Two stars chasing their demons

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A while 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 problems of their own — 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 her most famous hubby was Sir Lawrence Olivier.

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The pair got acquainted while filming, “Fire Over England.”

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. Both spouses finally threw in the family towels, and Leigh and Olivier were married in 1940. It was a quiet wedding with only two witnesses, one of whom was Katherine Hepburn.

For the most part, she was a happy camper except for one mean critic who called her a “great actress.” She felt that accolade put a burden on her she might not be able to live up to.

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 box-office names as Paulette Goddard, Jean Arthur and Joan Bennett.

So, the Brit Miss Leigh became a Southern belle. Actually, her parents were French and Irish.

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.

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 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 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. 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.

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 misdiagnosed. She often lectures, and writes about her problems, an effort to help others.

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 that 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 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 to 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.”

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 longtime resident of the town, named Lois Little.

Regarding her “Superman” roles, she said, “My grandson sees me as Lois on TV every Christmas, and that scores me points.”

Kidder said her problem was “the biggest breakdown in history — bar, possibly, Vivien Leigh’s.”

And, that’s where I came in.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at