Inside Vivien Leigh's Relationship With Her Only Child

In the spring of 1935, Vivian Holman became the toast of the London stage, and the press pestered her for interviews, which she happily gave. She was 22 years old, married to a barrister, Leigh Holman, and had recently taken a stage name: Vivien Leigh, according to "Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh." During several of the interviews, the newspapers photographed her holding her daughter Suzanne, who was a toddler, and Leigh discussed her hopes for her daughter. "I believe that Suzanne is going to be an actress too," she said, per "Vivien."

Leigh also discussed how she was balancing her two roles as a budding actress and wife and mother. "And now I find myself launched out on two whole-time careers — actress and housewife," she told The Daily Telegraph. "Both jobs are fascinating, and I do not think one will interfere with the other." She couldn't have been more wrong.

Vivien Leigh's rise to stardom 

Vivien Leigh, born Vivian Mary Hartley in Darjeeling, India, on November 5, 1913, to a British stockbroker father and Irish mother, had already set her sights on the stage by the time she was 7, per Biography. "Vivien always wanted to be an actress. She was single-minded," Maureen O'Sullivan later recalled, according to "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait." O'Sullivan and Leigh attended the same convent school and, like Leigh, she too would end up in Hollywood, most memorably as Jane in the "Tarzan" films of the 1930s.

Leigh's commitment to her chosen profession revealed itself in various ways, including being the only girl in her school to take ballet, attending the classes alone, per "Vivien Leigh." She would become fluent in French and Italian, and as a teen studied at London's famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, per Biography. When Leigh married at 18 and gave birth to her daughter a month before she turned 19, it appeared that perhaps her life was going to take a different path. But motherhood, it would seem, was only a temporary setback in Leigh's career path.

Vivien Leigh's acting career came first 

Suzanne Holman was born on October 10, 1933, in London, but her mother didn't seem to have a lot of interest in her, giving over her maternal duties to nannies, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. For Vivien Leigh, the time and energy many parents spend on raising a child instead went to building her acting career, beginning with small parts in British films and on the London stage.

"I loved my baby as every mother does, but with the clear-cut sincerity of youth, I realized that I could not abandon all thought of a career on stage. Some force within myself would not be denied expression ... ," she later admitted, per "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait." Her tenaciousness began to pay off, but at the expense of both her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. In May 1935, on the heels of Leigh's success with the play "The Mask of Virtue," she signed a major movie contract with London Films and then began a brief affair with the studio's head, Alexander Korda, per the Evening Standard and The Guardian. It was neither the first nor the last of her affairs while married to Leigh Holman.

An affair with Laurence Olivier and Hollywood

Vivien Leigh and her fellow actor Laurence Olivier began having an affair in the summer of 1936 while filming the British swashbuckler film "Fire Over England," although both were married, per "Vivien Leigh: A Biography." Leigh eventually came clean with her husband and asked for a divorce, which he initially refused to do. In the meantime, Leigh fought for and eventually won the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," leaving Suzanne Holman behind for Olivier and Hollywood, per the Daily News. Her daughter was just two years old.

Leigh had wanted Suzanne to follow in her footsteps and in a way she did, but not how the actress had intended. As a child, Leigh led a lonely existence, living at boarding schools and seldom seeing her parents, per "Laurence Olivier." Similarly, Suzanne rarely saw her mother after Leigh left the family, although Suzanne had a loving relationship with her father and grandparents. In 1940, with Leigh and Olivier's divorces finalized, the pair wed.

A distant relationship with her daughter

In the summer of 1940 during the London Blitz when the Nazis were attacking London by air, Suzanne Holman and her maternal grandmother, Gertrude Hartley, who helped fill the emotional vacuum left by Vivien Leigh's absence, moved to Vancouver and then Banff for the duration of the war. Leigh only visited her daughter once during the entire time she lived in Canada, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

After World War II, Suzanne returned to England, attended the Sherborne School for Girls, and then finishing school in Switzerland. Although she didn't pursue an acting career, there had been a time when it seemed Suzanne might follow her mother's career path. In 1942, David O. Selznick, the Hollywood producer behind "Gone with the Wind," had wanted her for a part in an Orson Welles film, but Suzanne's father prevented it, per The Sydney Morning Herald.

Suzanne's life far from Hollywood

As Suzanne Holman got older, she saw her mother more often, but Vivien Leigh began having health problems, including tuberculosis. She was also undergoing electroshock therapy for bipolar disorder, per Biography. Leigh and Laurence Olivier's marriage was also on the rocks by the 1950s. Leigh was by this time rebuking her previous behavior towards her only child, according to "Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh." In 1957, Suzanne married Robin Farrington, a Lloyd's of London underwriter, and mostly avoided the limelight, raising their three sons in England, per The Sydney Morning Herald.

Suzanne eventually came to terms with the often distant relationship she shared with her famous actress mother who died in 1967, at 53, per Biography. In the years before Vivien Leigh's death, Suzanne felt her mother had become "wiser, gentler, more resigned and more considerate of other people's feelings — altogether easier to get on with," per "Vivien." Suzanne, who took her husband's last name of Farrington, died in 2015 at age 81, per The Sydney Morning Herald.