Vivien Leigh

Angus McBean Photograph. © Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University.

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Vivien Leigh

by Angus McBean
matte bromide print, 1938
15 7/8 in. x 12 7/8 in. (403 mm x 328 mm)
Given by the photographer, Angus McBean, 1985
Photographs Collection
NPG x30432

Sitterback to top

  • Vivien Leigh (1913-1967), Actress. Sitter associated with 147 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Angus McBean (1904-1990), Photographer. Artist or producer associated with 283 portraits, Sitter in 79 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Leigh had been determined to play Scarlett O'Hara from 1937 when Margaret Mitchell's American Civil War-era novel Gone With the Wind was first published in Britain. As part of her bid to gain the role, she commissioned leading theatre photographer McBean to take a series of photographs that depicted her as a vision of Scarlett, with the intention of sending them to the producer David O. Selznick in Hollywood. After delivering the photos to Leigh, McBean was given a copy of Gone With the Wind with the inscription: 'To darling Angus, with love from Scarlett O'Hara.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Pepper, Terence, Angus McBean Portraits, 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 July to 22 October 2006), p. 39 Read entry

    McBean first photographed Vivien Leigh in one of her earliest stage parts opposite Ivor Novello in The Happy Hypocrite (1936) after her major success in the Mask of Virtue (1935). Later in 1936 he photographed her again, modelling hairstyles for the coiffeur Rudolph Steiner. Whilst preparing for her role in Serena Blandish (which opened at London’s Gate Theatre in September 1938), Leigh visited McBean for a set of photographs to help her campaign to win the part of Scarlett O'Hara in the Hollywood film of Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel Gone With the Wind. The pose with the large hat became McBean's favourite photograph and the only one on display in his home. In 1985 it was used by the Post Office on the 31-pence stamp as one of a set of four British film stars photographed by celebrated UK photographers to mark British Film Year. The other image, showing more blossom and her eyes averted, was later published in The Sketch when the film role, for which she later won an Oscar, was secured. Laurence Olivier, with whom she had been romantically involved since co-starring with him in Fire Over England (1937), had dismissed the photograph saying it 'made her look like a Javanese tart'. According to McBean this only made her like it more.

Placesback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1938back to top

Current affairs

Britain pursues its policy of appeasement. At the Munich Agreement, Britain, France and Italy agreed to allow Hitler to seize the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. The agreement was seen at the time as a triumph for peace, with Neville Chamberlain returning home brandishing the paper agreement and saying 'peace for our time.' Within six months Germany had occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Art and science

Graham Greene publishes Brighton Rock. The novel follows the descent of Pinky, a teenage gang leader in Brighton's criminal underworld. The book examines the criminal mind and explores the themes of morality and sin - recurrent concerns for the Roman Catholic Author.
Glasgow hosts the Empire Exhibition; an £11 million celebration of the British Empire visited by 13 million people.


In its pursuit of 'Lebensraum' (living space), Germany annexes Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia with little opposition from the League of Nations. At home, the Nazis continued their escalating persecution of the Jews with 'Kristallnacht' (the Night of Broken Glass), attacking Jewish homes, shops, businesses and synagogues, and taking Jewish men to concentration camps.

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