No disrespect to Elizabeth Taylor, but I can’t help feeling that the film Elephant Walk (1954) would have been a more powerful and psychologically engaging cinematic experience had Vivien Leigh been able to complete her role alongside her lover, Peter Finch. But it was not to be for her enduring bipolar disorder (earlier known as manic depression) ultimately rendered her unfit to work.
Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder experience swings in mood from periods of overactive, excited behaviour known as mania to deep depression. Between these highs and lows stable periods can occur. Some sufferers also see or hear things that others don’t (visual or auditory hallucinations) or have strange, unshared beliefs (delusions). When discussing Vivien Leigh, this incapacitating illness must always be borne in mind, her often bizarre actions put into context.
Vivien, born as Vivian (sic) Mary Hartley in Darjeeling in 1913 (her father was English, her mother probably part-Irish, part-Indian) was first noticed for her performance in the play The Mask of Virtue (1935). At this time she was married to barrister Leigh Holman. Laurence (“Larry”) Olivier, on the path to becoming one of the most respected actors of the era, was married to actress Jill Esmond. Olivier watched Vivien in the play, congratulated her, and they began an affair after acting as lovers in Fire over England (1937). They moved to Hollywood, and in 1939 Vivien won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).
In early 1940 Esmond agreed to divorce Olivier and Holman agreed to divorce Vivien, making possible Olivier’s and Vivien’s marriage later that year. In 1942 the Oliviers returned to England from Hollywood. In 1944 she was diagnosed as having tuberculosis in her left lung. In 1945, while filming Caesar and Cleopatra she discovered she was pregnant but suffered a miscarriage. She fell into a deep depression, verbally and physically attacking Olivier.