Gone With the Wind star Vivien Leigh has Pontefract roots

It’s a little-known fact that Oscar-winning actor Vivien Leigh, famous for playing Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche DuBois in  A Streetcar Named Desire has her roots firmly planted in Pontefract.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 10:55 am
Updated Thursday, 21st October 2021, 11:09 am
Vivien Leigh - Getty Images

The star's Yorkshire heritage was unearthed by amateur historian and genealogist Lisa Blosfelds who began looking into the movie star’s links to the district when she read Alexander Walker's biography Vivien.

The book mentions that the actor spent her school holidays with her paternal grandparents in Bridlington and that they are buried in the town.

Further research turned up their links to Pontefract.

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Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier - Getty Images

Ms Blosfelds said: “Joseph Hartley, Vivien Leigh’s great grandfather was born in Pontefract in 1803. He married Mary Poole and lived all his life in the town, dying there in 1866 at the age of 63.”

The 1841 census shows Joseph and Mary living at 109 North Bailey Gate, Pontefract with three daughters, Maria aged 11, Mary aged 8 and one year old Eliza.

Ms Blosfelds said: “Joseph describes himself as being of independent means. By 1851 two more children had been added to the census return, seven year old Emily and two-year-old Joseph who was Vivien Leigh’s grandfather.”

In 1861 Joseph was still living on North Bailey Gate and earning his living as a general dealer. With him were his two youngest children, Emily, 17 and twelve year old Joseph. His elder daughters were at that time running the Eagle and Child pub in York.

Ms Blosfelds research then led her to York where she found that the wedding of Joseph Nicholson Hartley and Elizabeth Houlgate, the grandparents of Vivien Leigh, had taken place on June 9, 1874.

The couple had seven children, the youngest of whom was Ernest, Vivien Leigh’s father.

Ms Blosfelds said: “In 1905 Ernest went out to India, returning home briefly on leave in 1912 bringing his fiancée Gertrude with him to be married at Kensington."

The newly-weds returned to India where their only child, Vivien Mary Hartley was born on November 5, 1913.

Vivien was sent to school in London while her parents remained in India before spending four years travelling around Europe with them.

On their return to the UK in 1931 she was enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Soon after her studies began she met barrister Leigh Holman and married him in 1932 (subsequently using his first name as her professional name); they had a daughter Suzanne in 1933.

In 1939 Vivien secured the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind alongside Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, a part which propelled her to immediate fame. The film won 10 Academy Awards including a Best Actress award for Leigh.

Leigh and Holman divorced in 1940 and Vivien married Sir Laurence Olivier, becoming Lady Olivier after 1947.

The couple worked together on many stage productions and on three films.

In 1949 Vivien was cast as Blanche DuBois in the West End stage production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire which ran for 326 performances.

She reprised her role in the film version with Marlon Brando, winning glowing reviews and awards and leading to a second Academy Award for Best Actress.

Vivien Leigh, who was considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses of her day died aged 53 on July 8,1967 of tuberculosis.