring back the delight and sparkle that emanated from her? She hated
getting old, but I thought her more beautiful than ever as the years went by, with her fine bone
structure and delicate neck. She was only too well aware of her darker side, and fought most
gallantly to keep it under control, though in the end, she was fated to be overcome by its cruel
demands upon her health. How often I think of her calling me on the telephone with that imperious
but affectionate "Johnnie?" and wish so much that I could hear that dear voice again.
John Gliddon: Vivien, you're going to be a great star - as great as Garbo. (1935)
John Gliddon: It became obvious to me that if ever I was fortunate enough to bring an offer to Vivien that would prove acceptable to her and meet Olivier's approval, then it would be a miracle. It was from that moment on that I knew my usefulness to Vivien was running out. She had found another adviser and he was one with whom I simply couldn't compete.
John Gliddon: Vivien was sunk, but didn't she make a full about the cost of a ruined pair of shoes! She demanded MGM reimburse her.
Judy Campbell (actress): What Vivien wants Vivien gets. And that [Scarlett O'Hara role] was an example of her seeing an objective and going for it.
Katharine Hepburn: What to say... Vivien, dear Vivien... exquisite actress, thoughtful, fearless, gracious, and enormously kind... a lovely little pink cloud floating through the lives of all her friends, hovering over the setting sun, and thinking of everyone but herself.
Lady Redgrave: She never tired. It was incredible. Larry and the rest of us would quite obviously be dying on our feet, but not Vivien. She simply never looked or behaved as if she as tired.
Laurence Olivier: I think it is her optimistic attitude, as opposed to my natural pessimism. When something dreadful happens, she is at first in despair - but then her natural optimism sustains her - and sustains me. As things get worse for me, she seems to become stronger and stronger.
Margaret Mitchell: She is my Scarlett. (1939)
Noël Coward: She was bloody opinionated and so was I! We had some lovely rows!
Noël Coward: Vivien, with deep sadness in her heart and for one fleeting moment tears in her eyes, behaved gaily and charmingly and never for one instant allowed her unhappiness to spill over. This quite remarkable exhibition of good manners touched me very much. I have always been fond of her in spite of her former exigence and frequent tiresomeness but last night my fondness was fortified by profound admiration and respect for her strength of character. There is always hope for people with that amount of courage and consideration for others.
Noël Coward: She often reminded me of a bird of paradise. Now perhaps she can find her own.
Olivia De Havilland: In thinking now of that moment the recollection of her evokes all sorts of images: quicksilver; elegance and composure, like a small Siamese cat; and the tinkling charm of a Chinese wind lantern.
Orson Welles: In every generation there was a woman who gripped the imagination of the Continent. Today it is Vivien Leigh, because of her greatness as an actress, because of her personality and charm and in spite of her good looks.
Orson Welles: Vivien is much better in the movies - in fact, she's superb. Some actresses can't project on the stage but have a magical relationship with the movie camera.
Patsy Quinn (friend of Vivien Leigh’s parents): Vivien was so tiny and delicately made, with wonderful large blue eyes and chestnut wavy hair nearly to her waist, the tiny nose, the only complexion I have ever seen that really was like a peach.
Peter Finch: An attitude circulated that these weekend parties were in some way exclusive gatherings of a small and somewhat superior theatrical clique. It was never like that. Vivien adored her home and she was never happier than when she could share the peace and beauty of Notley... Larry, I remember, spent much of his time enjoying his hobby of tree pruning. I spent one glorious afternoon employed on nothing more glamorous than cleaning out a stretch of clogged-up river.
Rachel Kempson: Vivien made every weekend so special and wonderful. She was such a loving and giving person.
Radie Harris: Vivien Leigh had been an integral part of my life for 33 uninterrupted
years. She was my most cherished friend, my other sister, my wise counselor and my intimate
confidante. We had shared each other's laughter and tears, and there were many of both.
Radie Harris (about Vivien and Larry in 1939): They clung each other as if they were never going to see each other again.
Rex Harrison (actor, friend): I loved Vivien. Although we never as much as held hands. I cannot say my love was platonic; it was more exciting than that. After she married Larry we all became great friends, and many happy and hilarious weekends were spent with them at Notley Abbey and at their house in Chelsea.
In his personal letter (no year, but almost certainly 1982) Rex Harrison wrote about Vivien Leigh: I loved her very dearly, as you know, and had found poor Larry's extracts in the Sunday Telegraph sad in the extreme. Why did he ever embark on that?
Robert Helpman (actor, dancer, friend): She had a superb sense of humor and a great deal of character - not at all the frail little thing she appeared to be.
Roger Furse (friend): I don't suppose that up to the sad break-up with L. [Laurence Olivier] she had ever had a serious "No" said to her since she was born.
Simone Signoret: I will miss her, her laughs and her screams, her humour and her toughness and her tenderness.
Stewart Granger: She was appalling because when Vivien spoke, you could hear Larry. (1938)
Suzan Hayward: She should have been Scarlett!
Tarquin Olivier: I had never before seen a man and a woman in love. Theirs had a depth of experience shared for eight years, remembered passion, loss and fearful illness, and now rebirth of all they had ever had. I had watched Vivien pick the flowers for Larry and wanted to be a part of the two of them. It was a powerful longing that could only live through the denial of the one really deep love I had in love, my mother.
Trader Faukner (actor and friend): If you upset her, she could be a scorpion, but it was part of her personality. She could be dangerous. She could be very, very dangerous, but also she could be very sweet, very charming, and very warming.
Tennessee Williams (playwright): She is not only a stunning actress but a lady with the most important part of that intricate composition, which is kindness of the heart.
Terence Rattigan (dramatist): To know Vivien was to love her - the biggest and the least avoidable epitaphic cliche of any - but - and this may not be a cliche at all - to have loved Vivien was also to have been loved by her, and loved with a true devotion and a passionate loyalty that might well put your own more wavering emotion to shame.