Old Scarlett O’Hara herself – Vivien Leigh and her feline pals


Once you have kept a Siamese cat you would never have any other kind. They make wonderful pets and are so intelligent they follow you around like little dogs.”


Perhaps a tiny bit of stretch, Vivien Leigh, while not a writer herself per se, is so completely embedded in the public psyche as Scarlett O’Hara (and as a mesmerisingly mad Blanche DuBois), we feel she deserves to be celebrated here in The Literary Cat.

A self-proclaimed cat lover, often photographed with her various feline pals – and famous husband Laurence Olivier, of course – Leigh favoured Siamese cats as her breed of choice.

Born in Darjeeling, India, in 1913, Leigh was sent to England to be schooled at the age of five. ‘I was the youngest child there,’ she later recalled, ‘and so I imagine I was rather spoiled. I remember I was allowed to take cats to bed with me. I’ve always been mad about cats.’

‘Tissy’, the first cat Leigh adopted at the beginning of her marriage to Olivier, was a pretty black-and-white stray. Tissy kept Leigh company in Plymouth and later Headbourne, where Olivier was stationed as a flight instructor during the war.

In 1946 Olivier gave his wife the first of their Siamese cats, an elegant creature whom the couple named ‘New Boy’ or ‘New’ for short, after the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre) in London’s St Martin’s Lane. New was the most photographed of the Oliviers’ cats, possibly because he travelled everywhere with them. Leigh considered him her lucky charm and was devastated when New was run over in Australia, where the couple were working. Olivier later purchased ‘Armando’, a Siamese kitten, who not only looked like New, but also wore the collar that Olivier had bought for him.

Leigh owned several other cats. Among her favourites was ‘Poo Jones’, named after Jones Harris, a young admirer of the actress. A smokey white Siamese with black markings and distinctive violet eyes, Poo Jones also travelled with Leigh and would sleep on her shoulder. During theatre performances, he would nap during acts, only to wake up as soon as Leigh came off stage. He was with Leigh when she died, standing watch over her after the actress collapsed. Leigh’s housekeeper took care of Poo Jones after Leigh’s death.


Below: Vivien Leigh and husband, Laurence Olivier, relax at home with ‘New Boy’, their Siamese cat. (Photograph by Hans Wild, London, 1946. Source: LIFE Photo Archive.)




See also:Mark Twain cat and shed lover – a man of great discernment; The Literary Shed on Pinterest: ‘Great cats and their human pets‘ for more photos of Leigh with her many cats (and a few other interesting humans, too).

Also of interest:Pinterest – “inspiration snacking” or something more? Some thoughts for authors’.


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