a result of this episode, many of the Oliviers' friends learnt of her
problems. David Niven said she had been "quite, quite mad",
and in his diary Noel Coward expressed surprise that "things had
been bad and getting worse since 1948 or thereabouts
The fifties were a difficult period. He was by now Sir Laurence and
critics began to feel that she wasn't worthy of him. She could match
him on screen, but the stage was a different matter. Audiences were
still appreciative, but her health, both physical and mental, suffered
and the marriage began to fall apart. They divorced on friendly terms
she was still beset by bouts of depression, she continued to work in
the theatre and in 1963 won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical
for her role in the Broadway musical Tovarich. She also appeared in
the films The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and Ship of Fools (1965).
continued to keep a framed photograph of Larry on her bedside table,
even while living with her companion, actor John Merivale. As the illness
got worse some reconciliation was taking place and in June of 1964 Sir
Laurence visited her briefly and they spent some time together talking
and taking walks by a nearby lake.
May 1967 she was rehearsing to appear with Michael Redgrave in 'A Delicate
Balance' when she became ill with tuberculosis but, after resting for
several weeks, seemed to be recovering. On the night of July 7, Merivale
left her as usual, to perform in a play, and returned home around midnight
to find her asleep. About thirty minutes later he returned to the bedroom
and discovered her body on the floor. Merivale contacted Olivier, who
was receiving treatment for prostate cancer in a nearby hospital. In
his autobiography, Olivier described his "grievous anguish"
as he immediately travelled to Leigh's residence, to find that Merivale
had moved her body onto the bed. Olivier paid his respects, stood and
for forgiveness for all the evils that had sprung up between us'
later helped Merivale make funeral arrangements. She was cremated and
her ashes were scattered on the lake at Tickerage Mill, near Blackboys,
Sussex, London, England.
relationships it seems were meant to be and despite all the tears and
pain Lord Olivier and Vivien Leigh had something that most people crave
– real, passionate and unfathomable love. Similar to many of the
plays that Lord Olivier so famously acted in and directed; it was to
be a tragic love also. The last word with Ms Leigh,
would rather have lived a short life with Larry than face a long one
'Shaw is like a train. One just speaks the words and sits in one's place.
But Shakespeare is like bathing in the sea - one swims where one wants'
not a film star, I am an actress. Being a film star is such a false
life, lived for fake values and for publicity'
must tell me who I might have hurt. I have to write them an apology'
'Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh' (1994)
Suggested films to see:
streetcar named desire (1951)
Gone with the wind (1939)
That Hamilton Woman (1941)