Who was Suzanne Farrington?
Suzanne Farrington was the only child of prominent yesteryear English stage and film actor Vivien Leigh and her first husband, Herbert Leigh Holman. Suzanne was born in an affluent household with all lavishness. She, however, missed growing up under the love and care of her mother. As Vivien gradually became more involved with her growing acting career, Suzanne became the responsibility of her father and maternal grandmother, Gertrude Hartley. The latter became some sort of a motherly figure for her. After her parents divorced, her custody was given to her father. Although David O Selznick offered Suzanne a chance to play young ‘Jane Eyre’ in the 1943 movie ‘Jane Eyre,’ her father was against Suzanne following in her mother’s footsteps. Later, Suzanne also gave up on her dream of pursuing acting, although she studied at the ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.’ She instructed at Gertrude’s ‘Academy of Beauty Culture’ in Knightsbridge. Suzanne married insurance broker and executive Robin Neville Farrington and had three sons with him. Following her parents’ death, she received the ‘Manor Farm’ in Zeals from her father’s estate and the bulk of her mother’s estate, apart from the latter’s private papers, including photographs, letters, contracts and diaries.
Childhood & Early Life
Suzanne Farrington was born Suzanne Holman, on October 12, 1933, at a nursing home at 8 Bulstrode Street in London, England. She was only child of Vivien Leigh and her first husband, barrister Herbert Leigh Holman. Suzanne was born a month premature, in less than a year of the couple’s marriage. Suzanne’s birth was difficult, and the mother and the daughter had to stay in a nursing home for several weeks.
Although initially Vivien had great concern for her new bundle of joy, with ample staff in the household, including a maid, a cook, and a nanny named Oake hired specifically for the baby, the actor soon got bored. Vivien gradually focused on her acting career and gained attention performing in the play ‘The Mask of Virtue.’ However, she was still sometimes seen holding baby Suzanne in photographs.
Eventually, Vivien got more engrossed in her acting pursuits while bringing up the child. Her married life took a back seat. Suzanne was thus taken care of by her father and her maternal grandmother, Gertrude Hartley.
Suzanne accompanied her grandmother to Canada during the Second World War to live with her aunt, Florence Thompson. There, she started attending a convent school.
Her mother visited her in Canada just once, in November 1940. However, the visit proved awful. As soon as the media found out that Vivien was in Vancouver and that Suzanne was her daughter who studied in a convent school, the little girl became the subject of unwanted publicity. False claims were also made stating she might be kidnapped. As the Reverend Mother was worried for the safety of the other children at the school, Suzanne had to pay the price. Her grandmother transferred her to a day school. Gertrude changed her own plans and stayed along with Suzanne all through the war years.
Suzanne’s parents divorced in 1940, and her custody went to her father. On August 31 that year, her mother married English actor and director Laurence Olivier. Although, till 1950, Suzanne was not much in contact with her mother, she became close to Simon Tarquin Olivier, Olivier’s son through his first wife, actor Jill Esmond.
The "coming out" party of Suzanne was organized at Olivier’s flat in Lowndes Square, London. Simon and Suzanne continued to remain friends.
Meanwhile, David O Selznick offered Suzanne the role of young ‘Jane Eyre’ in the film ‘Jane Eyre’ (1943). However, her father was reluctant to let her follow in her mother’s footsteps. The role was then given to Peggy Ann Garner.
Suzanne attended ‘Sherborne School for Girls’ and a Swiss finishing school. In 1951, she enrolled at the ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’ and studied for 2 years. Even though she wanted to pursue acting, after featuring at the faculty's annual performance in March 1953, Suzanne dropped the idea.
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Later Years, Marriage & Death
Suzanne instructed at Gertrude’s ‘Academy of Beauty Culture’ in Knightsbridge in the late 1950s. By that time, she had become closer to Vivien and often went on holidays with both her biological parents.
Suzanne married Robin Neville Farrington, an insurance broker and executive, on December 6, 1957. Her biological parents and Olivier were present at her marriage reception at the ‘Hyde Park Hotel’ in London. Suzanne had three sons with Robin: Neville, Rupert, and Jonathan.
Following Vivien’s death on July 8, 1967, Suzanne inherited the bulk of her mother’s estate and also all private papers of the actor, including contracts, letters, diaries, and her photographs since 1932.
She inherited the ‘Manor Farm’ in Zeals after her father died on February 8, 1982.
She let author Hugo Vickers and biographer Terry Coleman access Vivien’s papers to write their respective books, ‘Vivien Leigh: A Biography’ (1988) and ‘Olivier, The Authorised Biography’ (2005). The latter also specifically thanked Suzanne in the foreword.
Her husband died on June 13, 2002. The following year, she attended the opening of ‘Farrington Music School’ at the ‘Port Regis School,’ Dorset. It was named in honor of her husband, who was the former Chairman of the ‘Port Regis School.’
On March 1, 2015, Suzanne died in Lower Zeals in southwest Wiltshire, England.