V&A buys Vivien Leigh archive: Unseen photographs, diaries and letters to Laurence Olivier made available to the public

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Vivien Leigh's archive - including letters sent to husband Laurence Olivier and diaries written until just before the Gone With The Wind star's death - have been acquired by the V&A.

The archive - which has not been publicly displayed before - has been purchased by the London museum from the double Oscar-winning star's grandchildren on the centenary year of her birth.

As well as the British stage and screen actress's annotated film and theatre scripts, it features correspondence from Winston Churchill, Noel Coward and writer Graham Greene.

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It contains more than 200 letters exchanged with Olivier - the couple were married from 1940 to 1960 - 40 of which were sent while Olivier was on Broadway and Leigh was shooting Gone With The Wind in Los Angeles, between April and June 1939 alone.

Photographs which have not been displayed before include stills from Gone With The Wind and Romeo And Juliet and transparencies taken by Leigh herself while on tour in the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Leigh's diaries, penned from the age of 16, feature alongside newspaper clippings, postcards, her awards and visitor books, containing signatures from Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Sir Alec Guinness, Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Judy Garland and Rex Harrison.

The archive also contains more than 7,500 personal letters addressed to both Leigh and Olivier from the likes of TS Eliot, Arthur Miller, Sir Winston, Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who thanks the couple for remembering her.

Professional correspondence includes letters from Tennessee Williams, including one from 1950 about Leigh's role as Blanche in the film adaption of his play A Streetcar Name Desire, in which he writes: "It is needless to repeat here my truly huge happiness over the picture and particularly your part in it.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1949 Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1949  

"It is the Blanche I had always dreamed of and I am grateful to you for bringing it so beautifully to life on the screen."

In a letter to the film's director Elia Kazan during preparation for the role, she writes: "You do know that when I said over the phone I'm worried about the way I'll look, I didn't mean good I meant right."

A changing selection of material from the archive will be on display from the autumn in the V&A (Victoria And Albert Museum), which would not disclose how much it paid for the archive.

The museum's director Martin Roth said: "Vivien Leigh is undoubtedly one of the UK's greatest luminaries of stage and screen and along with Laurence Olivier, remains a true star of her time.

"We are thrilled to acquire her archive intact in this centenary year of her birth and to be able to make it available to the public for the first time.

"It not only represents Vivien Leigh's life and career, but is also a fascinating insight into the theatrical and social world that surrounded her.

"The V&A is the natural home for the archive as there are so many links to other areas of the collection, from the costume designs in the Oliver Messel collection to the costumes worn by Leigh in Duel of Angels, designed by Christian Dior."

A volume of press cuttings about Vivien Leigh's role in Gone With The Wind, 1940. A volume of press cuttings about Vivien Leigh's role in Gone With The Wind, 1940.  

PA

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