“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them: they can be injured by us, they can be wounded; they know all our penitence, all our aching sense that their place is empty, all the kisses we bestow on the smallest relic of their presence.” – George Eliot
2017 is a year of anniversaries in my book of special people, those with whom I grew up and who influenced my life in a way or another. In October it will be 10 years since Deborah Kerr left us and this July marked the 5oth year since Vivien Leigh’s passing away.
For this occasion, I made a special trip to London, to attend the celebrations organized by the Vivien Leigh Circle, and to pay my respects to this amazing actress who entered my life more than 25 years ago.
At first, it was her striking beauty in the film Waterloo Bridge that caught the attention of a young girl who probably, unconsciously, was looking for feminine role models for her imminent growing up. Her grace and elegance appealed to me, while I was mesmerized by the effect of her face on my tv screen. The many close-ups of her in Mervyn LeRoy’s film still linger in my mind.
I understood it wasn’t just beauty, in an empty sense of the word, that of a model posing for the camera. It was also the emotions she managed to get through to me, in a subtle way, through her eyes and little gestures, which I later understood to be the perfect kind of acting for the camera, which picks up every detail and nuance.
Thus, her beauty (an asset she always tried to minimize) became a tool in her craft, and gave her characters the quality of a heartbreaking fragility.
As the years went by and I matured a little, I managed to grasp the full gift of her acting in roles like Blanche Dubois or Mary Treadwell.
And getting to know things about her personal life, I understood how courageous it was of her to face in her roles all the demons that plagued her in life, the manic depression, the growing old, the loss of love and the solitude.
She made the best of her tragic heroines, probably giving them little things from her own destiny. They all had a stoic way of facing adversities, like Myra or Anna Karenina, heading with their heads up high towards their deaths, or Karen Stone coolly and consciously playing with her destiny and literally throwing the keys to her future to a stranger. Blanche managed to get up with dignity and follow her kind stranger to the asylum, while Mary Treadwell picked herself up and got off the boat completely composed in appearance.
There is a quality of dignity in their defeat, something that Vivien managed to transmit in her real life too, while facing an illness which was misunderstood and badly treated at the time. Even if she wished she had a “respectable” disease like cancer, she did the best she could to manage the bipolar disorder and submitted herself to the electroshock treatments, in order to be able to keep working.
For all these reasons Vivien won my respect forever, both as an actress and a person and also my admiration for her devotion in friendship and her passion in love and life in general.
As a result, I made this special video tribute to her, which was screened at St. Paul’s Church in London during the memorial that took place on the 7th of July.
I tried to pay homage to her incomparable screen persona, her capacity to stir emotions and inevitably her beauty.
Also, I had the chance to literally walk in her footsteps at Notley Abbey and Tickerage Mill. The beauty of these places and their tranquillity reminded me of her words:
“I read a book called ‘The Martyrdom of Man’ and I underlined a passage then, which I came upon the other day. I think of it often because perhaps what is lacking today is the time just to sit and wonder. The lines say what I feel and what I hope. They are:
‘And the artists shall inherit the earth and the world will be as a garden.'”
In life, she managed to make herself a garden wherever she lived and to bring beauty to those places, something that sprung deep from her artistic soul. She made herself little paradises to live in, and eventually she went to the bigger one, which probably gave her spirit peace and tranquillity.
As Noel Coward said,
“She often reminded me of a bird of paradise. Now perhaps she can find her own.”
The result of my visit to Notley Abbey, Tickerage Mill, Durham Cottage & Eaton Square: