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Actress Jill Esmond, First Wife Of Laurence Olivier, Is Dead

July 31, 1990 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Jill Esmond, the film and stage actress and first of the late actor Laurence Olivier’s three wives, has died at age 82, her family says.

Ms. Esmond, who appeared in such Hollywood films as ″The White Cliffs of Dover″ and ″Random Harvest,″ died Saturday at her home at Wimbledon in southwest London. No cause of death was given.

Ms. Esmond was the daughter of the actor-manager and dramatist Henry Vernon Esmond and his actress wife Eva Moore.

She studied at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made her London stage debut in December 1922, playing the role of Nibs in ″Peter Pan.″


In 1925, she played Sorel Bliss in Noel Coward’s comedy ″Hay Fever.″

She met Olivier in June 1928 when she was playing in John Drinkwater’s ″Bird in Hand″ and he joined the cast.

They went to the United States, where they both made their Broadway debut in 1929, she in ’Bird in Hand″ and Olivier in ″Murder on the Second Floor.″

After returning to London, she made her movie debut in the 1930 version of ″The Chinese Bungalow″ with the young Anna Neagle.

She married Olivier on July 25, 1930, and the following January they appeared together on Broadway with Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in Coward’s ″Private Lives.″

In 1932, Ms. Esmond appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie ″The Skin Game″ and went on to appear many times on screen. At this stage in her career, she was a far bigger star than Olivier.

Many audiences felt that with her strong, proud features and dark, heavy eyes she was best suited to stern roles rather than comedy.

At the end of 1935, she became pregnant. But on the very night she and Olivier were celebrating this, he met actress Vivien Leigh, who was later to become his second wife.

In 1937, Ms. Esmond played Olivia to Olivier’s Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s ″Twelfth Night″ at London’s Old Vic theater. But by then their marriage had broken down under the strain of her husband’s infatuation with Ms. Leigh and they were divorced in 1940.

Olivier married Ms. Leigh the following year. That marriage ended in divorce in 1961. Olivier, whose third wife was actress Joan Plowright, died on July 11 last year at age 82.

He became Lord Olivier when he was made a peer in 1970.

In 1942, Ms. Esmond returned to Broadway in ″The Morning Star″ and appeared in a series of Hollywood films. In 1946, she returned to Britain, where she resumed her movie career.

She made her last London stage appearance in ″Party Manners″ in 1950, and her movie career ended in 1955.

The son of Ms. Esmond and Olivier, Tarquin, was born in 1936. Ms. Esmond never remarried.