Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean

Oh joy! I have a beautiful new book on my coffee table!

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean is not a comprehensive biography of the actress. For that, you should refer to Anne Edwards' excellent biography published in 1977 or Hugh Vickers' bio published in 1989. Kendra's book focuses on Leigh's career as an actress, her passionate pursuit of and marriage to Laurence Olivier and the resulting legend that embraced and suffocated both of them. In fact, if there is one word to describe Vivien Leigh, it would be passionate. The book glides lightly over other important personal relationships, but deals sympathetically with the mental illness that plagued her and destroyed her marriage.
The Golden Couple of the British Theatre
For all of Vivien's gifts, hers is a sad story. Blessed with so much during her youth, much of it was cruelly robbed from her in middle age. One could not help thinking that Vivien Leigh was born too soon. Had she been alive today, new drugs and medical attention could have controlled her bipolar disorder. One also feels a bit of regret over her relentless pursuit of a stage career in order to work with Olivier. The camera loved her and Hollywood knew how to showcase her beauty and talents (she had 2 Academy Awards to prove it). But, she was a woman who was driven to follow her heart and, for her, all roads lead to Olivier.
Vivien triumphed as Lady Macbeth 
But this is a coffee table book and, as such, it is beautifully done. The size is just right (not too big nor too small), the paper is heavy and glossy and it is loaded with photos, some previously unpublished. Kendra Bean is the fist Vivien Leigh biographer to have been granted access to the Laurence Olivier archives. The information contained in medical documents and intimate letters shed new light on Vivien's great struggles and great triumphs and serve to humanize this seemingly other-worldly creature. As mercurial as she was, Vivien had a great capacity for love and friendship and made many life-long attachments that, though tested greatly by her illness, remained intact. Her friends were as loyal as they come.

If you are like me, the text of a coffee table book is important, but not as important as the photos and here the book does not disappoint. Vivien Leigh is a beautiful subject and we are treated to an eyeful of beautiful images.
Hollywood Beauty: Vivien photographed for Waterloo Bridge
We see Vivien at all stages of her life. From her youth to her early marriage to her charmed life as Scarlett O'Hara and Lady Olivier to the ultimate struggles with age, illness and loneliness, the pictures tell the story. And a big flat out thank you to Kendra Bean for including a beautiful full-page photo of Vivien as Scarlett O'Hara in my favorite dress from Gone With the Wind.
Scarlett's beautiful love bird dress designed by Walter Plunkett
This lovely portrait of a gallant and magical star has been a labor of love for writer Kendra Bean. Kendra is the author of the fantastic site that is all things Viv and Larry all the time.

Vivien Leigh: and Intimate Portrait is available from a variety of sellers, including Amazon.


ClassicBecky said...

Sounds and looks like a really lovely book, Chick ... congrats to Kendra for her work, and to you for your acquisition of a great volume for your coffee table!

FlickChick said...

It is lovely, Becky and isn't it great for Kendra?

Inge Gregusch said...

FlickChick brings new meaning to the word "obsession", with this coffee table biography that has a picture of guess which dress??? Kidding, dahlings--I love it. Great post as always.


Kendra is a great writer, I'm very happy for her success.
You're right, today Vivien could have a better life with adequate care of her bipolar disorder.
I'd love that she and Olivier were paired more on the screen or wither if their plays together were recorded so younger fans could see them.

FlickChick said...

Inge - oh, that dress - it haunts me! But the lovely reproduction in here is the best I've seen.

FlickChick said...

Le - Kendra has produced a wonderful book - and since her blog is so awesome, we somehow knew it would be!

Silver Screenings said...

Yum! This book looks gorgeous.

I cannot imagine what a nightmare it would be to live with bipolar disorder, never mind what it would have been like before modern medications. Plus there was the stigma to deal with, which is still here today, but much better than in Vivien`s time.

Anyhoo, looks like a fab book and I can`t wait to look at it in person.

FlickChick said...

Silver Screenings - it is a really beautiful book. Kendra did a great job.