Monday, 21 April 2014

Vivien Leigh as Catherine Earnshaw

might not have been a bad idea after all.
Catherine Earnshaw in "Wuthering heights" is 1 of the roles Vivien Leigh very much wanted to play but couldn't, together with Ophelia and Elizabeth Bennet and Joan Fontaine's role in "Rebecca".
So far I have generally thought her not perfectly suitable for the role, because she had such a classical, impeccable beauty that didn't seem right for Catherine Earnshaw. But then, could anyone expect the lovely, charming Vivien Leigh to transform into Scarlett O'Hara? Clark Gable, for example, said "I’ll be truthful about it, however; I’ll confess that the first time I saw her I doubted that Vivien could really play Scarlett. That reaction shows I’m no casting director." Vivien not only became Scarlett, spoilt, frivolous, vain, materialistic, manipulative, mischievous and selfish yet charming, determined, strong, independent and smart, but she also made it impossible for (most) people to conceive the idea of a remake of "Gone with the wind" with another actress playing Scarlett, and at the same time, defined the Southern belle so strongly that Bette Davis's performance as Jezebel the year before paled in comparison and so would anyone who played a Southern belle. Come to think of it, Scarlett O'Hara and Catherine Earnshaw are similar in some aspects- both are selfish, both choose money over love, both are full of life and somehow destructive and self-destructive. Vivien must have seen in Scarlett what she had in herself that she could make use of- strength, independence and self-determination. Fans of "Gone with the wind" must be familiar with the legend of the film itself, the making of a masterpiece, the story of how Vivien made up her mind on fighting for the role and beat hundreds of other actresses in the race (including Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis) and then proved all doubters wrong, which isn't much different from the way Scarlett O'Hara swears to God "I'll never be hungry again" and does whatever it requires to survive and achieve her goals. Similarly, I think Vivien wanted the main role in "Wuthering heights" not for the sole purpose of acting opposite Laurence Olivier, but because she believed that she had the qualities to portray Catherine Earnshaw. Look at her, Vivien was indeed pulchritudinous, 1 of the most gorgeous actresses to grace the silver screen, if not the most, but in addition to that charm and sweetness and the perfect features, there was something else, indescribable, since Vivien didn't possess the kind of refreshing, innocent and youthful image of Audrey Hepburn, nor the soft, gentle look of Ingrid Bergman, but seemed to have some kind of fire, something wild and fierce, even destructive and dangerous. From what I've read, she was in general a very passionate person, and then had to struggle in "her possession by that uncannily evil monster" (Larry's words). The sentence describing Catherine Earnshaw can apply perfectly to her: "She burned too bright for this world."
Above all, unlike Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly..., Vivien Leigh's not a film star, but an actress, and a great one. And whilst people talk of Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis more often, I admire Vivien more for the fact that, as she didn't belong to Hollywood, she was as different in her roles as she could, and wasn't stuck to 1 definite persona. These 2 actresses were undoubtedly excellent, but after all in films Katharine Hepburn was always Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis was always Bette Davis, Vivien, albeit often vivacious, managed to be different, and a decade after Scarlett O'Hara, she again played a Southern belle in "A streetcar named Desire", a totally different one, and again did it so wonderfully and reached such an unimaginable height in acting that she was Blanche DuBois as much as Blanche DuBois was her, that one reads Tennessee Williams's play and hears her voice, that one sees Jessica Lange in the same role in the TV version and only sees Jessica Lange as Vivien as Blanche DuBois (and, as I've read, it's the same with other actresses who have played the character in theatre after Vivien Leigh). Most admirable is the way she made use of her inner demon for her craft, her performance, as she portrayed the smallest nuances, the vulnerability and fragility, the insecurity and desperation and despair underneath the shifting mood, the snobbery and frivolity of the character. Her theatrical acting was the most appropriate approach. She turned into the character, and defined the character. 

The only thing to resent is that Vivien made the mistake of choosing theatre over film. And that she didn't get the role of Catherine Earnshaw, which, I now believe, she could have played marvellously.


  1. If you're still moaning about Vivien not playing Cathy in Wuthering Heights, you should watch the 1992 film for the actress, Juliette Binoche who is another acclaimed actress, plays Cathy and who strongly resembles Vivien Leigh. Of course, she doesn't have as much life and excitement as Vivien did.

    1. "Moaning"? That's a funny thing to say.
      I like Juliette Binoche but she and Vivien Leigh are totally different, I have no idea what you're talking about.


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