The Law of Contact

Vivien Leigh and Margot Kidder

by Frank M. Roberts

A few columns back I wrote about two talented actresses whose careers were cut short because of mental problems. The talented ladies were Mary Eaton and Frances Farmer. Today, a look at two more lovely actresses with similar problems - Vivien Leigh and Margot Kidder - one famous as the star of "Gone With the Wind," the other known on screen as Lois Lane, Superman's main gal pal.

Miss Leigh was Vivian Holman. She substituted the 'a' for an 'e' in her first name. Her agent wanted her to be called April Morn (just think - he gets paid thousands for such brilliant ideas). Her husband at the time was Herbert Leigh Holman but, of course, her most famous hubby was Sir Lawrence Olivier. The pair got acquainted while filming, "Fire Over England" - sort of an appropriate name all things considered.

At the time of filming both were married, but not to each other. After the screen fire was put out they continued seeing each other (he said, sanitizing the blazing friendship). Both spouses finally threw in the family towels, and Leigh and Olivier were free to romp. In 1940, they legalized the romping. It was a quiet wedding with only two witnesses, one of whom was Katherine Hepburn. It should be noted that Holman and Leigh remained close friends after the split. (Sigh-h-h).

For the most part, she was a happy camper except for one mean critic who called her a 'great actress'. (The cad). She felt that accolade put a burden on her that she might not be able to live up to. (I was once referred to as "a fine writer," and I gave the individual a swift kick. How dare he?)

Of course, the biggest thing that ever happened to her was when she was given the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind." She was chosen over such big boxoffice names as Paulette Goddard, Jean Arthur, and Joan Bennett and, frankly Scarlett, they DID give a damn.

So, the Brit Miss Leigh became a Southern belle. Actually, her parents were French and Irish. Here is a side note roughly related to that food and giant flick. In one scene she had to chomp on a radish, then vomit. (It's a Southern thing - you wouldn't understand). Well, those yucky sounds were something she couldn't handle so they were recorded by Olivia deHaviland. (To sort of quote from Julie Andrews, "the plantation was alive with the sound of vomit). Its next stop was the cutting room floor.

Anyway, as one and all know, the movie was a big - no - a giant-sized success. She was paid a piddlin' $25,000 to $30,000 - piddlin' compared to Gable's paycheck of $120,000 which, by today's standard IS piddle. Hey, boss, piddle me.

Miss Leigh won an Oscar for her work in GWTW and, another one later on for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in, "A Streetcar Named Desire." By the way, 'streetcar' playwright, Tennessee Williams, said that she was, "everything that I intended, and much more than I had ever dreamed of." Wow!

Where did that 'streetcar' take her? That's where the trouble comes to light. She said that portraying DuBois, "tipped me over into madness." It accentuated a fairly long-standing - but not uncommon - problem. For several years, the famed actress had been suffering from bipolar disorder (not disease). In his autobiography, Olivier noted that it had messed up her private and professional lives.

WebMd says that Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods, and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior. I hope that doesn't hit home.

As mentioned, Leigh was an Oscar winner. On television Mariette Hartley was an Emmy winner who was seen often in a variety of shows. She suffered similarly. She had family problems, once attempted suicide and, initially, was mis-diagnosed. She often lectures, and writes about her problems, an effort to help others.

Other showbiz personalities with similar problems included Demi Lovato, and Scott Stapp, Creed's lead singer. Add to that list Mrs. Michael Douglas, best known as Catherine Zeta-Jones. Also, Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and 'muscley' actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme (who also had substance abuse problems). A couple others - Irish singer, Sinead O'Connor, and former Today Show hostess, Jane Pauley.

* * * *

Another famous actress with similar problems was Margot Kidder, best known as Superman's favorite gal pal, Lois Lane. The Canadian-born performer had massive bipolar disorder problems - severe problems which included the feeling that the first of her three husbands was trying to kill her. She faked her own death, was badly injured in a car crash and, although there was nothing to support her story - claimed she had been stalked and attacked.

She cut her hair off, removed some of her dental work, and wandered the streets of L. A. When she got back on track, she returned to acting and critical praise. Eventually, she wrote, "I came to terms with my demons and I got better. I'm now ferociously happy in body and mind." She tried psychiatry for awhile. "You couldn't pay me to go near a psychiatrist again. Stopping seeing them was my first step in getting well."

Side note: She was born in Yellowknife in Canada where there is a road called, Lois Lane. Pure coincidence. The road was named after a long-time resident of the town, named Lois Little. It had nothing to do with her 'Superman' roles - speaking of which, she said, "my grandson sees me as Lois on TV every Christmas, and that scores me points." (That ain't not good English, but you get the pernt).

Kidder said that her problem was, "the biggest breakdown in history, bar, possibly, Vivien Leigh's."

And, that's where I came in.

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