Who was the first British woman to win an Oscar for best actress?

VIVIENNE LEIGH 1913 – 1967

The awards given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences otherwise known as the Oscars were first presented in 1929. Fifteen statuettes were given out and the ceremony took a quarter of an hour to complete. Tickets were $5 and there were barely three hundred guests in the audience.

The following year the ceremony was broadcast on radio although it didn’t appear on television until 1953.

The first British woman to win an Oscar was Vivien Leigh who in 1939 was awarded Best Actress for her starring role in Gone with the Wind.

The film won nine other Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

Vivienne’s early years included a boarding school education combined with extensive foreign travel with her parents, allowing her to become fluent in both French and Italian.

When the family settled in London in 1931, Vivienne enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art aspiring to become a great actress.

However, marriage to Herbert Leigh Homan, thirteen years her senior, and the birth of a daughter put her acting career on hold.

In 1935, she received rave reviews for her part in the stage version of The Mask of Virtue and a couple of years later appeared with Laurence Olivier in the film Fire Over England.

When Vivien read the Margaret Mitchell novel Gone with the Wind of which a film was being planned in Hollywood, she was desperate to play Scarlett O’Hara.

Meanwhile she appeared as Ophelia to Olivier’s Hamlet at the Old Vic and in the films A Yank at Oxford with Lionel Barrymore and Robert Taylor and Sidewalks of London with Charles Laughton.

David O. Selznick’s production of Gone with the Wind was in development and Scarlett had still not been cast.

Vivien’s American agent was also Selznick’s brother, Myron Selznick, and he arranged for the actress and director to meet. Selznick arranged a screen test for Vivien and shortly afterwards, the role was hers.

Image credit: Vivien_Leigh_Gone_Wind2.jpg: Trailer screenshotderivative work: Wilfredor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons