Tag Archives: vivien leigh

2013 at Backlots–A Year in Review

A big thank you to my readers for making 2013 a true banner year for Backlots. Here are some of the things that happened on the blog this year:

My attendance at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival was far and away one of the highlights of the year. A true movie lover’s paradise, the TCM Festival attracts classic film aficionados from the world over, and TCM certainly delivers the goods. It was great fun interacting in person with my fellow bloggers, whose work I know so well online, and making new classic film friends. A wonderful experience!

For the second year in a row, Backlots covered the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this past summer. As usual, it was a fantastic event with presentations unparalleled in their quality. Highlights for me included a screening of the hilarious Marion Davies movie The Patsy, an interactive talk with Winsor McKay expert John Canemaker,  and the breathtaking gamelan accompaniment set to the Balinese silent film Legong: Dance of the Virgins by the Sekar Jaya Gamelan Ensemble. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival never disappoints. Stay tuned next year’s festival which will be held over Memorial Day Weekend, and on January 11 for their special celebration of The Little Tramp at 100–celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Chaplin’s The Little Tramp. I will be at both events!

Last month, I was honored to be invited to blog for the Warner Bros. 90th Anniversary Tour. We bloggers were treated to a day of exploration at the studio, led by a professional guide, and topped off with lunch at the commissary. We had special access to the costume department and several areas off limits for regular tour members, and it was indeed a special day. Again, I met so many fellow bloggers and had such a good time. Thank you, Warner Bros., for organizing this wonderful day for us!

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The classic film community was graced with several magnificent new books this year. I had the pleasure of conducting interviews with Victoria Wilson, author of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940, and Kendra Bean, who is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait and a personal friend of mine. Both of these works are great monuments in and of themselves. A Life of Barbara Stanwyck is a gargantuan book that features 860 full pages of text and another 200 for source notes, and has proven to be the quintessential, definitive book on the actress. My reading of this book, though it took me less than 2 days, is one of the highlights of my year. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is so chock full of previously unseen photos of this staggering beauty that the reader simply cannot put it down. It is displayed prominently, face forward, on my shelf so as not to obscure its beauty. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to interview these two gifted writers, and I thank them for their interviews with me. Read Victoria Wilson’s interview here, and Kendra Bean’s here.

In what was perhaps my most meaningful personal success of 2013, I had the great privilege to interview Joan Fontaine in honor of her birthday. This was her last birthday, and her last interview. Joan was frail and her health declining, so she kept her answers short. The length of her answers does not matter to me. My interview with Joan Fontaine remains the single greatest privilege Backlots has ever had. Click here to read it. Rest in peace, dear Joan.

This is the video I made in memory of Joan Fontaine. I hope you enjoy it.

Wow, readers. What a year. 2014 is already shaping up to be an equally marvelous year! Here’s to what’s to come, and to you, loyal readers, for helping to make this blog what it has become.


An Interview with Kendra Bean, Author of VIVIEN LEIGH: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Mysterious, ethereal, and tremendously charming, Vivien Leigh is about as captivating as it comes. It is easy to simply marvel at her beauty, the likes of which the entertainment industry had never seen before and, in my opinion, has never seen since. Her stunning looks would be enough to secure Vivien’s place as one of the most compelling performers ever onscreen. But when one digs deeper into the life and career of the woman who was Scarlett O’Hara, a new person emerges–a sensitive, intelligent woman who fought intense demons in her personal life while maintaining a powerful inner core strength that came through in her life and her work.

It has been 25 years since the last major Vivien Leigh biography, and earlier this month classic film fans were treated to a unique and very special portrait of the star. Kendra Bean, the owner of vivandlarry.com and resident Vivien Leigh expert in the online classic film community, has written Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, a work that can be described as a labor of love, a glorious posthumous gift to Vivien Leigh. There have been several high profile biographies of the actress, the books by Alexander Walker and Hugo Vickers have left Kendra with some massive shoes to fill. But fill them she does, and with literally thousands of photographs and personal documents, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait gives readers an angle on Vivien’s life that has not been seen in previous books. In addition, Kendra is the first biographer to conduct research in the Laurence Olivier Archives, allowing this book to cover aspects of Vivien Leigh’s marriage to Laurence Olivier that have been previously unknown.

Vivien Leigh with husband Laurence Olivier.

I first met Kendra several years ago, before Backlots existed. I remember her preparation for her move from California to London, where she now resides, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend A Weekend With the Oliviers, Kendra’s 2011 tour of London through the eyes of the Oliviers. I also feel a special personal connection to this book, as I have witnessed its growth from just a seed planted straight through to its triumphant release in early October. Needless to say, I am very proud of Kendra for what has proven to be a work as beautiful as Vivien herself.

Here is a recent interview I conducted with Kendra. You can purchase your copies of the book by clicking here!


Without a doubt, you are the most passionate and knowledgeable Vivien Leigh aficionado I know. When did you first discover your love for Vivien, and what was it that most attracted you to her?
Haha, thanks! I discovered Vivien during my first viewing of Gone With the Wind when I was 18. I was so taken by the film that I started reading anything I could that would tell me more about it, which included several Vivien biographies. She had what the playwright John Osborne described as a “magic alchemy;” a mixture of great beauty, an interesting life, and an intriguing personality. I’ve said this in another interview, but it’s so true, so I’ll say it again: sometimes when I read biographies of famous people, I feel like my curiosity has been satisfied. But I read all the Vivien books and still wanted to know more! I find her to be mysterious, magnetic, variously admirable and sympathetic, and on some level relatable.
You have the distinction of being the first Vivien Leigh biographer to delve into the Laurence Olivier archives, giving you access to such extremely sensitive documents as her medical records and files. The book quotes several letters and private conversations, especially in regard to Vivien’s manic depression. Are these things you found in the Olivier archives?
Most of these letters and documents were found in the Olivier Archive, and some of them were in the Jack Merivale papers at the BFI. The medical-related documents didn’t cover her entire medical history, but they were enough to get some real insight into her bipolar disorder and how it was treated over the years. Of particular interest were the documents relating to the infamous Elephant Walk incident in 1953, and its aftermath (discussed in chapter 6 of the book). I felt like this was such a crucial point in Vivien’s life, but it always seemed to be such a grey area, full of speculation and rumor.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Vivien while working on this book?
 I’m not sure that I found anything really that surprising about Vivien because her qualities as a person and as a performer (both positive and negative) have been discussed and written about often over the years. Most of the material I looked at reinforced those qualities. There weren’t any huge revelations as to who she was or anything like that. What emerged instead were interesting details that I felt helped me better understand her career and personal life. Also, because these particular archives belonged to other people and Vivien was included as part of a broader context, there was a lot of material pertaining to how other people (both fans and those close to her) felt about her. I thought that was really great because it created a broader perspective. It wasn’t just how she felt about things happening in her life; it was also about the impact she left on others, and I hadn’t read a lot of it before.
You are also an expert on Vivien Leigh’s marriage to Laurence Olivier. In your research, what new insights did you gain into their marriage? Did your perception about them and their relationship go through any changes as you researched the book?
My perceptions didn’t change, per-se, I just got a more intimate understanding of some of the ins and outs of their marriage. Today it seems fashionable to talk about things like Laurence Olivier’s negative personality traits, and how he was horrible to her, but actually it became obvious going through all of that stuff that they were really close, that he cared a lot about her. I was surprised by how much concern Olivier expressed for Vivien in letters to other people, how often he told people he was proud of her performances, how much effort he put into making sure she was taken care of when she was going through really bad times with her mental troubles during their marriage, and how much he kept tabs on her after their divorce – that part really surprised me.
Before beginning this book, what adjectives would you have used to describe Vivien? Now that your book is finished, have those adjectives changed?
Mercurial; headstrong; passionate; vulnerable; significant. I wouldn’t change any of these.

October Events on the Blog

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Hello dear readers, Lara here to update you on what is coming in the month of October on the blog. There are a few very exciting things on the horizon, and here is what you may expect to see this month.

In my last blog update, I spoke of a special surprise to appear on the blog this month. On October 22, in celebration of Joan Fontaine’s 96th birthday, I will present a Q&A that I conducted with the legendary actress a few months ago. This is a huge honor–Miss Fontaine very rarely does interviews, and she was incredibly kind and generous to grant one to me. You will see her answers in response to questions about her childhood, her career, her life now, and her perceptions of herself as an actress and a human being.

I waited until now to let my readers know, because I want to keep the hype to a minimum and emphasize that this Q&A was conducted in honor of a very great actress’s birthday. My motive is very simply to present the reader with this wonderful gesture on the part of Miss Fontaine, and to share with you what she so graciously shared with me. So be sure to tune in on October 22 to honor, with me, the birthday of a great lady.

I am a very proud friend, because a personal friend of mine, Kendra Bean, is a first-time author and her book about Vivien Leigh, entitled Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait,  has already received accolades as one of the top film biographies of Fall 2013.

Kendra has agreed to a formal interview with Backlots, and I am very much looking forward to talking with Kendra about the book, the process of which I have watched, as a friend of Kendra’s, since its inception. Stay tuned for what promises to be a very insightful interview with Kendra about Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait.

Victoria Wilson, the author of the new Barbara Stanwyck biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck, Steel-True 1907-1940 (known in classic film circles lately as simply Steel-True), has also graciously agreed to an interview. Classic film aficionados have been anxiously awaiting this book for over a decade–15 years in the making, Steel-True covers the first 33 years of Barbara Stanwyck’s life, and consists of a whopping 1056 pages. We are in for the biography of the century.

The interview will be conducted toward the end of the month, and will appear on the blog a few weeks before the book’s release on November 12.

Watch your showers and stay away from those birds, everyone, because Hitchcock Halloween is fast approaching! If you haven’t yet signed up, please do so and I will add you to the list. You can write about anything you like related to Hitchcock–his life, movies, technique–and I am quick to welcome submissions about the Alfred Hitchcock Hour as well. It will take place on October 31, for one day only, so let me know what you would like to write about and get those submissions in by the 31st!

That’s the news for October! See you soon!