Taken as a whole, Vivien Leigh's career was marked by more failures than successes; but when your greatest successes comprise Oscar-winning roles as two of the screen's most indelible, complicated heroines, legendary status is assured.
If Vivien's independent, charming, tempestuous, flirtatious, ultimately iron-willed Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) represented the actress' own personality at its best, then her searing, painful portrayal of the delusional Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) shone a flashlight into the dark corners of Vivien Leigh's psyche. But even the harrowing scenarios created by Tennessee Williams couldn't compare to the operatic madness which bipolar disorder inflicted upon this doomed beauty.
When all is said and done, however, Scarlett O'Hara's willful personality is stronger than Blanche's, and even Vivien Leigh's. We live in a gossip-hungry world where anecdotes about Stars Behaving Badly pass into legend and obscure reputations: Judy Garland's staggering achievements often take back seat to her erratic behavior and substance abuse; Joan Crawford's accomplishments pale next to the public perception of her as a deranged child beater; even Garbo is more famous today for being an eccentric recluse than the great star, beauty and actress she was acclaimed as in her heyday. Vivien's personal demons made even Garland's life seem like a walk in the park, and her violent outbursts made Crawford a pussycat by comparison; but in spite of the ghastly episodes her bipolar disorder caused, Vivien Leigh will always be remembered for, and as, Scarlett O'Hara. For a woman whose own inner life was so cruelly distorted by illness, perhaps it's fitting that her own identity has been so completely taken over by a woman who remained in control, against all odds. As God as her witness.
MISS VIVIEN LEIGH
November 5, 1917 - July 7, 1967