The V&A Acquires the Vivien Leigh Archive

We are delighted to announce that the V&A has acquired the archive of the legendary British film and theatre actress Vivien Leigh (1913 – 1967) in the centenary of her birth. The archive includes many never-before-seen records including letters, diaries, visitor books, scripts and photographs.

Volume of press cuttings about Vivien Leigh’s role in Gone With The Wind, 1940. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Volume of press cuttings about Vivien Leigh’s role in Gone With The Wind, 1940. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Born in Darjeeling, India and educated in Europe, Vivien Leigh was an internationally recognised actress who won two Academy Awards for her roles in Gone with the Wind (1939) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). She also enjoyed a distinguished stage career spanning 30 years. Married to actor Laurence Olivier from 1940 – 1960, the celebrated couple co-starred in plays and films and were greeted on their various tours with the enthusiasm generally reserved for visiting royalty.

The archive covers all aspects of Vivien Leigh’s life from young womanhood to her death. Notably, it explores the grand love affair between Leigh and Olivier including more than 200 letters, telegrams, photographs, newspaper clippings and postcards between 1938 and 1967. The archive also includes Leigh’s diaries begun as a 16-year-old in 1929 and maintained until her death in 1967.

Vivien Leigh’s diary, 1949. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Vivien Leigh’s diary, 1949. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Vivien Leigh meticulously kept more than 7,500 personal letters from friends and colleagues addressed to both her and Laurence Olivier and the archive uncovers correspondence with T. S. Eliot, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Edith Sitwell and with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who offers her thanks to the couple for remembering her. Professional correspondence includes many letters from playwright Tennessee Williams and one addressed to Leigh in September 1950 enthuses about her role of Blanche DuBois: “It is needless to repeat here my truly huge happiness over the picture and particularly your part in it. It is the Blanche I had always dreamed of and I am grateful to you for bringing it so beautifully to life on the screen.”

Programme for A Streetcar Named Desire starring Vivien Leigh at Aldwych Theatre, 1949. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Programme for A Streetcar Named Desire starring Vivien Leigh at Aldwych Theatre, 1949. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photographs, including albums of large format stills from Gone with the Wind as well as a collection of stereoscopic transparencies from touring stage shows across the U.S, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K, are included in the archive, also documenting stars such as Kirk Douglas, John Mills and Noël Coward, as well as press clippings, play and film scripts and awards.  

Vivien Leigh in George Cukor’s pool, 1960. Photographer unknown. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Vivien Leigh in George Cukor’s pool, Hollywood, taken during the Duel of Angels tour, 1960. Photographer unknown. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A revolving selection from the archive will be on display in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries from Autumn 2013.

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