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The Patriot News, October 22, 1990
by Sharon Johnson/Patriot-News
A generation has come of age since Vivien Leigh's death in 1967. Many moviegoers know little more of the British actress than she played the world's most famous Southern belle. "Vivien Leigh: Scarlett & Beyond" is one-hour documentary that attempts to let viewers, especially younger ones, know that Leigh's career neither began nor ended with Scarlett O'Hara.
Jessica Lange hosts TNT's biography/critical appraisal. It just skims the surface of the actress's career. But what a dazzling surface it is!
After a sketchy early biography, the production gets down to the two events which first captured moviegoers' attention: her love affair with Laurence Olivier and her choice for the most covered role in movie history.
Olivier was already a rising star of British films and theater and Leigh had several film
roles to her credit when the two met. Each was already married, each was a parent at a time
when divorce was taken rather more seriously than it is today. It took some time and considerable
negotiation for the two to marry and become Hollywood's golden couple.
The movies they made together ("Fire over England," "That Hamilton Woman") never had the impact to their solo successes: Leigh's "Gone With the Wind," Olivier's "Wuthering Heights."
What contributed to Leigh's insecurity was the disparity in their fame in the theater. After World War II, the two returned to England where the actress bravely joined her husband in pioneering theatrical projects which they would also take on tour. But Leigh, who possessed a classically beautiful profile, lacked the vocal equipment of a classical actress. Critics were rarely kind.
Only in lighter roles on stage and most of what she did on screen did the actress find the approval she craved. And she found it against apparently overwhelming adds. Tuberculosis would take its toll on her physical resources. She also began to suffer from severe bouts of depression.
Health problems would damage Leigh's career. So did age in an industry which worships youth and
beauty, particularly in female stars.
She found one more magic role, that of Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire," which brought her a second Oscar as best actress.
But Leigh's fabled marriage was ending and good roles were slow in coming. Valiantly she continued to work in vehicles as varied as her last film, "Ship of Fools," and the Broadway musical "Tovarich."
The growth of the home video market and cable services like TNT have given movie fans an
opportunity to see the highlights of Leigh's career.
In this affectionate biography, friends pay tribute to Vivien Leigh, the woman who "was never taken seriously enough because she was so beautiful," according to Claire Bloom.
Her friend and co-star, Sir John Gielgud, believes that making "A Streetcar Named Desire" was "the biggest mistake she mage" because the role of Blanche "hit too close to home."
If it does nothing else, this program may inspire viewers to watch and reassess the Leigh films now available to them.
They can begin with the romantic soap opera, "Waterloo Bridge." Of all the films she made, host Lange tells us, "this was her favorite." It's appropriate, then, that TNT will broadcast the film immediately after the 8 p.m. showing of "Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond."