From the time she was a little girl, Vivien asserted herself into believing that one day she would be a great actress. And become a great actress she did. It was after she recited "Little Bo Peep" for her mother's theater group that Vivien was bitten by the acting bug. It wasn't until she was 18, that it was after seeing a film of her fellow Classmates, Margaret O'Sullivan, that she finally confessed to her father about her acting ambitions. Her father supported her and enrolled her in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.
During her short attendance there, Vivien Hartley took her professional name, "Vivien Leigh" from her first husband that she was married to at the time. It was because of her marriage to Herbert Leigh Holman, that Vivien stopped attending RADA. However, she earned her way into minor parts of the plays performed on the West End at the time. One of those parts included one line for the play, "Murder in Mayfair" by Ivor Novello. Her first major role was as a soldier's widow in "The Green Sash" and earned her first critical review that praised her above the play's material. At the same time, Vivien was also adding film credits to her dosier. Her first co-starring role, opposite Gracie Fields in "Look Up and Laugh" (1935) was in fact her fourth film role. But due to the fact that the previous three had been minor roles, Vivien Leigh was so nervous that she would arrive at the start of the filming day, 6:30 in the morning to be exact, even though she would not be needed to film her scenes until mid-afternoon.
But it wasn't until she was cast in the play "The Mask of Virtue" that Vivien would receive critical acclaim and become an overnight success. But in retrospect, Vivien believed at that early point in her career, she shouldn't have been deemed as a "great actress" as some of the critics wrote. "...It took me years to learn enough to live up to what they said," She was quoted saying when she spoke about the memories of her first major reviews.
Four years later, Vivien Leigh successfully won one of the most important roles in Hollywood - the role of "Scarlett O'Hara" in the epic drama, "Gone With The Wind." After having read the book, and found out that there was a search for an actress for the part, Vivien only saw herself in the role even though everyone else around her doubted that she would get the role. It is rumored when she turned down the role of "Cathy" in which she would have been co-starring alongside her love Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" (1939), that she told her agent she was holding out for a better role. Vivien's agent told her that there would never be a better role than Bronte's "Cathy." But Vivien proved everyone wrong. She famously won the role over every known actress in Hollywood including Carole Lombard and Bette Davis. Although there was a large protest over an English-born actress playing a Southern Belle, Vivien proved all of her critics wrong, when "Gone With The Wind" (1939) became a blockbuster and Vivien was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.
After her Oscar win for "Gone With The Wind" (1939), Vivien returned to the stage to star with Olivier in a stage production of "Romeo and Juliet" on Broadway. But the project that was funded by both of the English-born stars was a financial disaster for them. With the exception of a few films, including the classic romance "Waterloo Bridge" (1940) and the second film of the three that Vivien made with Olivier, "That Hamilton Woman" (1941), Vivien largely returned to theater.
When it came to playing "Blanche Du Bois" in Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire," the play earned a lot of controversy for its taboo subjects and vulgarity. However, Vivien championed the play by saying, "So many people have condemned the play for its sordid theme. To me it is an infinitely moving plea for tolerance for all weak, frail creatures, blown about like leaves before the wind of circumstance." Night after night, Vivien portrayed Blanche's descent into madness and would leave the stage every time shaking. It would take her hours to calm down afterwards. She was not the first choice for either Williams or director Elia Kazan for the film role but once again, Vivien proved herself to be the right choice when she received her second Oscar.
Afterwards, Vivien would return to the stage where she would remain for much of the rest of her career with the exception of two of her final films. Despite her rapidly deteriorating health near the end of her life, Vivien began to rehearse on "A Delicate Balance" by Edward Albee when she passed away in her home at the age of 53.