Here’s a list of 21 cool things about That Hamilton Woman, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, that I have put together in celebration of the film.
1. The movie’s based on the real life love affair of Emma Hamilton (April 26, 1765 to January 15, 1815) and Horatio Nelson (September 29, 1758 to October 21, 1805). The two first met in 1793, two years after Emma’s marriage to Sir William Hamilton.
Portraits of Emma, Lady Hamilton and Admiral Horatio Nelson
2. That Hamilton Woman wasn’t the first (or last) time that Emma and Nelson’s story would receive the big screen treatment. In order of year, the films are: 1919, The Romance of Lady Hamilton, with Malvina Longfellow and Humberston Wright
1921, Lady Hamilton, with Liane Haid and Conrad Veidt
1929, The Divine Lady, with Corinne Griffith and Victor Varconi
1941, That Hamilton Woman (also known as Lady Hamilton), with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
1968, Emma Hamilton, with Michele Mercier and Richard Johnson
1973, The Nelson Affair (also known as Bequest to the Nation), with Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch
3. In The Nelson Affair the part of Nelson was played by Peter Finch, whom Olivier had discovered in Australia, in 1948. Finch repaid Olivier by cuckolding him. He was also Vivien’s co-star in Elephant Walk, a movie in which she, unfortunately, wasn’t able to complete.
4. They agreed to do That Hamilton Woman for monetary reasons. In the spring of 1940, Leigh and Olivier invested heavily in their stage production of Romeo and Juliet. The play was not a success and had many difficulties, including harsh reviews from critics. The play opened in San Francisco, traveling to Chicago and New York, where it finally closed, leaving Leigh and Olivier broke.
Laurence Olivier & Vivien Leigh as Nelson and Emma in That Hamilton Woman
5. That Hamilton Woman was Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s first movie together as man and wife. It was also their third and final screen pairing. Their first two movies were Fire Over England and 21 Days.
6. Upon returning to Hollywood to film That Hamilton Woman, the Oliviers rented a house on Cedarwood Drive, which came with a giant sheep dog named Jupiter. Jupiter was lucky enough to accompany them to the set on an almost daily basis.
Vivien Leigh and Jupiter on the Hamilton set
7. During one of the fight scenes, Olivier’s wig caught on fire. A flame from one of the torches dropped down from an extra, landing on top of his head. Luckily, Henry Wilcoxon (playing Captain Hardy) was able to snatch the wig from Olivier’s head and put out the fire before any damage occurred to Olivier.
Henry Wilcoxon in action as he whips the wig from Laurence Olivier’ s head.
8. When asked about Olivier playing a character with only one arm and one eye, Vivien replied, What does it matter? Larry can do more with one eye than most men can do with two!
9. Gladys Cooper played Olivier’s wife in the film. In real life, Gladys was married to Philip Merivale, Jack Merivale’s father. Jack would later become Vivien’s post-Olivier boyfriend.
10. Hazel Rogers styled Vivien’s hair for That Hamilton Woman. She also worked on Vivien’s hair for Gone With the Wind and would later work with her on A Streetcar Named Desire.
11. Vivien’s costumes were designed by Rene Hubert. During the publicity campaign leading up to the various premieres, the costumes could be seen decorating the windows of department stores such as Hudson’s Bay and Bonwit Teller. They were then housed back in Hollywood, where they would either be rented out or re-used in other movies.
12. Another part of the publicity campaign included Vivien dressing up as Emma based on the portraits of George Romney. Romney painted the real Emma Hamilton somewhere around the two dozen mark. Vivien recreated at least five of these portraits; however, she wasn’t the first actress to do so. Corinne Griffith also recreated a few of Romney’s paintings of Emma for her film, The Divine Lady, back in 1929.
Emma Hamilton, Corinne Griffith and Vivien Leigh
13. Vivien wears this gorgeous, faux diamond and emerald necklace (pictured below) in That Hamilton Woman. The necklace was originally created for Greta Garbo to wear in the 1936 movie, Camille. Greta complained that the weight of her cape caused the leaves of the necklace to pierce her skin, so she refused to wear it. Eugene Joseff, the jewelry designer for both Camille and That Hamilton Woman, brought the piece out of storage for Vivien to wear.
14. The set designer was Vincent Korda, brother of Alexander Korda and the interior designer was Julia Heron. Artwork, tapestries and statues were imported from overseas to decorate the lavish sets. Vincent’s creations included the British embassy in Naples, which took up an entire sound stage and featured a courtyard; Emma’s bedroom, with that gorgeous bed she reclines in; the royal Naples palace; and Emma’s London home.
15. Joesph Breen, of the Production Code Administration, refused to give his approval to the movie as it didn’t show Emma and Nelson sorry for their adulterous lifestyle. Korda added the scene of Nelson’s father lecturing him, to satisfy Breen and receive approval.
16. The Oliviers missed the premiere of That Hamilton Woman as they’d left the United States for England at the end of December, 1940. On leaving the U.S., Vivien said, I know London is not the safest place in the world right now, but it is still my home and that’s where I want to be.
Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton Woman
17. The Hollywood premiere was held at the Four Star Theater on Wednesday, March 19, 1941. Tickets for the sold out show were $5 each, with the proceeds going to the British Royal Air Force Development fund. Many members of the production and cast attended the premiere, including: Vincent Korda, Alexander Korda, Merle Oberon (who was married to Korda at the time), Sara Allgood, Gladys Cooper, Alan Mowbray, Halliwell Hobbes, Henry Wilcoxon and Norma Drury.
Many of Hollywood’s big names also came out for the premiere, including: Sonja Henje & husband Dan Topping, Olivia de Havilland, David Selznick, Samuel Goldwyn, William Wyler, Claudette Colbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, Joan Bennett, Charlie Chaplin, Greer Garson, Buddy Rogers and Mary Pickford.
Mary Pickford, Sam Goldwyn, Sonja Henie and Dan Topping attend the Hollywood premiere of THW.
18. That Hamilton Woman premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 3, 1941. It broke the box office record for Easter Week.
That Hamilton Woman opens at Radio City Music Hall and all 6,000 seats were sold out!
19. England was at war with Germany and Alex Korda’s number one motive for making this movie was propaganda. For doing this, Korda was ordered to appear before a Senate committee on charges of attempting to incite America into war. The hearing was cancelled and a second one was scheduled for December 12, 1941. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, on December 7th, Korda’s hearing was dismissed.
20. The movie was reportedly one of the favorite movies of two world leaders: Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. According to one of his assistants, Churchill had watched the movie approximately 6 times by the end of 1941.
21. That Hamilton Woman received four Oscar nominations, winning for Sound Recording, at the 14th Annual Academy Awards, held in 1942. The nominations were for the following : Art Direction (Black & White) — Art Direction: Vincent Korda; Interior Decoration: Julia Heron Cinematography (Black & White) — Rudolph Maté Special Effects — Photographic Effects by Lawrence Butler; Sound Effects by William H. Wilmarth Sound Recording — General Service Sound Department, Jack Whitney, Sound Director (Winner)
Sources: Screen Guide, February 1941 Charmed Lives by Michael Korda Various newspaper articles Oscar info from AMPAS