Books & Manuscripts

Vivien Leigh, My Fascinating Friend

Ahead of his talk at Sotheby’s New Bond Street this weekend and next week’s Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection sale, Australian actor Trader Faulkner recalls his friendship with Vivien Leigh.

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VIVIEN LEIGH IN ‘ANNA KARENINA’, 1947. FROM THE SELLING EXHIBITION CECIL BEATON: PORTRAITS OF VIVIEN LEIGH FEATURING LAURENCE OLIVIER © THE CECIL BEATON STUDIO ARCHIVE AT SOTHEBY’S

It was being cast as the Duke of Northumberland, a fictional character created by Olivier for his film of Richard III, which would lead to Trader’s introduction to Vivien. He recalls:

‘During a tea break he [Olivier] came over and asked “Where have I seen you before?”.

“I was one of your six Aussie extras in Richard III at the Tivoli Theatre Sydney, in 1948. Sir Laurence”

“Of course! You scamp, come over here and meet Vivien.”

He walked me across the set to where a woman sat muffled in a thick scarf.

“Puss,” he said “meet your twin, Sebastian, in next year’s production of Twelfth Night at Stratford.”

She removed her sunglasses and I was gazing face to face with Scarlet O’Hara, looking not a day older than when she’d made Gone with the Wind in 1939.

“So you’re Trader! Peter Finch has told me all about you and your ballerina mother who danced with Diahilev and Pavlova. I so look forward to our working together.”

That was my introduction to a treasured and generous friend.’

Trader would go on to star alongside Vivien in the 1955 production of Twelfth Night at Stratford. ‘She told me I appealed to her because of my uninhibited upbringing and Aussie background. I remember in a conversation we had, telling her of the dangerous thrill that riding a gigantic wave on my old surfboard gave me. Also, how I would have loved to have taken her out on my board in the right sort of surf.’ Their friendship blossomed as Vivien’s marriage to Larry decayed throughout the 1950s. Each would entertain the other, often joined by mutual friends such as Robert ‘Bobby’ Helpmann, on whom Vivien would remark “Oh how he makes me laugh, and God knows I need to.”

‘I shall always remember a hilarious afternoon on the Stella Maris, the houseboat I shared with my mother until I married in the 60s,’ recalls Faulkner.

‘We were sitting on the quarterdeck, roaring with laughter at Bobby’s raunchy jokes. Suddenly Vivien said, “I could never believe Jesus Christ didn’t have a divine sense of humour.” It was Vivien’s originality and intelligence that made her such fun to be with.

‘Bobby Helpmann was sitting on a very high stool making us rock with laughter at his story of tipping on the sidewalk in New York and falling flat on his face.

‘I had a very expensive walking stick with me at the time, and as it so happened a passing cop shouted to me “OK fairy, now pick up your wand and beat it!” I rose majestically pointed my stick at him and said “Vanish”. To make his point, Bobby rose on the stool, pointed his imaginary wand and fell backwards into the Thames. That could not have happened to balletic Bobby if he hadn’t had too much to drink.

‘It was lucky he and Vivien had managed to get to the Stella Maris incognito and that the tide was in. It being summer, after his plunge he had a cold mini bath on-board.’

Trader and Vivien would remain friends throughout the turbulent years of her divorce from Larry and beyond until her death in 1967. Despite an obvious attraction existing between the pair, which did on occasion come close to being acted upon, their relationship remained platonic.

‘After I married my wife Bobo she told me how much she admired Vivien. By this time Olivier had married Joan Plowright, and John Marrivale was caring for Vivien. I rang and invited them to dinner. We were six, Vivien and John, Nigel Davenport with Eleanor Fazan, Bobo and me. It was an unforgettable evening with Vivien looking very frail but making every effort to be sparkling.

As they were leaving she turned to me, “Trader you’ve made a wonderful choice, your Bobo is truly beautiful, with genuine charm. You’re a lucky man.” She gave me a big hug. “Be sure you take good care of each other, it’s so easy to fall in love and marry, but from then on begins your ascent of Everest.”’

Join us at New Bond Street this Sunday to hear Trader recall more stories about his great friend Vivien Leigh. Full details of Sunday’s talks are below:

Sunday at Sotheby’s – 24 September

1pm, The Iconic Image of Vivien Leigh – Private Vs Public

Kendra Bean, author, historian and editor of the hugely successful VivandLarry.com, in conversation with Sotheby’s David Macdonald
RSVP

2pm, On Stage with Vivien Leigh

Trader Faulkner, actor, who played Sebastian opposite Vivien’s Viola in Twelfth Night (1955), in conversation with Sotheby’s Frances Christie
RSVP

 

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