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Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,165 ratings  ·  47 reviews
'This is the best book we have had on Vivien Leigh, the most thoroughly and shrewdly researched, the most acute in its realization that Leigh was an actress who had to find herself in her parts if she was to do well, but who invariably began to destroy herself in the process.'--The Boston Sunday Globe
Paperback, 342 pages
Published January 12th 1994 by Grove Press (first published May 28th 1987)
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I have seldom been more disappointed with a biography. I felt it should have been wonderful, considering the authority of the sources and the expertise of the author. However, it was dense and often dull in its repetitiveness. Other times, he left out key facts. For instance, Vivien suddenly has a relapse of her tuberculosis, and yet we were never told when she contracted it to begin with!

Walker continues to draw conclusions based on vague facts, painting a very two-dimensional image of a remark
Clare Bear
Jan 18, 2008 Clare Bear rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Clare by: Betty, my grandmother
I always loved Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, because she is so charismatic and such a beauty; you watch no-one else while she is on screen. And the story of how a virtually unknown English actress bumped out of the running hundreds of hopefuls for Margaret Mitchell's very American story demonstrates Vivien Leigh's determination.

Her life story and love affairs were interesting reading because the intensity of her presence on the screen seems to match that of her personal life. She is descri
John Yelverton
A beautiful and tragic tale of one of the most beautiful and tragic women in Hollywood.
C.S. Burrough
Nov 07, 2014 C.S. Burrough rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Serous biography readers
It was on refection of what would have been Vivien Leigh's hundred and first birthday, in November 2014, that I revisited Alexander Walker's biography, one I had previously relished but which had triggered disappointment in some. I've said before: if it's a movieography you want, click on Wikipedia or the Internet Movie Database. There isn't much to see. Leigh didn't make a long list of films comparable to other legends of her standing. This serious actress was at heart a great theatre performer ...more
Alexander Arsov
Alexander Walker

Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh

Conundrum, Paperback, [1987].

8vo. x+342 pp. Bibliography, notes, index [pp. 312-342].

First published, 1987.


List of Illustrations
Foreword and Acknowledgements
Prologue: Notley Abbey

Part One: Leigh
1. 'I won't sing, I'll recite'
2. 'You deserve to be kissed'
3. 'Had a baby - a girl'
4. 'I will not be ignored'
5. 'What a virile performance'
6. 'We're in love'
7. 'I shall play Scarlet O'Hara'

Part Two: Larry
8. 'I'll only be gone a few days'
9. 'Please do
If you are interested in the marriage of Vivien Leigh and Laurance Olivier, this is the book for you. I wanted a book with its main focus on Leigh's career. I thought I had read somewhere that this book was it. But I was greatly disappointed in that regard. Only 2 movies get much attention and those were her big ones, Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. But even with these the focus is off for me. We learned for the millionth time how she got the part of Scarlett. I wanted to know w ...more
I've been fascinated by Vivien Leigh since my first glimpse of her as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Her life, with its ups and downs, was every bit as fascinating as her role in that legendary movie. I'm so glad I've learned more about her by reading this, but I would have preferred a faster paced writing style in this particular book. The detail, including dates and eye-witnesses, was very well done and the visual imaginary created a clear picture of her in my mind. The photos selected ...more
There has always been that something about Vivien Leigh, and I was looking forward to reading this bio.
It started out lyrical and good, and then just turned into a monotone of bland and fairly sad. I know her life was plagued by bipolar and episodes relating to, but this bio just made it seem all the more sad and hopless.
I like downer books (ala Henry Rollins) but this one just left me feeling uninspired and annoyed.
Ah well.
Her life was terbulant and exciting and routine and sad. I want to watc
God! This biography made me so sad. Here was a woman who had seemingly had every thing: beauty, class and undeniable talent and yet mental illness robbed her of so much including a life with the man she loved. This book was painstakingly researched and hauntingly beautiful. One of the best biographies on a film actress I have ever read. This book does so much to explore the woman behind the legend and really give us, the reader a terrifying and painful look at a woman in pain.
Ida Rand
she called sir laurence olivier, larry. i liked that. also she played a game as a child that i play with my own children in hopes of making them completely neurotic...i mean "smart."
Poor, poor Vivien. That's what kept circulating through my mind as I read this. Last night I had only 30 pages left, but it took me two hours to read them; I could not stop crying over how tragic the last few years of her life were.

The author writes most eloquently about her life and feelings, painting a vast panorama of Vivien's life and providing insight into not only how professional she was, but how brave. This biography reads like a novel, and Walker places the same emphasis on character as
Nicholas Disabatino
"Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh" by Alexander Walker is a comprehensive biography of one of the stage and screen's greatest actresses. The book is divided into three sections based on the three prominent men in her life (her first husband, Leigh Holman, the great love of her life, fellow actor Laurence Oliver, and Jack Merivale, who was a source of comfort to her in her final years.) This division does a disservice to Leigh by implying that she was defined only by the men in her life, which wa ...more
Jade Dermody
From the beginning this biography read more like a novel. Vivien was a larger than life character rather then an actual flesh and blood woman. Beauty, determination and grace with a mad energy and dark underbelly. For such a short life Vivien lived it like the dramatic characters she often played on stage and screen. For those who said she was an unaccomplished actress who simply fed off her beauty and fame watch 'A street car named desire'! Also she was too often compared to her actor husband L ...more
I'm still seeking the definitive biography of Vivien Leigh. Unfortunately, this wasn't it.

Alexander Walker's take on Vivien's life is superficial, perhaps by necessity. Laurence Olivier and Jack Merivale were still alive when it was written. I was immediately annoyed by the separation of the book into three categories: "Leigh, Larry and Jack," as if Vivien could only be viewed through the prism of the men in her life. It's a disservice to her as an individual, and an opportunity for Walker to w
If you love biographical stuff, this is for you about one of my most favorite actresses: Vivien Leigh!

I really love Vivien Leigh so much, after watching 'Gone with the wind', she was such a beautiful, talented lady. I have read few paperbacks and mini-books about her, which I'm going to review ASAP!
"Vivien had a duality in her nature, as marked as the break in the body of a rock...inwardly there was chaos".

Vivien Leigh died July 7, 1967 at the age of fifty three. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1945; a disease that had been all but eradicated. The love of her life was Laurence Olivier. They divorced in 1960 after two decades together. Jack Merivale would be the last love in her life. He supported her through some of the worst episodes of mania and depression in her last years.
Several others have commented on how uninspired this biography is, and I agree. It's bloodless, and focuses on Vivien's career, rather than her humanity.

Walker leaves out the funny, strange quotes and anecdotes that made Vivien so witty and unique. Perhaps because of when it was written, Olivier's rumored bisexuality was also glossed over. I wonder how life would have been for 'the Oliviers' if they were stars today. Perhaps Olivier would be out of the closest, and Vivien wouldn't have had to c
Robert Gable
So-so biography of the English movie star. I didn't get a good feel for her aptitude and talent as an actress. Her bipolar condition was well covered; her TB less so.
Lovingly detailed story of the life of Vivien from her early days in England, becoming a major star and winning the two greatest female roles in cinema history, and continuing through her battles against bi-polar disorder.

Walker has crafted a biography rich in detail and quotes his sources in an appendix.

A heartbreaking story but as previously stated, this is the most impressive Vivien bio that we have (and I think I have read them all).

Highly recommended for those wanting the true story behind
Tara Giancaspro
I was (candidly) looking for a book more comprised of sordid details, but that was my only minor complaint with this engrossing book. Walker treats Vivien with the utmost reverence, by being truthful about her flaws and almost lovingly framing her as an exciting, amiable, but tragic woman. Walker acts as a researcher, a psychologist, and even a friend in providing a comprehensive study of Vivien Leigh supported by documents, interviews, personal anecdotes from Vivien, and a true admiration for t ...more
Jan 30, 2011 Regan added it
Since a new unauthorized bio is coming out on her next month I had to read the favorable one first.

If this bio is accurate she was more than just the brilliant actress behind Scarlett O'Hara, but a very generous and caring person. What made her all the more human to me, and even more of a fan was her love of cats. Apparently she was always taking in strays. She was very much a consummate professional - always looking to improve herself as an actress. So sad she died so young at 53.
I loved this book as it allowed more than a glimpse into the starlit's life. I remember watching "Gone With The Wind", as a young girl and being completely captivated by Scarlette's beauty and strength. While reading this book you are given access to a behind the scenes look of a life of a beautiful actress and her real life battles. This book me feel for Vivien Leigh, for the battles she fought, the talent that she was, and the life that could have been.
Lowell Tilden
Very interesting read for those of us who have only ever identified Vivien with Scarlett O'Hara, but I felt the author could have gone into more depth at parts.
I enjoyed this biography of Vivien Leigh. I thought the author did a good job of describing her life including her bouts of manic-depression and tuberculosis, as well as her two marriages and other relationships. I was also impressed by her tenacity in getting the roles she really wanted to play (i.e. Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche DuBois).
Terri R
A very good and intelligent story, but I never felt the accounts in the book really matched the excerpts of " her tragic and troubled life". Certainly a good read, but it did leave a lot of questions unanswered. I was actually more interested in reading more about Katherine Hepburn from the very brief mentions in the book.
okay.. she was crazy. This was a pretty depressing story, I'm sure if Leigh was live today she'd be one of those stars in and out of rehab and hounded by the press.

It is heartening to read how her friends stood by her and tried to protect her, but were ultimately unable to help her.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emily Peck
Well written for a Biography. It read more like an entertaining story than like a history of Vivien Leigh's life. Though it is from one man's perspective, it allowed for a deeper understanding and appreciation of Vivien and her career.
Susan Dill
It was a great book, very enlightening. I didn't know much about her other than Scarlett in gone with the Wind. She had a very interesting life, mainly in theater. I was surprised that she was so young, only 53 when she died of TB.
very much enjoyed this book but its the only book i have read so far on vivien leigh so i have no other comparisons. I found this book easy to read. Although some things are described vagualy, its still a good book.
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Alexander Walker was a film critic and author of a number of biographies and books on the film industry.
More about Alexander Walker...
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