Larry, Vivien and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca

Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940).

(This post is in conjunction with the blog Viv and Larry’s Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon.)

Early in the summer of 1939, when principal photography on David O’Selznick’s soon-to-be masterpiece Gone with the Wind had finally finished, Vivien Leigh boarded a plane and headed to New York to be reunited with Laurence Olivier. She was spotted by gossip columnist Louella Parsons who promptly reported that Olvier had signed on to play the role of Maxim deWinter in the film adaptation of Daphne duMaurier’s novel Rebecca, and that “All of Vivien Leigh’s brave plans to return to England for a stage play will go a-glimmering,… for she is now mentioned for the role of the wife opposite her very good friend Laurence.”

Power producer David O Selznick  bought the rights to DuMaurier’s darkly romantic novel in June 1938, at a time when he was deeply entrenched with pre-production on Gone with the Wind. Alfred Hitchcock was assigned to direct in September of that year (it would be his first Hollywood production and put him on the Selznick payroll) and by May 1939 Laurence Olivier was  brought on board. But it was only after Selznick’s pleading with Ronald Colman to play the part fell through, and Hitchcock ruled out Leslie Howard (“too academic for the romantic angle”) and William Powell (his American accent was too “dangerous.”)

Yet the casting Olivier was a stroke of brilliance.

Larry as Du Maurier's tortured murderer Maxim de Winter

Larry’s well known ambivalent attitude towards Hollywood filmmaking manifested itself in Maxim’s un-apologetically obstinate nature. The casting process deeply obsessed Selznick (see Gone with the Wind) which is why the role of the nameless Mrs. de Winter had, by June of 1939, still not been cast.

If you asked Larry, however, the casting was quite obvious. Vivien Leigh, his girlfriend of two years, and the lead in Selznick’s baby Gone with the Wind, was going to play Mrs. de Winter. Larry and Vivien were still several months off from having their deeply passionate affair recognized by law (they were in divorce proceedings with their respective spouses) and the opportunity to make a film together, as they were both now working in Hollywood, carried away their romantic hearts with excitement.

The problem, of course, was that there was no way that Leigh, fresh from her role as Scarlett, would have been taken seriously as the naive, reticent,  self-conscious Mrs. deWinter. Had Vivien’s film career  developed differently, I personally feel that Leigh did possess the fragility necessary for the role– but in June 1939 the role was simply not right for her.

And Selznick told her so– as well as Larry– over two cables sent to their ocean liner while the couple vacationed.

According to Terry Coleman’s biography, Olivier, “Selznick went on for three hundred words, assuring her that the same care, patience and stubbornness about accurate casting that had put her in “the most talked–of role of all time in what everyone who has seen it agrees is the greatest picture ever made,”  made it necessary for him to tell her that she would be as wrong for the role in Rebecca as the role would be for her. Signed, “affectionately, David.”

He was more direct with Olivier:

“I know you must be disappointed, but Vivien’s anxiety to play role has in my opinion been largely if not entirely due to her desire to do a picture with you.” She hadn’t been interested until she knew he was playing Maxim and they would both be working in Hollywood. The cable was signed “Cordially, David.”

Vivien circa 1939. At the time, her heart beat only for Larry, and his only for her.

But there was something else.

David O Selznick had fallen in love with Olivia de Havilland’s little sister, Joan Fontaine.

Their relationship, according to most modern sources, is supposed to have remained to platonic, but there is no questioning Selznick’s obvious affection for the pretty blonde. Ever the perfectionist, it is to Selznick’s credit that he did not cast Fontaine straight away– he did have reservations about her ability– but finally informed her that she had been cast as Mrs. de Winter and to please report for fittings straight after the Labor Day holiday, 1939.

As history has amply recorded, Olivier was far from happy about the decision. It would be the second film in a row that he was to have a contentious relationship with his leading lady (his work with Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights, off screen, was fraught with tearful arguments) and he made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Fontaine.

Although, as history has also recorded, perhaps it was less Larry’s moody brooding on set that set Fontaine so terribly off her guard, and more Hitchcock’s capitalizing of the ill feelings on set and manipulating her accordingly.

Fontaine later said that “[Hitchcock] was a Svengali. He controlled me totally. He took me aside and whispered, ‘Now kid, you go in there and you do this and that.’ And then he would say, “do you know what so-and-so said about you today? Do you that Olivier doesn’t want you in this role? Well never you mind  you just listen to me….He seemed to relish the cast not liking one another, actor for actor, by the end of the film.

All of this is not meant to condone Olivier’s un-sporting behavior at having lost out to working with his beloved, but it is to perhaps put it in to context. Perhaps, more than anything, it is necessary to step back and understand precisely how passionate Vivien and Larry’s relationship was at that particular point in time. Still illicit in legal terms, their love had been gestating and blossoming into an extraordinarily passionate relationship– unhealthy in some ways, very healthy and very needed in others– the fact of which is made quite evident in surviving letters and telegrams from the 1939 period.

For example, Larry penned the following letter of excruciating remorse at having missed a phone call from her not long before his being cast as Maxim de Winter:

I was too miserable even to cry. I was dying to ring up and say, O Vivling my darling forgive me, please forgive me. I’m so sorry, Mummy darling.  My throat does ache for you so my beloved darling Vivien child, Mary child, O how I reverence you, wrap you in mental cotton wool and put you on the mantelpiece and burn candles to you.

Vivien and Larry as Romeo and Juliet

This is the sort of love we’re talking about here, and in light of this it is easier to understand the stormy nature of Olivier’s behavior. Watching the film today, with Hitchcock’s meticulously calculated long shadows and startling closeups, the tremulous back story really serves it well. The unease between Maxim and Mrs. de Winter keeps the viewer on tenterhooks for nearly all of the film– it is, indeed, only in the final minutes that the cold melts from Larry’s deep, stormy eyes and we can actually feel the affection between the two.

Had Vivien been by Larry’s side, it would have taken a greater actor even than Olivier to pretend that he was, even in the smallest sense, not thoroughly enraptured with her. Because, regardless of how their relationship would end, for this period in their lives Vivien and Larry were not so much a couple as they were one.

(The pair would go on to produce Romeo and Juliet on Broadway not long after, a critical and financial failure, and then return to Hollywood to film That Hamilton Woman in 1941– a great financial success.)

VivAndLarry is a classy, sophisticated blog dedicated to the life, love and art of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The Pictorial is a major fan of the blog’s truly original, unique and reverent work and we are proud to have been able to participate in their Blogathon!

Larry, Vivien and Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940).

(This post is in conjunction with the blog Viv and Larry’s Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon.)

Early in the summer of 1939, when principal photography on David O’Selznick’s soon-to-be masterpiece Gone with the Wind had finally finished, Vivien Leigh boarded a plane and headed to New York to be reunited with Laurence Olivier. She was spotted by gossip columnist Louella Parsons who promptly reported that Olvier had signed on to play the role of Maxim deWinter in the film adaptation of Daphne duMaurier’s novel Rebecca, and that “All of Vivien Leigh’s brave plans to return to England for a stage play will go a-glimmering,… for she is now mentioned for the role of the wife opposite her very good friend Laurence.”

Power producer David O Selznick  bought the rights to DuMaurier’s darkly romantic novel in June 1938, at a time when he was deeply entrenched with pre-production on Gone with the Wind. Alfred Hitchcock was assigned to direct in September of that year (it would be his first Hollywood production and put him on the Selznick payroll) and by May 1939 Laurence Olivier was  brought on board. But it was only after Selznick’s pleading with Ronald Colman to play the part fell through, and Hitchcock ruled out Leslie Howard (“too academic for the romantic angle”) and William Powell (his American accent was too “dangerous.”)

Yet the casting Olivier was a stroke of brilliance.

Larry as Du Maurier's tortured murderer Maxim de Winter

Larry’s well known ambivalent attitude towards Hollywood filmmaking manifested itself in Maxim’s un-apologetically obstinate nature. The casting process deeply obsessed Selznick (see Gone with the Wind) which is why the role of the nameless Mrs. de Winter had, by June of 1939, still not been cast.

If you asked Larry, however, the casting was quite obvious. Vivien Leigh, his girlfriend of two years, and the lead in Selznick’s baby Gone with the Wind, was going to play Mrs. de Winter. Larry and Vivien were still several months off from having their deeply passionate affair recognized by law (they were in divorce proceedings with their respective spouses) and the opportunity to make a film together, as they were both now working in Hollywood, carried away their romantic hearts with excitement.

The problem, of course, was that there was no way that Leigh, fresh from her role as Scarlett, would have been taken seriously as the naive, reticent,  self-conscious Mrs. deWinter. Had Vivien’s film career  developed differently, I personally feel that Leigh did possess the fragility necessary for the role– but in June 1939 the role was simply not right for her.

And Selznick told her so– as well as Larry– over two cables sent to their ocean liner while the couple vacationed.

According to Terry Coleman’s biography, Olivier, “Selznick went on for three hundred words, assuring her that the same care, patience and stubbornness about accurate casting that had put her in “the most talked–of role of all time in what everyone who has seen it agrees is the greatest picture ever made,”  made it necessary for him to tell her that she would be as wrong for the role in Rebecca as the role would be for her. Signed, “affectionately, David.”

He was more direct with Olivier:

“I know you must be disappointed, but Vivien’s anxiety to play role has in my opinion been largely if not entirely due to her desire to do a picture with you.” She hadn’t been interested until she knew he was playing Maxim and they would both be working in Hollywood. The cable was signed “Cordially, David.”

Vivien circa 1939. At the time, her heart beat only for Larry, and his only for her.

But there was something else.

David O Selznick had fallen in love with Olivia de Havilland’s little sister, Joan Fontaine.

Their relationship, according to most modern sources, is supposed to have remained to platonic, but there is no questioning Selznick’s obvious affection for the pretty blonde. Ever the perfectionist, it is to Selznick’s credit that he did not cast Fontaine straight away– he did have reservations about her ability– but finally informed her that she had been cast as Mrs. de Winter and to please report for fittings straight after the Labor Day holiday, 1939.

As history has amply recorded, Olivier was far from happy about the decision. It would be the second film in a row that he was to have a contentious relationship with his leading lady (his work with Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights, off screen, was fraught with tearful arguments) and he made no attempt to hide his displeasure with Fontaine.

Although, as history has also recorded, perhaps it was less Larry’s moody brooding on set that set Fontaine so terribly off her guard, and more Hitchcock’s capitalizing of the ill feelings on set and manipulating her accordingly.

Fontaine later said that “[Hitchcock] was a Svengali. He controlled me totally. He took me aside and whispered, ‘Now kid, you go in there and you do this and that.’ And then he would say, “do you know what so-and-so said about you today? Do you that Olivier doesn’t want you in this role? Well never you mind  you just listen to me….He seemed to relish the cast not liking one another, actor for actor, by the end of the film.

All of this is not meant to condone Olivier’s un-sporting behavior at having lost out to working with his beloved, but it is to perhaps put it in to context. Perhaps, more than anything, it is necessary to step back and understand precisely how passionate Vivien and Larry’s relationship was at that particular point in time. Still illicit in legal terms, their love had been gestating and blossoming into an extraordinarily passionate relationship– unhealthy in some ways, very healthy and very needed in others– the fact of which is made quite evident in surviving letters and telegrams from the 1939 period.

For example, Larry penned the following letter of excruciating remorse at having missed a phone call from her not long before his being cast as Maxim de Winter:

I was too miserable even to cry. I was dying to ring up and say, O Vivling my darling forgive me, please forgive me. I’m so sorry, Mummy darling.  My throat does ache for you so my beloved darling Vivien child, Mary child, O how I reverence you, wrap you in mental cotton wool and put you on the mantelpiece and burn candles to you.

Vivien and Larry as Romeo and Juliet

This is the sort of love we’re talking about here, and in light of this it is easier to understand the stormy nature of Olivier’s behavior. Watching the film today, with Hitchcock’s meticulously calculated long shadows and startling closeups, the tremulous back story really serves it well. The unease between Maxim and Mrs. de Winter keeps the viewer on tenterhooks for nearly all of the film– it is, indeed, only in the final minutes that the cold melts from Larry’s deep, stormy eyes and we can actually feel the affection between the two.

Had Vivien been by Larry’s side, it would have taken a greater actor even than Olivier to pretend that he was, even in the smallest sense, not thoroughly enraptured with her. Because, regardless of how their relationship would end, for this period in their lives Vivien and Larry were not so much a couple as they were one.

(The pair would go on to produce Romeo and Juliet on Broadway not long after, a critical and financial failure, and then return to Hollywood to film That Hamilton Woman in 1941– a great financial success.)

VivAndLarry is a classy, sophisticated blog dedicated to the life, love and art of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The Pictorial is a major fan of the blog’s truly original, unique and reverent work and we are proud to have been able to participate in their Blogathon!

Goodbye, Elizabeth. Farewell, Hollywood.

Look for it only in books for it is no more than a dream remembered—a civilization gone with the wind.”

Impossibly Beautiful.

With today’s passing of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, I could not quite get those opening credits of David O Selznick’s Gone with the Wind out of my mind. Taylor is not the last star of Hollywood’s Golden Age to leave us— we still, thankfully, have with us the talents of Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Olivia deHavilland, Joan Fontaine, Shirley Temple and Louis Rainer. All of whom I love dearly.  (And a few of whom I prefer as actors to Taylor.)

But as far as the 20th Century idea of “movie star” goes, no one has been, is and will be more consummate of a movie star than Elizabeth Taylor. The name is larger than life, and is topped only by the woman who possessed it: a woman who loved hard, lived large and suffered deeply—an epic story of love, loss and survival. Her passing, symbolically, signifies the end of an entire civilization. A world that no longer exists.

I’m open to argument, but I strongly feel that she is the last Hollywood Superstar.

The Consummate Movie Star

Golden Hollywood, already a legendary Oz, really began fading from our tangible collective hold in the late 90s, with the deaths of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope. The past years have been especially sad for classic film lovers around the world, particularly with the passings of Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis and Jane Russell to highlight but the few. And although dear Elizabeth had been failing for quite some time, the news is still a sad shock to any and all who love her and love the world she reigned over. And somehow, for me anyway, with the candle blown on her legendary life… that golden Hollywoodland that I grew up with is, finally, truly, forever gone.

Created and cultivated by the studio system, bred by the studio system—its shining beacon of beauty and glamour—there will only ever be one Elizabeth Taylor.  Initially just another ‘product’ to be exploited by studio suits, Taylor turned the tables and became an accomplished actress (“She knows her instrument,” co-star and friend Paul Newman once said, “and she knows how to play it.”)

The Kitty Packard Pictorial bids adieu to this extraordinary woman, her extraordinary beauty and her extraordinary gifts as an actress.

This moving tribute paid to her by Paul Newman on TCM a few years back sums up so much: her strength as a human being, her worth as a talent– her legacy as a star.

“It was a privilege to watch her,” Newman says in the tribute.

It is now more than a privilege. It is an honour.

Thank you for the memories, Elizabeth. We love you. And you are a part of us. Always.

Joan Fontaine – A Fan Remembers

One of our readers was kind enough to share a first-hand experience involving screen legend (and perennial Pictorial favorite) Joan Fontaine.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

The Divine Joan Fontaine

My father, who’d be 91 were alive today, was a charming and most unusual man. When I was 10 or 11, back in the very early 60s, there was no such thing as cable TV and the “Late Show” broadcast old movies most nights.

One night my father said, “You are going to sleep late tonight, school night or not. We’ll just have you stay home if you are tired tomorrow.”

Why?

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” was on the tube that night. I loved it. And I adored Fontaine.

I was thrilled when in my early 20′s, she was doing some lecturing at a local college and lived in Boston for a time. She was charming, and slightly imperious, and, then in her 50′s, quite tiny and very lovely.

One of our local hotels had been purchased by a mysterious Brit, and its cabaret, under his aegis, ran sophisticated intimate acts, mostly singers, which were broadcast live on Saturday nights. One night a very talented local singer/comedian named Mercedes Hall (the actor Anthony Michael Hall is her son ) was appearing.

During the show, which as I say was broadcast live, the smarmy hotelier/host — his name was Allen Temayne, introduced Fontaine, who was amongst the patrons. “Miss Fontaine” he said — may I call you Joan?”

Chic, cool, and immaculately coiffed, the former film star looked at him and said, “NO. You may call me MISS Fontaine.”

At that point admiration turned to adoration.

She is a complicated woman, maligned in many show biz bios — Vivien Leigh, Judith Anderson and Noel Coward were all less than kind — but I suspect she was less sinner than sinned against, especially during her childhood with de Havilland.

A unique lady indeed.

The Truly Divine Olivia de Havilland

Living legend: Olivia de Havilland

The magnificent Olivia de Havilland turns 94 years young today.

Born in 1916 in Tokyo, Japan, where father held a legal practice, the de Havillands immigrated to California two years later for health reasons. The two year old Olivia and her one year old sister, Joan, would both grow up in the golden warmth of northern California’s San Mateo county before eventually heading south … to Hollywood.  To stardom. To film immortality.

Olivia is one of the last few surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age, having made her screen debut 75 years ago in Max Reinhardt’s shimmery 1935 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She achieved true film immortality in 1939 when she won the role of Melanie Hamilton in the biggest film ever made, Gone With the Wind, which would also give her the first of five Oscar nominations. Twice she would take home gold. She would fight the iron-fisted Studio system for creative freedom—and win. She successfully broke the mold of the Warner Bros’ crafted ‘goody-two-shoes’ image (starting, with scintillating stealth, in The Strawberry Blonde) and would go on to play a challenging range of roles—from the insanely paranoid  Virginia of The Snake Pit, the deliciously evil Miriam of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte to … well … a Lady in a Cage.

Olivia would never quite bury the hatchet with her rival and sister Joan Fontaine in what was (and still is) perhaps the movie biz’s most famous case of sibling rivalry, and the true nature of her off screen relationship with her most famous leading man, the dashing Errol Flynn, is still somewhat… shall we say … ambiguous.

Although Olivia retired to Paris some twenty years ago, remains active—most recently having provided the narration for the 2009 documentary on Alzheimer’s disease, I Remember Better When I Paint.

A truly great actress, lady and humanitarian, The Pictorial wishes to salute the divine Miss de Havilland with a resounding thanks… for all the memories.

The fresh-faced ingenue, circa 1937.

With Errol Flynn in DODGE CITY (1939)

Glamorous Hollywood Star

As Melanie Hamilton in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

In THE SANTA FE TRAIL (1940)

With Montgomery Clift in the role that won her a 2nd Oscar, THE HEIRESS (1949):

Cuddling Cagney in the delightful THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (1941)

Melanie and Scarlett in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)