After reading the reviews of Alexander Walker's VIVIEN at Amazon, I bought the book, hoping to find a sympathetic and illuminating biography. But my hope was in vain. Walker's book is a very bad one, not saved from the one-star trash can by the photos (not very many) and a few interesting stories.
The book is bad in several different ways. Walker is not really interested in Leigh's art or her talents at all; he never makes any attempt to appraise them. The issue of her excellence as an actress only comes up during his repeated comparisons of her meager skills in comparison to Laurence Olivier's "immeasurable superiority" (Walker's words). Walker is not really "sympathetic" toward Leigh. He tells many catty stories about her, often from anonymous sources. He makes no consistent attempt to assess the role of her bipolar disorder. Despite its 300-page length, the book provides very little information about the 20 films Leigh starred in, and even less about her stage work. Oddly, there is more information about the making of "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" than there is for "A Streetcar Named Desire."
I think the book is sexist. Walker repeats at key points his claim that Leigh was inferior in talent and accomplishment to Olivier. But as far as can be gleaned from their film work, that is quite obviously untrue. No one commanded the screen like Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind" and "Streetcar"; certainly Olivier did not. It's not made clear by Walker why Leigh's stage acting would be so inferior to her screen work. The purpose behind this shallow book, beyond the money made from it, seems to be to bolster Olivier's reputation by subtle denigration of Vivien Leigh.
Let the buyer beware.