March 5, 2012

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

The great and incomparable Vivien Leigh, star of some of the most iconic characters in cinema history - Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - married for twenty years to the equally legendary Laurence Olivier and to whom my dearest Maman dedicated one of my middle names, has been on my mind a lot lately, in part due to the the impending Academy Awards that are set to take place this coming weekend but also because those lovely folks over at Turner Classic Movies (kindred spirits, I secretly refer to them as) have been running a month-long "31 Days of Oscar" series that routes itself to ancient Rome this week.

Never quite the avid scholar of Ancient Classics, when on the subject of Rome, my mind conjures up instead images from Hollywood's love affair with the city, and with the entire country of Italy for that matter, and I start to wax nostalgic films like Roman Holiday (1953) and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954, see my post here). Another mid-century film set in Rome that probably doesn't get nearly as much mention as it should is The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) starring no other than the aforementioned Ms. Leigh and the then newly anointed "It Boy" Warren Beaty, who - that same year - was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the critically acclaimed "coming of age" story Splendor in the Grass (1961) with Natalie Wood.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was based on a novel of the same name by Tennessee Williams and the story centers around a renowned but aging actress at the so-called "end" of her career (despite only being middle aged) who, after the sudden death of her husband from a heart attack, retires to Rome to cope with her loss and eventually takes on a younger lover to help fill her days.

Leigh was only 47 years old at the time of filming and one can easily draw parallels between her and her character, as Leigh was then also experiencing the "loss" of a husband (she and Olivier divorced that year) and her once indomitable star power seemed to be on its last breaths. It is perhaps less known that Leigh also suffered from manic depression (or bipolar disorder), a tormentous illness which she struggled all her life to conceal but whose devastating effects increasingly unraveled, ending her marriage to Olivier and contributing to the rapidly declining state of her mental and physical health. In his autobiography, Olivier wrote, "Throughout her possession by that uncannily evil monster, manic depression, with its deadly ever-tightening spirals, she retained her own individual canniness – an ability to disguise her true mental condition from almost all except me, for whom she could hardly be expected to take the trouble." On top of that, she also battled with recurring tuberculosis and in May 1967, while rehearsing to appear in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance with Michael Redgrave, the disease reared its ugly head once again. On July 7, 1967, Leigh was found dead in her bedroom by her then lover and fellow actor John Merivale, lungs filled with water, at the age of 53. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered on the lake at her home, Tickerage Mill, near Blackboys, East Sussex, England.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was directed by José Quintero, with Production Design by Roger Furse, Art Direction under Herbert Smith and Costume Design by Beatrice Dawson (A Tale of Two Cities (1958), The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), Tom Brown's Schooldays (1951)). Leigh's character of the actress Karen Stone starts off dispirited, melancholic and in mourning, for the sudden death of her husband and perhaps more figuratively, for herself and for the ending of her career.

black dress, pearl necklace, and a large broach pinned to the collar, a style that is repeated frequently on later outfits.

Mrs. Stone's Rome apartment is tastefully decorated with traditional furnishings and punctuated with locally inspired accent pieces. It is a reflection of her sophistication but more significantly, shows off her "contained" sensibilities. It sets her apart from the myriad of wealthy, middle aged ex-pat women who have also found themselves in Rome with very little to do and who henceforth, develop a demand for young Italian lovers.


light blue-green vanity with gold trim.

goodness, that headboard!

It is then with a grain of salt that Mrs. Stone acquiesces to the notion of taking on a younger lover at the persuasion of her friend the Contessa (Lotte Lenya), who moonlights as a Madame and who (unofficially) runs an escort service that pairs wealthy middle aged women to handsome Italian men for "companionship."

The Contessa and Mrs. Stone, seated in the living room, interviewing Paolo for potential job of being her  escort/lover.

In contrast to Mrs. Stone's subdued tastes, the Contessa's apartment is decked out in a stereotypical "bordello style" (bold reds, extravagant furnishings, etc). 

Paolo reading the newspaper in an ornate chair with gold arms and legs.

black lace covered lampshade. small statues of naked men adorn the apartment.

Mrs. Stone starts off wearing mostly conservative, ladylike ensembles with minimal jewelry. This quickly changes after her relationship with the young Italian Paolo intensifies. She begins to wear richer, bolder colors and more body-hugging gowns. Amazing what a new lover can do for one's self-esteem, eh?

very ladylike in light blue-green tweed with beige accessories. i like the way her polka-dotted scarf is folded around her neck and tucked in under the jacket.

seafoam green outfit, with fringed collared jacket, gold locket necklace, and brown leather accessories.

casual neutral coloured riding outfit, with paisley scarf, jodhpurs, and cable-knit gloves. notice she wore a ring outside the gloves! could it be her wedding band? if so, this begs the question: did women back in the day have a larger version of their wedding bands made so they can be worn over gloves? i'm so curious!


richly patterned scarf, large black stoned cocktail ring, multi-stranded pearl bracelet

coral coloured outfit with pearl necklace, gold broach on jacket collar and beige gloves. loverboy is tanning on the rattan chaise in the background.

glamourous muted gold satin jacket. i love how she consistently wears multiple bracelets and (multi-stranded or double/triple wrapped pearl bracelets) on one arm.

glamourous evening outfit: muted gold satin shawl and practically dripping in pearls, diamonds, and citrine jewels.

beautiful pearl earrings and necklace set.

breathtaking blue-teal damask opera jacket, multi-strand pearl necklace, large broach, and ivory gloves.


light olive grecian gown

the back of the dress:

magnificent necklace featuring different coloured pearls

lovely lavender dress

the back of the dress

Now here are some other miscellaneous outfits worn by the other characters in the movie:

The Contessa: feathers on the head, a tiny fox around her shoulders, and gold bracelets worn outside her sheer black gloves. over-the-top, yes, but i love it.


It seems a night out on the town requires one to be as bejeweled as possible.

i like the dark olive tie and gray suit combination on the older gentleman.

love the bedazzled (sequined) collar on this royal blue sleeve-less top.

gray fur shawl, periwinkle satin gown. love how these ladies would wear obtrusive, dark rimmed glasses with their gowns.

another insistance of the gray fur shawl, this time paired with a bright red hat.

And finally, here are two more miscellaneous images of the set. The first is of Mrs. Roman Spring's pink-heavy ultra feminine bathroom and the second is of her late husband's bedroom in England.

i really like the forest green with light olive-gray striped wallpaper, the handsome wood headboard, and the sleek black lampshade. it's all very masculine but also very stylish.

This is a great lost gem of a film that I highly recommend for any Vivien Leigh fan. Her performance was subtle, refined, and even a bit heart-wrenching to watch for those aware of her personal situation at the time of filming. It is not a light-hearted piece and will not leave you enraptured with a silly smile on your face like Roman Holiday but it is definitely worth a viewing.


I'm not familiar with this film but I can't wait to see it. My grandmother was not the great beauty that Vivien Leigh was but she was very chic and I recognize a very similar style, mostly from the prim earlier scenes...scarf tucked in at the neck, pearls and brooches. And, yes, the gentleman in gray suit with olive tie. Tres cool. Thank you. I love this.

I almost laughed out loud at the Contessa's apartment. I'm surprised how obvious the set designer was, who else would live in that place but a madame! Her clothing must have immediately given her away with the wealthy sophisticated crowd. Also, can we talk about the apparent orange, Cheeto-like color of Warren's skin. ;) Hilarious!

But I must admit Vivien's wardrobe is really lovely, I could see myself owning many of those pieces, especially that grecian gown. Wow!

A local rumor in Stockton, California was that the apartment in the move was owned by a local man, Allan Sinai. I can't verify the story, since he owned it pre-Google. But seeing the stills here I surmise that it was a set, unless actual shots were mixed with the studio shots. Guess it's time to revisit the movie, if only for Warren!

Love Vivien Leigh and her enduring class and beauty. What a shame she suffered from manic depressive disorder and later tuberculosis. Married to Lawrence Oliver for twenty years, one can only imagine being in his presence too. He was also one of the very best actors ever. There was never a loviler female on the planet than she when she played Scarlett O'hara. There never will be.

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