Interview with “Vivien Leigh” Author Kendra Bean

TCM’s book of the Month for October 2013 is first time author Kendra Bean’s Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait.


Author Kendra Bean

Kendra Bean she received a BA in Film and Media Studies from the University of California (Irvine) in 2006 and holds an MA (with distinction) in Film Studies from King’s College London, where her focus was on British cinema; her dissertation, a “star study” of Vivien Leigh. In 2007, Kendra founded, a site dedicated to preserving the memories of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. The forthcoming Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait (Running Press) is a self-described “labor of love,” over five years in the making. This project has provided Kendra the opportunity to combine her passions for history, film, and photography – the end result being a lavishly illustrated and well-researched retrospective of Ms. Leigh’s life and times.

Recently, Kendra graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me in the run up to the release of her book, available October 8th.


What drew you to the life story and career of Vivien Leigh?
I’ve been interested in Vivien’s story for years. Having been obsessed with cinema since childhood, I always feel compelled to learn as much as I can about films that really grab hold of me. This was the case with Gone With the Wind, which I saw for the first time as a teenager. Reading stories about the production of David O. Selznick’s epic and its stars, Vivien stood out as the most interesting figure. Sometimes I read biographies about actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood and feel that my curiosity has been satisfied. With Vivien, it seemed that the more I read, the more I wanted to know
To me, Vivien is such a fascinating and inspirational woman. She had no real interest in film stardom and was much more concerned with being considered a great stage actress, so she starred in the biggest box office hit of all time and then left Hollywood. Compared to many of her contemporaries, her screen appearances were few and often times far between. She made only 19 films in 30 years, and yet she won two Oscars and is still considered one of the greatest cinematic luminaries of her generation. Unafraid of taking risks, she threw herself into a variety of different projects in order to gain as much experience as possible. This resulted in a Tony, a BAFTA, and several other awards. And to think, she managed to achieve all of these things while battling both mental and chronic physical illness. It had to have been extremely difficult to balance a high profile career while facing such personal adversity, and there was a heavy tragic element to her story, but what I find so admirable is that she didn’t let these trials and tribulations beat her down. Her popularity with audiences never really waned and she rode that wave until the very end. It’s quite extraordinary. Talk about perseverance!


In your research (and at the risk of possibly providing some ‘exclusive’ insight into your book), what was the most fascinating thing you found out about Vivien Leigh?
This is a tough question because I find so many facets of Vivien’s life and career to be fascinating. During my research I read through many personal letters that Vivien wrote, and which were written about her. It was if a curtain was pulled back and I got an intimate glimpse into her inner world. One of my favorite examples were the letters she sent to Olivier during the war, a few of which are quoted in the book.
In 1943, Olivier was in Ireland shooting Henry V, which would be a great triumph for both him as a director, and for British cinema. Vivien was still tied to her seven-year contract to David O. Selznick, and the producer forbade her from accepting the role of Princess Catherine in Olivier’s film. So, she joined the Old Vic Spring Party and spent that summer entertaining British and American troops in North Africa. It was a real treat to read about her personal experiences during this time. The letters really capture the zeitgeist of the time, revealing her unwavering patriotism during a very volatile period in world politics. She described performing for and meeting King George VI, members of the backstage crew being suspected of espionage, and the feeling of purpose in bringing joy to men who had seen nothing but combat for months. Throughout it all, she missed Olivier and there was a real feeling of urgency in her wish to be reunited with him.
In addition to your study of Leigh, you also have a website is titled Viv and Larry – how much does their relationship factor into your story?
While the book covers Vivien’s life before and after Olivier, he was a hugely influential figure to her, both personally and professionally. They were together for nearly 25 years and although they divorced, she never really got over him, so he plays a large role in that context. There has been much written about their relationship, with varying opinions and varying degrees of sensationalism. I really tried to be objective about their life together, and I think this was greatly helped by the materials in the Olivier Archive, which had been inaccessible to previous Vivien biographers (all of the significant biographies were written while Olivier was still alive, and he refused to be interviewed).


vivien coverNow that you have tackled this project, what’s next on the horizon for you?
I’d really like to explore Vivien a bit more than the format of this book (illustrated biography) allowed, and would also like to explore the lives of other classic film stars. I’ve got a few ideas for future projects, but that’s all I can say about it right now!

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is available for pre-order on Amazon (US & UK), Barnes & Noble and Waterstones.

Also be sure the follow Kendra on twitter (@kendrajbean) and Facebook (@kendrabeandotcom).


  1. I don’t read too many biographies but I love Vivien Leigh, this sounds like an interesting one to read. Nice interview Iba!
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  2. This was really fun. Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview!
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