My Writing Process: A Blog Tour

Vivien Leigh book

Photo by Jodie Chapman

*Clears the cobwebs from the corners of my official website*. Phew! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Not that nothing has been going on in the past six months – a lot has, in fact, but for one reason or another I haven’t written about it in this particular forum (see Viv and Larry for some updates about things that have happened since Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait was published, including lectures, and the co-curation of an exhibit at London’s National Portrait Gallery). However, last week I was tagged in a fun blogging meme by my lovely friend Casee of the book review site Literary Inklings, and it seems the perfect opportunity to get back to updating. The Writing Process Blog Tour asks authors to talk about, well, their personal writing process.

News & Events

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh at Grauman’s Egyptian



A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, 1951, Warner Bros., 122 min. Director Elia Kazan’s powerful adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ classic play made Marlon Brando a household name for his incendiary portrayal of working-class Stanley Kowalski, who collides headlong with fragile Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) when she moves in with him and wife Stella (Kim Hunter), her sister. Introduction by authors Susan Mizruchi (Brando’s Smile) and Kendra Bean (Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait), who will sign their books in the lobby at 6:30 PM.

News & Events

The Vivien Leigh Archives

vivien leigh archives lecture

Photo © V&A

BFI Southbank, November 12 – V&A curator Keith Lodwick discusses the recent acquisition of the Vivien Leigh Archives.

As well as being a hugely talented actress, Vivien Leigh was also a meticulous record keeper. The Victoria & Albert Museum has recently acquired Leigh’s archive which includes handwritten diaries, extensive personal correspondence, rare photographs, awards and press clippings. In this richly illustrated presentation, V&A curator Keith Lodwick presents a selection of highlights from the archive and shares some of the insights it offers into her life and work.

After Keith’s presentation, he will be joined onstage by Nathalie Morris (Senior Curator, BFI Special Collections) and Kendra Bean (Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait) for a discussion.

Tickets £6


Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame Exhibit


This autumn, Vivien Leigh fans the world over are celebrating the British actress’ 100th birthday. The tributes have kicked off in the cozy village of Topsham in Devon, where several of Vivien’s personal possessions are on display as part of the “Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” exhibit at the Topsham Museum.

“Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” highlights the connection between Vivien and Topsham, and includes items that explore her image as a film and stage star, as well as the woman behind the star image. The building itself was the former house of Dorothy Holman, the museum’s founder who also happened to be Vivien’s sister-in-law from her marriage to Leigh Holman. Vivien visited Dorothy in Topsham on several occasions. Her daughter, Suzanne, lived with Dorothy for a time during the war before being evacuated to Canada, and still has ties with the museum today.

I went down to Devon with Robbie and my friend Marissa on Saturday. We were met at the museum by director Rachel Nichols, who gave us a lively tour of the exhibit. On display are items from the museum’s permanent collection, including the dress Vivien wore to the premiere of Laurence Olivier’s film Richard III in 1956, and the nightgown she wore as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. The exhibit has been supplemented with items borrowed from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, the Bill Douglas Centre and Bristol Theatre Collection. Suzanne Farrington has also loaned some personal items, including family photographs and my favorite, a wooden model theatre purchased by Laurence Olivier in 1945 – believed to be German in origin – containing a small doll depicting Vivien Leigh as Sabina in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. It’s a small, but intimate space that allows visitors to get an intimate view of these treasures.

I was really glad to hear that the exhibit has attracted large numbers of people to the museum. It just goes to show that Vivien’s allure has transcended decades and generations. The items on display have the effect of making Vivien seem alive and current. Topsham is a beautiful place and I’d highly recommend going for a visit. “Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” runs until October 31. Admission is free.

All photos © Kendra Bean, 2013.


Photo Diary: Wales and Derbyshire

Georgiana Devonshire

Portrait of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, at Chatsworth House 

I’ve been MIA from blogging for the past couple of weeks. Sorry! It’s just that some freelance writing and editing work came up and has kept me busy. We’ve also been regaled with the fantastic news that Vivien Leigh’s grandsons have sold her archive to the Victoria and Albert Museum, so there’s a lot going on as we head into autumn.

Two weeks ago Robbie celebrated his birthday, and last weekend he and I drove up to Chester to visit his sister and her boyfriend. Whenever I travel around the UK, I usually take the train, but it’s great to rent a car and get a different feel for the landscape. The only problem with driving is, of course, traffic. It took us over an hour just to get out of London! On Saturday, Louisa and Alex drove us over to Wales. This was really exciting for me as the Bean side of my family is Welsh, and my dad always asks me if I’ve met any of our people (answer: no). Our destination was Conwy, on the north coast. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Conwy is known for the military garrison Conwy Castle and the city walls built during Edward I’s conquest of Wales in the 13th century. Only English citizens were allowed to live inside the city walls, and the Welsh were relegated to living in the surrounding areas. Conwy Castle is really interesting in that it remains much more in tact than a lot of the other castles I’ve visited while living in the UK. It’s largely a stone shell, but you can still climb to the tops of the towers (watch your step) where the views of Conwy Estuary and the surrounding town and hills are breathtaking.

After lunch at the vistor’s center, we explored Plas Mawr, a preserved Elizabethan house once owned by the merchant Robert Wynne. Not only did we get a glimpse into middle-class life during the Elizabethan Era, we also learned about things that affected all citizens during that time, like diseases, water supply, etc. There was an interactive board  where visitors couple tap a “symptom” and have a doctor say what we could do to “cure” that particular ailment.  My favorite was a woman asking how she could tell whether her husband was bewitched. The answer? “Look into your husband’s eyes. If you can see your reflection, then he is not betwitched. If you cannot see your reflection, then he is probably betwitched.” *Science*


Ask the Author: The origins of an idea and the rewards of research

Ask the Author


In the previous instalment of “Ask the Author,” I outlined some fundamentals that every new author should know when putting their feet into the deep, dark waters of commercial publishing. This week, I’d like to get down to basics and talk a bit about the origins of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait and the research that followed. 

Q:  What sparked your interest in the Oliviers? Do you feel that this couple from the early mid 20th century have an appeal to the younger audiences of today? If so, why? And, what has been the most rewarding part of writing a book on Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier? – Susan G. and Sarah. B, respectively.

Let me just start off by clarifying that although the story of the Oliviers plays a major part in An Intimate Portrait because you can’t talk about Vivien Leigh’s life without mentioning Laurence Olivier’s (significant) presence in it, the book is by no means solely about their relationship. It’s about Vivien’s life and career.  That said, my original idea actually was to put together a book that focused on them as a combined entity. I envisioned it being something like Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, only with a lot more photos. But as anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows, ideas evolve and change throughout the creative process and sometimes what you end up with is completely different from, but probably better than, what you started out with.

I have Gone With the Wind to thank for not only sparking my eventual interest in the Oliviers, but also opening my world to the joys of classic cinema. It seems that a lot of people “discover” Vivien Leigh through this film, and for good reason: it’s iconic and, most importantly, really accessible. But more than that, it’s damn enjoyable, especially considering it has a running time of nearly four hours. I’ve been obsessed with movies for as long as I can remember, and there have been particular films throughout my life that I’ve latched on to for whatever reason. GWTW was one of these films. I read the book and saw the film as a teenager, and the effect on me was so great that I felt compelled to learn as much as I could about the production and its stars. This led to an interest in Vivien’s life. I’ve always been drawn to flawed characters – the recluses, the tragic ones – because I find them interesting, and, in some ways, relatable. The more I read about Vivien, the more layered her story became, and the more I felt compelled to dig deeper and try to discover who she really was. My interest in her relationship with Olivier followed suit.


Photo Diary: East Sussex

Herstmonceux Castle Folly

The Herstmonceux Castle Folly – a Victorian facade that served no purpose other than to decorate the landscape.

Romance is when your partner plans surprise get-aways to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. This is what Robbie did for me over the weekend. I knew we were going to the seaside, but had to guess the town before he’d reveal the exact location.

On Saturday morning we caught a train from Victoria Station to East Sussex where he had a whole day planned out. One thing I love most about living in England is the focus on preserving national heritage. It’s just not something we see as much of back home in the States. Stately homes and castles are at the top of my list of places to go and practice photography (two of my favorite destinations are Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire) because of the opulent architecture, beautiful gardens, and history seeping out of every stone and crevice. 

Our first stop was Polegate station where we hailed a cab and drive to Herstmonceux Castle. Constructed in the 15th century, Herstmonceux was one time the largest private home in England. In the 1520s, the castle was seized from the Dacre family by King Henry VIII, only to be given back under the rule of Elizabeth I. The Restoration period in the 17th century saw renovation and rejuvenation, but also the bankruptcy of Lord Dacre who was forced to sell the castle in 1777. By the 19th century, the castle was in ruins and became a popular tourist attraction for Victorian holiday-makers visiting Brighton and Eastbourne. Herstmonceux took on new life in the early 20th century and is now a part-time wedding venue and hosts international students studying at Queens University.

The grounds at Herstmonceux are stunning and include ancient chestnut trees, an Elizabethan garden, a folly (a house that serves only as decoration), lakes, and sprawling fields.


Ask the Author: How can I get my book published?

Ask the Author

Hello, and welcome! With the release of my first book, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, coming up in October, I decided I needed to branch out from if I want to progress as a film historian and explore other subjects. Not to worry, I plan to continue updating Viv and Larry, but I felt it important to carve out a space where I could post about things that might not “fit” over there, like reviews of completely unrelated films or books, photography, and information about upcoming projects. So here we have it: my official author website. I’m so excited about this new venture and I want to thank you for coming along for the ride!

Rather than getting our toes wet, let’s jump right in. This inaugural post will be part of an ongoing series called “Ask the Author,” wherein people can submit questions about research, writing, publishing, etc., and I’ll post a different answer based on my own experiences each week. I’m going to start by answering general questions, and after October 10 (the UK release date of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait), will be open to discussing the contents of my book in detail. Whether you’re someone who wants to write a book some day, are currently working on one, or are just interested in the process, I hope this series proves helpful.

• • •

Q: I’m currently writing a book. What advice can you give me to improve my chances of being published? – Paulo F.

When I first started out on the journey to what would eventually become Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, I really had no clue how to take what I thought was this great idea and turn it into a physical product. The past five years have been a huge learning curve, and I was lucky enough to get some sound advice along the way. There is no foolproof formula for success; everyone’s journey is different. But these are some fundamentals that every new author should know.

News & Events

Lecture @ National Portrait Gallery

Vivien Leigh NPG

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

Actress Vivien Leigh is best known for her Academy Award-winning performances in Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, her popularity on the post-war British stage, and her twenty-year marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier. Kendra Bean, author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, discusses the fascinating life of this extraordinary star.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A and book signing, and an opportunity to visit the Vivien Leigh centenary exhibit.

Admission is free, but space is limited and seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis, so make sure you get there early!

Where: National Portrait Gallery Ondaatje Wing Theatre | St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE
When: Thursday, November 28, 1.15 pm