York to host blockbuster exhibition of Hollywood star’s life and loves

28 Jun 2015 @ 7.21 pm
| News
PortraitofVivienLeighbySasha,1935©VictoriaandAlbertMuseum,London/V.L. Archive
Portrait of Vivien Leigh by Sasha, 1935 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive

She was one of the most glamorous stars in movie history, with a back story as colourful and troubled as any Hollywood melodrama.

And now the life of Vivien Leigh will be told in a blockbuster new exhibition coming to York.

In a major coup, Treasurer’s House will host the first major display from the archives of Britain’s first international film star.

Vivien Leigh swimming in George Cukor’s pool, Hollywood, 1960 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh swimming in George Cukor’s pool, Hollywood, 1960 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh: Public Faces, Private Lives

Treasurer’s House, Minster Yard, York YO1 7JL

Sat Sept 19 – Sun Dec 20

Entry to the house – adult £7.20; child £3.60

Treasurer’s House website

Vivien Leigh’s archives were acquired from her family by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013.

The V&A is staging Vivien Leigh: Public Faces, Private Lives throughout Treasurer’s House this autumn. Featuring costumes, annotated scripts, and personal items from the home she shared with husband Laurence Olivier, it will be a remarkable insight into the life of one of the most iconic legends of Hollywood’s golden age.

This is the first time an exhibition organised by the V&A will be shown at a National Trust property.

Vivien Leigh in her school photograph, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, 1925 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh in her school photograph, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, 1925 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive

Juxtaposing Leigh’s Hollywood persona and home life the exhibition draws from more than 10,000 items in her personal archive.

It includes annotated film scripts, costume sketches and letters, including some from the Queen, Sir Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother and a young York acting hopeful called Judi Dench, in which she expresses her admiration for Vivien Leigh’s talents.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1936) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1936) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/V.L. Archive

The exhibition will be on display throughout the house and contains some of the most remarkable objects from Leigh and Olivier’s lives.

The couple fell in love whilst filming Fire Over England (1937).

As well as featuring their Australian tour and joint appearances in Shakespeare plays at Stratford, the exhibition will include love letters between them.

They threw lavish parties at their home in Notley Abbey. On display will be their guestbook, with signatures from, among others, Noël Coward, Orson Wells, Terrence Rattigan and Katharine Hepburn.

The famous poster for Gone With The Wind
The famous poster for Gone With The Wind

A focus of the exhibition will be dedicated to the timeless cinematic classic Gone With The Wind (1939).

It was Leigh’s portrayal as fiery Scarlett O’Hara that propelled her into international stardom. She also won one of two Oscars for the role, the other being for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Vivien Leigh’s scrapbook © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh’s scrapbook © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive

Original photos of Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett taken by Hollywood photographer Laszlo Willinger will be on display, along with film posters and scrapbooks.

Vivien Leigh as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Old Vic Theatre, London 1937, Photograph by J. W. Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Vivien Leigh as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Old Vic Theatre, London 1937, Photograph by J. W. Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A stunning red Christian Dior gown from Leigh’s costume in Duel Of Angels (1958) and the headdress from her role as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1937) are just some of the objects from her stage performances that visitors can view.

Theatre programme for A Streetcar Named Desire (1949) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Theatre programme for A Streetcar Named Desire (1949) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is widely regarded as her best stage performance, and her annotated notes about her approach to dealing with the play’s controversial themes of mental illness, homosexuality and rape will be on display.

Vivien Leigh on the film set for Lady Hamilton (1941) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh on the film set for Lady Hamilton (1941) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive

General manager of Treasurer’s House David Morgan said:

This is an exhibition not to be missed for fans of Vivien Leigh, film, theatre and costume alike.

It’s a rare chance to see the different aspects of one of the most iconic screen legends of our time and her everlasting legacy.

Costume design by Oliver Messel for Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra for the film Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Oliver Messel Archive
Costume design by Oliver Messel for Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra for the film Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Oliver Messel Archive
Vivien Leigh in her dressing room, 1960 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive
Vivien Leigh in her dressing room, 1960 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ V.L. Archive

Keith Lodwick, V&A curator of the exhibition said:

Vivien Leigh has an enduring appeal and remains one of the great luminaries of stage and screen.

The archive is a magnificent and intact record that provides a fascinating insight into her personal life and career.

After the exhibition finishes its York premiere it will embark on an international tour.