Archiving star labour: framing Vivien Leigh

Stead, Lisa (2017) Archiving star labour: framing Vivien Leigh. Women's History Review. ISSN 0961-2025 (In Press)

[img] PDF (Accepted manuscript) - Submitted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only until 31 December 2099.

Download (249kB)


This article will explore the role that the star archive can play in framing, illuminating and obscuring histories of gendered labour in interwar film culture. Building upon the recent opening of the new Vivien Leigh archive acquired by the V&A in 2013, and the publicity surrounding Leigh’s centenary, the article will consider the possibilities that a star archive offers researchers, specifically from the perspective of feminist film historiography. With the opening of the new archive, a series of possibilities arise for studying Leigh’s star image, and for freshly contextualising her place within film history. The article focuses on the film star’s labour as an alternative way into the archive, locating film actors in the sphere of production and considering their identity as workers through the archival traces of the construction of performances and the intersection between on and off screen creative labours and identities. By examining elements such as Leigh’s script annotations, letters, notes to directors and screenwriters, photographs and diaries, the article will explore how she built and constructed her performances and positioned herself as creative labourer. Leigh offers a particularly engaging case study for this kind of archival work because her star image was produced around an ongoing conflict between labour and glamour, specifically in regards to her physical beauty. As George Cukor summarised, she was ‘a consummate actress hampered by beauty.’ Archival material suggests a performer who conceptualised the labour of her craft in distinct ways, both in the construction of her performances and the construction of her own archival holdings. By retaining and curating her own collections, stars like Leigh pattern and fashion a history not just of their star image but of their craft and labour, forming a record of their professional practice as much as of their private lives. The archive is thus a story about star actresses’ labour as archivists and as curators of their own careers. As such, looking again at Leigh allows us to re-examine the value and visibility of women’s labour more widely within a film history, specifically through archival methodology.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: archive,star,labour,film history,feminism,gender,historiography,performance
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2017 01:42
Last Modified: 29 May 2020 00:01

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item