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Previously unseen photograph of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier is unveiled
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier by Larry Burrows, 1949. ©Larry Burrows Collection 2013.

LONDON.- A previously unseen and newly acquired photograph of one of Britain’s most important actresses, Vivien Leigh, and her husband Laurence Olivier, taken at the height of their celebrity status will go on display at the National Portrait Gallery today (Friday 1 November 2013). The photograph will be shown alongside two rarely seen portraits of the couple to mark the start of the Gallery's programme celebrating the centenary of Leigh's birth.

The photograph, taken on 31 May 1949 by British photojournalist Larry Burrows, shows Leigh and Olivier at a theatrical garden party held at Roehampton Club in London to benefit the Actors Orphanage Fund, of which Olivier was President. In the picture, Leigh is speaking through a megaphone to a delighted crowd whilst Olivier is waving four small balls above his head, presumably to be used for a coconut shy at the event. During the couple's sell-out tour of Australia and New Zealand the previous year, Leigh had received critical acclaim for her performances in The Skin of Our Teeth and The School for Scandal, and Olivier for his lead role in Richard III.

The photograph is one of Larry Burrows’ earliest, taken while he worked for Life magazine's London bureau. He went on to take some of the most memorable photographs of the war in Vietnam from 1962, but died with three fellow journalists when their helicopter was shot down over Laos in 1971. The photograph has been given to the National Portrait Gallery by Burrows' son and daughter-in-law, Russell Burrows and Barbara Baker-Burrows, especially for the Gallery's centenary celebrations. The photograph has been selected as the Gallery’s Photo of the Month for November and will be showcased alongside two other rare portraits of the couple: one taken on the set of The School for Scandal by Vivienne in 1949 and the other by Paul Tanqueray in 1942.

The three photographs will be exhibited in the Gallery in the lead up to the opening of an extensive display, Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration, on 30 November 2013. Telling the story of the film and theatre career of the widely celebrated actress, and focusing on her Oscar-winning role in Gone With the Wind (1939), the display will feature over 50 portraits of Leigh alongside a selection of rare memorabilia including magazine covers, vintage film stills and press books. Many of the photographs in the display have not been exhibited in the Gallery before and include leading photographers such as Bassano, Cecil Beaton, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Howard Coster, Angus McBean, Norman Parkinson, Laszlo Willinger and Madame Yevonde.

Leigh was one of the most famous women of the twentieth century. For twenty years, with her husband Laurence Olivier, she was part of the most celebrated, talented and glamorous British couples of the era. Her most famous performance, as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, brought her worldwide recognition and the first of two Academy Awards. The second Oscar was for the 1951 film production of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, starring opposite Marlon Brando.

Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration will span Leigh’s fascinating career, beginning with a still of her first un-credited film performance in Things Are Looking Up (1934) and Norman Parkinson’s studio portrait taken at the time of her stage success in The Mask of Virtue (1935), and ending with her last film role in Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965), for which she received the French Crystal Dove award as best actress.

Other theatrical and film roles represented in the display include her first appearance with her future husband Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1937); Leigh with Rex Harrison in Storm in a Teacup (1937); Leigh in two Hollywood films, with Robert Taylor in Waterloo Bridge (1940) and as Nelson’s mistress Lady Hamilton with Olivier in That Hamilton Woman (1941); and her role in the most expensive British film, at the time, Gabriel Pascal’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

Terence Pepper OBE, Head of Photographs Collection, National Portrait Gallery, London says: ‘Vivien Leigh was one of the most extraordinary British talents and beauties in the film and theatre world of the second half of the twentieth century. Already well-represented in the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection, it been a great pleasure to research her iconography further and to source many additional and little known images that highlight her contributions, ranging from her early appearance as an Elizabethan lady in the film in which she fell in love with Laurence Olivier, Fire over England (1937), as well as her Oscar-winning roles, playing Southern Belles in Gone with the Wind and Streetcar Named Desire.’

The previously unseen photograph of Leigh and Olivier by Larry Burrows will be on display as Photo of the Month from 1 November 2013 in Room 31, and later as part of Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration from 30 November 2013.

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