Suzanne Farrington, who has died aged 81, was the only child of the actress and film star Vivien Leigh.
She was born when her mother was 18, and restless to make her name on the stage. Suzanne’s birth engaged none of the expected maternal instincts in Vivien, who placed her career before her domestic duties and then eloped with Laurence Olivier, when Suzanne was only two.
By contrast, Suzanne was lovingly raised by her ever-dignified father, the barrister Leigh Holman, and found a surrogate mother in her maternal grandmother, Gertrude Hartley, to both of whom she was devoted. Later she also held her stepfather, Olivier, in great affection and esteem.
Inevitably, she spent much of her life coming to terms with the complicated phenomenon of her mother, with whom she always had difficulties (though unlike the daughters of Joan Crawford and others, she felt no temptation to share these with the world, least of all in mawkish books like Mommie Dearest). Instead she led most of her life away from the glare of publicity, in due course creating a happy home for her husband and three sons.
Suzanne Mary Holman was born in a London nursing home on October 10 1933. Vivien told a friend: “The spinster Holman is minute, and does not allow anyone to be very proud of her yet… I have produced such a small size infant that I shall have to feed it for months. The thought is too depressing.”
She later wrote: “I loved my baby as every mother does, but with the clear-cut sincerity of youth I realised that I could not abandon all thought of a career on the stage.” A series of nannies was therefore employed to look after Suzanne, and in May 1935 Daisy Goguel arrived as Vivien’s lady maid, remaining close to Suzanne all her life.
Vivien’s ambitions were achieved soon afterwards when she became the “Fame in a Night” girl after the opening night of The Mask of Virtue in 1935. She went on to win the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind at the end of 1938. In the meantime she fell in love with Laurence Olivier, the two of them proceeding to desert their spouses and very young children.
Vivien needed to persuade Leigh Holman to allow her a divorce, but despite everything she established with him a strong and mutual brother/sister devotion which transcended the issues of the moment and developed into one of the few stable relationships in her somewhat turbulent life. The divorce came through in 1940 and she then married Olivier.
It was not easy to be the daughter of a beautiful and successful star. Suzanne shared neither her mother’s thespian qualities nor her unique beauty. Her mother was absent for most of her childhood, and when war came Suzanne went to Vancouver in Canada with her grandmother, who stayed with her for the duration. Vivien visited her only once, and as a result of the unwelcome publicity Suzanne was moved from a convent to a day school, the mother superior having declared that she could not house the child of divorced parents in her convent. Later she was moved to Banff, frequently skiing to school.
In December 1942 David O Selznick conceived the idea of casting Suzanne as the young Jane in the Orson Welles film Jane Eyre, mindful of the publicity potential. He was aware that she had been raised in Canada, and thought that “her accent probably will be greatly in her favour”. Leigh Holman, however, was adamantly against his daughter following her mother’s path.
Returning to England, Suzanne went to Sherborne School for Girls, and then to a finishing school at Vaud in Switzerland, before a short-lived period at Rada. She then became an instructress at her grandmother’s Academy of Beauty Culture in Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge. During these years she was hardly ever alone with her mother, who, though she would remember the birthday of every member of the cast of a play she was in, was capable of forgetting that of her own daughter. From her Switzerland finishing school, Suzanne wrote to Vivien that she was “simply aching” to see her again, “also for a chat”. Vivien merely sent the letters to Leigh Holman, commenting: “They’re so sweet & funny.”
Suzanne did spend some time with Vivien at Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire, and there were occasional holidays. She was also in Hollywood when Vivien was filming A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. The holiday that caused the greatest stir was to Italy in 1957, when she accompanied Vivien and Leigh Holman, while Olivier took his son to Scotland.
Misunderstanding the intricacies of the situation, an irate Socialist MP, Mrs Jean Mann, attacked the arrangement on the BBC television programme Tonight: “When a woman finds her ex-husband so easy to get on with that she can spend a holiday with him, she should have thought a little longer before she cut the knot.”
Soon after this, on December 6 1957, Suzanne married Robin Farrington, MC, a handsome Lloyd’s underwriter. He got off to a bad start with Vivien when he met her at Notley. As he advanced to shake her hand, he later recalled, “I was very nervous, and as she came into the drawing room I walked forward to shake her hand.
Unfortunately, the cat inserted itself on to my toe and I have never done such a good rugger conversion. The cat flew across the room. It was a very bad beginning.”
Suzanne’s wedding coincided with the crumbling of the Oliviers’ marriage, though Larry was present at the service, at which he found himself in the background. The Farringtons had three sons and divided their time between London and Wiltshire. Robin died in 2002.
On Vivien Leigh’s death in 1967, Suzanne was left most of her estate. Her later life was overshadowed by a stream of sensational books that came out about her mother. She realised that she would need to put her trust in one author, and on the advice of Peter Hiley, who ran Laurence Olivier Productions, she agreed to work with Hugo Vickers, consigning to him her grandmother’s diaries and other papers, and accompanying him on visits to friends of her mother.
The book was published in 1988 and she later described it as the only one she could read without embarrassment.
In later years she remained friendly with Jack Merivale, her mother’s last lover .
In 2013 the Victoria and Albert Museum bought the Vivien Leigh Archive from Suzanne Farrington so that Vivien’s correspondence with Olivier, letters to her, photographs, play scripts and other papers could become available to future historians .
Suzanne’s last years were spent in the quiet pursuit of travel, skiing, tennis and bridge, and in the company of her many friends. Her three sons survive her.
Courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11457490/Suzanne-Farrington-Vivien-Leighs-daughter-obituary.html
Robin Neville Farrington
1928–2002 (m. 1957)
Gravesite Details Still looking for additional information. Believed to be buried with her husband.