Cukor, George: Hollywood’s Best Actor Director–Vivien Leigh

Working with Vivien Leigh

George Cukor’s friendship with British actress Vivien Leigh was one of the most intimate in his life, one that endured for over three decades–until her untimely death, in 1967, age 53.

In her visits to Hollywood, Vivien usually stayed with Cukor.  Over the years they had searched for appropriate material to work on; Cukor suggested Romeo and Juliet, with Vivien’s then husband Laurence Olivier, but it had never materialized.

On February 16, 1967, a year before her death, Vivien wrote to Cukor: “Of course, I want to do a play–of course I want to do a film.  I read and read, but you know how damned difficult it is to find the right thing.  Why have you no part for a veteran actress who adores you?”

After Vivien’s death, Cukor arranged a small memorial service for her in his Hollywood home, where she’d often come to relax from “those grueling days” on the set of Gone With the Wind.

Cukor also took active part in Hollywood’s celebration of Vivien’s life and art, on March 17, 1968, on the campus of UCLA.  The sponsors of the event were “Friends of the Libraries,” who had honored other close friends of Cukor: Aldus Huxley, Somerset Maugham, Cole Porter.  Cukor paid tribute to Vivien, alongside speeches with Greer Garson, Gladys Cooper, Judith Anderson, and Stanley Kramer.

The evening was extremely successful; at one point, Cukor fell off his chair out of excitement.  Greer Garson was asked if she could get to the stage, to introduce a clip from the 1940 romantic melodrama, Waterloo Bridge, without falling over all over Cukor.