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Vivien Leigh's Love Of Theater: How Her Star Power Went Beyond the Big Screen

By    |   Friday, 15 May 2015 12:58 PM

Although known by most for her iconic movie roles in 1939’s “Gone With The Wind” and 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Vivien Leigh actually preferred theater. She was more prolific in this area, with many of her theatrical performances including Laurence Olivier, a renowned Shakespearian actor who combined both movie and theater roles throughout his career. They married in 1940.

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Here are four of her most memorable theater performances.

1. Tatiana, "Tovarich"
(1963)
Based on a French play by Jacques Deval, this musical play outlines how two Russian aristocrats adapt to their new roles as maid and butler for an American family in Paris, while avoiding the attentions of a Soviet commissar seeking to capture them. Jean-Pierre Aumont played the lead male role.

The play was nominated for two Tony Awards, with Vivien winning one in the Best Actress in a Musical category. In The New York Times, Howard Taubman praised her performance: “If you remember her as Scarlett O'Hara or Juliet or Cleopatra, you know that she's a beautiful woman and a gifted actress. Now she makes a transition to musical comedy with the greatest of ease.”

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2. Blanche DuBois, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1949)
A play written by Tennessee Williams (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama), the London production starred Vivien Leigh and was directed by Laurence Olivier, bringing one of America’s best-loved plays to a UK audience. It’s the story of a fragile woman looking to belong, staying with her sister, Stella, after being exiled from her hometown in Mississippi. Stella’s relationship with Stanley inevitably leads to her descent into madness.

Leigh went on to star in the movie version and received positive reviews for both. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said, “Miss Leigh has, indeed, created a new Blanche du Bois on the screen—a woman of even greater fullness, torment, and tragedy.”

3. Sabina, "The Skin Of Our Teeth”
(1945)
Another play that won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but this one was written by Thornton Wilder, and it offered an attempt to sum up humanity’s adventures on this planet in three acts and the difficulties associated with each stage, namely ice deluge and reconstruction. According to The Spectator’s James Esdhern, “Without the vivacity, the unerring grace, the sparkling and incredibly perfect diction of Vivien Leigh as Sabina, the play might lose half its brilliance.”

4. Cleopatra, "Antony And Cleopatra" (1951)
With Laurence Olivier playing Antony, this Shakespearian tragedy has multiple settings (Egypt, Italy, Syria, and Greece). When Caesar dies, the Egyptian Queen attracts the attentions of his most likely replacement, leading to conflict with another rival, Octavius. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rebecca Brown said, “Leigh's beauty, intelligence and technique won her praise although some reviewers thought her lacking in the gypsy fire required by the role.”

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Although known by most for her iconic movie roles in 1939’s “Gone With The Wind” and 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Vivien Leigh actually preferred theater.
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2015-58-15
Friday, 15 May 2015 12:58 PM
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