Vivien Leigh Archive

Scope and Content

The archive covers many aspects of the life and career of Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) from young womanhood until her death. It includes letters and telegrams to her and Laurence Olivier, letters between her and Olivier, playscripts, filmscripts, awards, an extensive collection of photographic prints, negatives and stereoscopic pictures, appointment diaries, financial and business papers, scrapbooks and printed material.

Administrative / Biographical History

Vivien Leigh was one of the most celebrated film and theatre actors of the twentieth century. During a thirty-year career, she won an Academy Award for portraying Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), an Academy Award and BAFTA for playing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and a Tony Award for her role as the Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna in Tovarich (1963).

Vivian Mary Hartley was born in Darjeeling, India on 5 November 1913 to Ernest and Gertrude Hartley. She was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, and between the ages of thirteen and eighteen became fluent in French, Italian and German as a result of her studies in Europe.

In 1932 she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and became engaged to Herbert Leigh Holman. They married later that year and she adopted his middle name as her stage surname, whilst also changing the spelling of her name from Vivian to Vivien to become Vivien Leigh. Their daughter Suzanne was born in 1933 and by 1934 Leigh was actively seeking work in films, making her screen debut in Things are Looking Up (1935). Later that year she made her first professional stage appearance in The Mask of Virtue (1935), receiving excellent reviews.

Soon after, Leigh was put under contract by film producer Alexander Korda and in 1937 was cast in Fire Over England alongside Laurence Olivier. Leigh appeared as Ophelia in Olivier’s Hamlet at the Old Vic in 1937 and later that year played Titania in the company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opposite Robert Helpmann as Oberon.

In 1939, Vivien Leigh won the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in the film adaptation of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the American Civil War. Film producer David O. Selznick had led a two-year campaign for the ‘Search for Scarlett’ and although virtually unknown outside the UK, Leigh was cast in the role. When the film was released in December 1939, it was a critical and commercial success and Leigh became an internationally acclaimed film star.

In 1940 Vivien Leigh became the first British woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Gone with the Windwon ten Academy Awards in total (out of the record breaking thirteen nominations), and has become one of the most successful and enduring films of all time.

In 1940 she married Laurence Olivier in California, where they made the film Lady Hamilton together. On returning to England she appeared on stage in Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma (1942) and Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth (1945).

In 1949 she played the role of Blanche DuBois in the first UK production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Aldwych Theatre, directed by Olivier. Leigh then went on to appear in the 1951 film version, directed by Elia Kazan and co-starring Marlon Brando, winning her her second Academy Award for Best Actress.

When Laurence Olivier was knighted in 1948, Lord and Lady Olivier were widely acknowledged as the ‘first family’ of the theatre world. They entertained a wide variety of film and theatre stars of the era at their home in Buckinghamshire, Notley Abbey.

Leigh appeared in a variety of stage and film productions between 1945 and 1965 including film versions of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra opposite Claude Rains (1945), The Deep Blue Sea (1955), The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) and Ship of Fools (1965). Onstage, Leigh and Olivier appeared in a variety of productions together including Antony and Cleopatra (1951), The Sleeping Prince (1953), Macbeth (1955) and Titus Andronicus (1955), which was directed by Peter Brook.

Vivien Leigh contracted tuberculosis sometime in 1945 and suffered from recurring bouts of ill health throughout her life. She died in 1967 at the age of 53.


This collection is arranged as follows:

THM/433/1 - Correspondence from Laurence Olivier to Vivien Leigh

THM/433/2 - Named Correspondence

THM/433/3 - Other Correspondence

THM/433/4 - Material Relating to Vivien Leigh's Career

THM/433/5 - Photographs

THM/433/6 - Notley Abbey

THM/433/7 - Diaries

THM/433/8 - Address Books

THM/433/9 - Personal Papers

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 2014.

Separated Material

The following items have been integrated into the Theatre and Performance collections:

S.756-2014 & S.757-2014 - Two costume designs by Motley for Capulet in Romeo and Juliet at the 51st Street Theatre, New York, 1940

S.2194-2014 - Rectangular metal award presented to Vivien Leigh by the City of Paris, 1951

S.2195-2014 - Metal, wood and plastic-framed plaque commemorating the 30th anniversary of Vivien Leigh's death, commissioned by an 'admirer', 1997

S.2196-2014 - Rectangular metal plaque from an award presented to Vivien Leigh, 'Biennale di Venezia XII’, 1951

S.2197-2014 - L'Académie du Cinéma Award, 1966

S.2198-2014 - Rectangular metal award presented to Vivien Leigh, São Paulo, 1962

S.2199-2014 - Antoinette 'Tony' Perry Award for Tovarich, 1963

S.2200-2014 & S.2201-2014 - Two circular medallions presented to Vivien Leigh commemorating the re-opening of the Burgtheater, Austria, 1955

S.2213-2014 - Circular metal medallion presented to Vivien Leigh depicting the head of Paul-Louis Weiller, 1965

S.2214-2014 - Rectangular metal plaque probably for the door of a dressing-room to be used by Vivien Leigh

S.2215-2014 - Rectangular metal plaque probably for the door of a dressing room to be used by Vivien Leigh

S.2216-2014 - Vivien Leigh's writing case complete with blank address book

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in general may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files. Material relating to Vivien Leigh and her stage career can also be found in further collections including:

THM/321 - Oliver Messel Archive

THM/31 - Michael Redgrave Archive

THM/178 - Tennent Administrative Archive, 1934-1969