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Discussion topic for January 2010:

What film hooked you to Vivien Leigh? If not GWTW what  was it? What did you think when you saw her in another film?

Vivien as Scarlett

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As we all know, Karl Malden, Vivien’s costar in Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, passed away earlier this month from natural causes. He was 97 years old. What you may NOT know is that Malden did not like Vivien Leigh very much. Earlier this year, I wrote to the aging actor and requested that he take a trip down memory lane. I asked him about his experience with Vivien Leigh and what her impact was on the film version of Streetcar. All the major actors in the film came from the NY theater production, except for Vivien. She came from the London production. Well, Malden was kind enough to write back almost immediately, but I found his Vivien answer to be rather short and curt. All is had to say about Vivien was this (I can’t translate 2 words… “Jessie” obviously refers to Jessica Tandy, who played Blanche with Marlon Brando and Karl Malden on Broadway:

can you translate?

can you translate? click to enlarge

To further investigate the situation, I went to the library and checked out his autobiography, When Do I Start? Vivien is mentioned on 2 pages, and Malden’s anecdote is not a glowing one. Here is what he says:

I was destined to have another Blanche in my future. About a year later, we were all called together again to shoot the film. All except Jessica.

I know that it broke Jessica’s heart when she was not hired to do the film version of Streetcar. There was, of course, no question that Marlon would be in the film, but at that time, he had no screen recognition.

… Marlon did not yet have what they call “marquee value.”  Vivien Leigh, however, was a major star, still so powerful because of Gone with the Wind that she could carry all of us nobodies, including Marlon Brando.

It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to come back to the role of Mitch after two years, having done other things in between, with a fresh perspective. After the play had closed, I was plagued by the usual ideas about things I could have done differently with Mitch. Thoughts that (often in the middle of the night) come with the territory. Doing the film presented me with a unique opportunity to try all those ideas out. Some worked. Some didn’t.

Oddly enough, I believe the truer interpretation of the play ended up being the movie’s. Marlon was so powerfuk on stage, so compelling, that through nothing other than his own presence, he distorted the play. When Marlon stepped onto that stage, it became a play about Stanley Kowalski. You held your breath until he came back. It was no longer a play about Blanche DuBois. No matter what Jessica did on stage, or what any actress could have done, she could not overcome his force. The movie gave Kazan the chance to keep the focus when Tennessee Williams intended it, on Blanche. He could manipulate the focus in the editing room.

Vivien Leigh had played Blanche in the London production, which her husband, Laurence Olivier had directed. She had a very different take on the play.

I recall the moment when Mitch lifts Blanche to see if he can guess how much she weighs. I had always raised Jessica straight into the air like a ballerina and then brough her down, vertically, close to my body. That worked for me, because the next moment Mitch is trying to kiss her. That move helped to make a smooth transition from a playful impulse to a sexual one. Vivien wanted me to pick her up as though I were lifting her over a threshold. That’s the way Olivier had directed that action in London, but it made the moment awkward for me because I had to put her down on the ground, then bend down to try to kiss her. It didn’t seem to flow as well, but we did it her way. Kazan made a point of wanting us to try to accommodate Vivien since she was the outsider.

Unlike Jessica who was a gracious and well-grounded a human being as you could hope to meet, Vivien was more like Blanche herself. She had a more tenuous relationship with reality.

I remember that when we had finished shooting, Vivien and Olivier invited Mona and me to a party. Although Mona and I are chronically early, we happened to arrive late because we were unfamiliar with Los Angeles and had gotten lost. Everyone was already seated around their tables. I was called over to a table and left Mona stranded for a moment. She finally ended up sitting on a swing by the pool all by herself. Who should come along but John Buckmaster, an English actor, and Vivien Leigh. They sat down on either side of Mona. Mona told me later about how they literally, and figuratively, talked over her head. Vivien and Buckmaster traded bizarre non sequiturs as Mona sat there, utterly baffled. Never once did they acknowledge that another person was even there, let alone sitting between them. Vivien didn’t have to be polite, or even civil; after all, she was Scarlett O’Hara.

Several months later, we read in the paper that Buckmaster had been spotted running down Fifth Avenue stark naked, brandishing a knife. Mona was actually relieved by the news; it assured her she had not  been the crazy one sitting on that swing after all.

Interesting, huh? Perhaps Vivien was experiencing symptoms of her manic phase? Maybe they were intoxicated or playing a joke on Malden’s wife? John Merivale told Hugo Vickers that John Buckmaster was the first man Vivien had an affair with after her marriage to Leigh Holman in the 1930s– so I can only guess what the ex-lovers were discussing.  We’ll never know. I’d love to hear your comments.

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Olivia de Havilland recently agreed to an interview with a writer from the Independent. It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend you read it! Olivia talks about Errol Flynn, Gone with the Wind, Joan Fontaine (well not really) and that autobiography she’s been working on for a couple decades.

Golden girl: The divine Olivia de Havilland

With some actresses, it is the eyes. With Olivia de Havilland it is the smile, an elfin grin full of mischief and warmth and compassion, which illuminates scene after scene of one of the best-loved movies of all time, Gone with the Wind.

The marvellous, enigmatic De Havilland grin is still much sought-after on the internet. On YouTube, there are dozens of clips from her movies, mostly in chaste, highly-charged love-scenes with Errol Flynn in the celebrated series of swashbucklers and westerns that they made together in the 1930s and the early 1940s.

Seventy years after Gone with the Wind, 62 years after she won her first Oscar, 100 years after the birth of Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland’s smile is gloriously, impishly intact. “Come and sit on this side of me,” she says. “So that I can hear you better. And I do encourage you to help yourself. Please have at least a sip of champagne.”

Olivia de Havilland was 93 this month. She is the only survivor of the leading cast members of Gone with the Wind. She is the oldest living star from the golden period of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. She has lived in Paris for 56 years and has occupied her narrow, pretty, four-storey house near the Bois de Boulogne (houses of any kind are rare in Paris) for more than half a century.

Miss de Havilland agreed to give an interview to The Independent to mark the 70th anniversary of Gone with the Wind and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Errol Flynn. The interview was conducted first by an exchange of e-mail questions and answers and then in person. Both in writing and in speech (she still has the accent of her British parents, with only a trace of California), Miss de Havilland is precise, humorous, warm, only occasionally a little coy.

There is, however, one completely taboo subject: her sister, Joan Fontaine, of which more (but not much more) later. (more…)

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photo by Olmar at flickr.comm

photo by Olmer at flickr.com

By: Dave McNary for Variety.com

Hollywood execs with a keen sense of history, take note: The mansion seen at the beginning of “Gone With the Wind” and other Selznick Studios films is back on the rental market.

With about 140 Sony employees vacating the Culver Studios lot in the coming weeks, about 60,000 square feet — including the 15,000-square-foot mansion — will be available come November.

The mansion achieved its iconic status in the “Gone With the Wind” credits as the backdrop for the logo of the David O. Selznick Studios. The storied lot, built in 1918, has been home to Cecil B. DeMille, RKO, Howard Hughes, Desilu and Grant Tinker. Sony has occupied the space since 1991.

Culver Studios prexy-CEO James Cella isn’t disclosing an asking price on a new lease but believes the combo of history and classic design should be enough to draw substantial interest … should be.

“With the real estate market so unsettled, who knows?” he says.

The space represents about 25% of Culver Studios’ footprint. The lot is home to 13 soundstages, production offices, bungalows and support services.

Sony bought the lot in 1991 and sold it in 2004 to private investors PCCP Studio City while continuing to lease space at Culver. The departing Sony employees (mostly in TV) will be moving to the Sony lot, where work’s being completed on two new buildings — constructed according to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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Here’s the film trailer for That Hamilton Woman! It will be included on the soon-to-be released Criterion DVD.

Thanks to Jackie for sending me the link.

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