Unforgettable Legend

     The 1951 cinematic adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan, is one of the few movies starring Vivien Leigh that I had not seen before this class. Throughout the course of my life, Gone With the Wind has been my favorite movie and book of all time. I remember watching Vivien Leigh on screen and being intrigued by her performance. Other actresses that were anxious to get the part of Scarlett O'Hara, such as Betty Davis, could not perform the dynamics of Leigh's performance in Gone With the Wind. Leigh's vibrant on-screen performances and her exquisite beauty caught the attention of audiences across the world. This semester, when I learned Leigh played in the film A Streetcar Named Desire, I was excited about watching a movie that I had not seen before with one of my favorite actresses.

     When Vivien Leigh stepped off the train in the opening scene of A Streetcar Named Desire, her appearance surprised me. Her blond hair in this movie contrasted with her natural dark features. No longer was Leigh the dark, vivacious character that audiences for decades were accustomed to viewing on the screen. By reading the play, I realized the character of Blanche DuBois was a tired looking lady who was holding onto the last strings of life. Leigh's haggard appearance in this film fits the character of Blanche, but maybe a little too much. A Streetcar Named Desire was produced under director Elia Kazan in 1951. This was a time where Leigh, as Blanche, was experiencing the harsh trials that life brings us all. She was suffering from tuberculosis during the time of this film and recovering from bipolar depression. Leigh was holding to the last strings of life as the character Blanche. She was able to relate to Blanche's desperation and drainage from life's experiences. It was this that enabled Leigh to perform the role of Blanche exceptionally and awarded the Academy Award for best actress.

     As I think back to the movies that Leigh performed in, it was odd to notice that in most of her films she plays a role of a temptress or an adulteress. In the film Waterloo Bridge (1940), Leigh played a ballet dancer during WW1 who falls in love with an officer. She is expelled from her dancing school while her gentleman is off to war, and she turns to prostitution as a way of surviving. In the cinematic adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1947), she plays a role of an nineteenth-century lady who takes on a lover besides her husband. Movies starring Leigh are known worldwide and have received many noteworthy and prestigious awards. Leigh's performances in films are exemplary. For decades, actresses have tried to mimic Leigh's style of performance that she brought to her films, such as her role as Scarlett O Hara. Leigh's on-screen essence cannot captured by other actresses. As I further watched A Street Car Named Desire, I realized that Leigh may not have brought her mesmerizing looks to this film, but she brought her extraordinary and legendary performance as an actress.

Ginny L. Snow

Table of Contents