V ivien Leigh’s fondness for cats can be dated to her school days at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, when, as she later recalled, “I was the youngest child there and so I imagine I was rather spoiled [sic]. I remember I was allowed to take cats to bed with me. I’ve always been mad about cats.”
VIVIEN LEIGH READING WITH TISSY, A PORTRAIT BY ROGER FURSE (ESTIMATE: £1,000-1,500)
In the mid-1930s Vivien adopted Tissy, a black-and-white stray with unusual green and turquoise eyes, which figures in Roger Furse’s charming watercolour from the period, which features in Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection sale in London on 26 September.
In 1946, Laurence Olivier presented her with her first Siamese cat, New Boy, named after the New Theatre in London’s St Martin’s Lane (now the Noël Coward Theatre), and who travelled with the couple everywhere as well as appearing in a number of magazine articles of the time, and being a regular on set at Shepperton Studios during the shooting of Julien Duvivier’s Anna Karenina (1948).
VIVIEN LEIGH WITH NEW BOY AT DURHAM COTTAGE, CIRCA 1946
In an interview with the Illustrated London News (1948), Vivien stated: “Once you have kept a Siamese cat you would never have any other kind. They make wonderful pets and are so intelligent they follow you around like little dogs.’ New Boy was unfortunately run over by a car in ’48 whilst the Oliviers were touring in Australia with the Old Vic Company.
A PORTRAIT OF NEW BOY
Armando, later purchased by Olivier, wore the same special bell collar – from Paris – that New Boy had. Named after Jones Harris, an admirer and the son of actress Ruth Gordon, Poo Jones was Vivien’s last companion and one of her very favourite cats. He would always travel with her in the 1960s – even accompanying her on board the Queen Elizabeth, and was with her at the time of her death on July 7, 1967.
Poo Jones would also be present at most of Vivien’s theatre rehearsals in London, and was a noticeable passenger in Vivien’s Rolls-Royce. Leigh’s affection and interest for felines was well known during her lifetime, and is further attested by a number of books from her personal library, including Beverley Nichols’s Cats’ A.B.C. (1960), inscribed to Vivien Leigh by Robert Rosterman ‘Dear “Katie Scarlett” / I’m sure you know your / A.B.C.’s about cats […] Best wishes to you always.’ (see lot 174).
THREE BOOKS ABOUT CATS FROM VIVIEN’S PERSONAL LIBRARY (ESTIMATE: £100–150)
Lifelong friend, screen legend and Gone With the Wind co-star Olivia De Havilland aptly evokes Vivien’s unique style with the following statement - ‘[she had] elegance and composure, like a small Siamese cat; and the tinkling charm of a Chinese wind lantern.’
VIVIEN LEIGH WITH HER CAT CIRCA 1940