clark gable rhett butler gone with the wind

It’s no secret that Clark Gable didn’t want to be in Gone with the Wind. Despite the public’s insistence that he was the only one who could play Rhett, he had no desire to step into the shoes of the rebellious blockade runner. “The reason I didn’t want to do Gone with the Wind–here is a novel that is the top seller of all time. Now, people form opinions about characters–they formed an opinion that I was going to play it. They already had a preconcieved idea of what they were going to see. That’s why I didn’t want to play, I said too many people know this character.  My God, with Rhett Buter, if they saw one thing they didn’t like, they would have remembered back to the book. I had to be on my toes and I knew that,” he later recalled.

Through pre-production and casting, the director on the film was George Cukor. George was a gay man and was known as being a “woman’s director,” able to coach the best performances out of actresses. This made Clark uneasy right from the start, as he was not feeling very confident in the role and knew that George was focusing more on Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland than him.vivien leigh clark gable

The rumor is that Clark didn’t like George Cukor because he was gay and that George knew about a gay affair that Clark had in the 1920’s and that made Clark uncomfortable, so Clark had him fired and replaced with his buddy, Victor Fleming.

Let’s peel the orange on this one. First of all, yes, Clark was a bit of a homophobe. He was rather conservative in his thinking and, after all, this was the 1930’s, there weren’t exactly gay pride parades going on. Clark tended to be very uncomfortable around gay men. He felt the same around Charles Laughton on the set of Mutiny on the Bounty. For some reason, people pounce on this and declare that because he was so uneasy around gays that that must mean it was because he himself was gay! Ridiculous. If being a homophobe means one has gay skeletons in their closet, then we must have a lot of gay Republican politicians!

The “gay affair” that is claimed that Clark had was with William Haines, a gay silent movie actor who later turned interior designer. The rumor is that he and Clark had a fling around 1925 and that Clark was a “rent boy” and did sexual favors for pay. I am inclined not to believe this for several reasons, mainly because the only place this secret nugget has been printed is in salicious, disgusting so-called biographies that are full of lies. Also, it just doesn’t fit with whom Clark was—he was fascinated by women, always chasing women, and I just don’t think he was ever gay–even for pay. Also, if this thing with William Haines was such a well-known fact as these so-called authors claim it was, then why would Carole Lombard let Haines in her house? She and “Billy” were friends–he had decorated her famous Hollywood Blvd bacherlorette pad– and he was at the ranch from time to time. I sincerely doubt that Clark would let him in the house if the rumors were true and Carole wouldn’t have blamed him.

Clark’s preference for rough-and-tumble director Victor Fleming instead of George Cukor should come as no surprise, gay rumors or not. Vic Fleming was a long-time pal of Clark’s, having directed him in Red Dust, The White Sister and Test Pilot. But an important factor to remember is that David Selznick and George Cukor were at odds without Clark’s influence. Clark was probably a factor in Fleming being hired in George’s place, however.clark gable vivien leigh david selznick victor fleming

From Michael Sragow’s  excellent biography on Fleming,Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master:

…Gable’s preference for Fleming to direct GWTW instead of George Cukor was not only well-known; it was also reported before principal photography began. And ever since he joined the production, Gable has been out of sorts. He shot his first scenes in January 1939,  two weeks after Leigh and Olivia de Havilland. Doubtless he felt uncertain in a new studio, acting with women who already a close rapport with Cukor.

After Selznick fired Cukor, John Lee Mahin recalled, Gable made a late night visit to Fleming’s house to beg to come on to GWTW. Mahin was probably thinking of the events of the early morning hours of Sunday, February 12; a coup de theatre straight out of a screwball comedy and at odds with Selznick’s denial that he consulted with Gable about the directorial change.

In this version, Selznick, Gable, and Eddie Mannix, after viewing GWTW rushes at Selznick’s house, paid a 3:00am visit not to Louis B. Mayer but to Mervyn Leroy at his Santa Monica beach house. The ruckus stirred Leroy from slumber. He looked down from his bedroom window and demanded; “I’m in bed–what do you mean by busting in at this hour of the night?” Selznick shouted in return; “We want your director–we’ve got to have Victor Fleming!” It took a series of phone calls–including at least one to Mayer–but a few hours later Leroy at released Fleming from The Wizard of Oz. Selznick announced Fleming’s hiring two days later.

“My God, imagine picking up a project like that at this stage,” Fleming was heard to muse that week on the Oz set. “Still, if Clark’s going to sulk, I guess I better do it.” As soon as Selznick made the switch, Norman Webb of  National Box Office Digest wrote the producer that he was glad Fleming was taking over, because, unlike Cukor, “Victor Fleming has one of the very best box office records in the industry.”

So what did happen to Cukor? And why did Selznick summon Fleming? Contemporary columnists and well as latterday analysts, trying to make sense of Selznick’s decision, have often placed the onus on Gable. But several eyewitnesses contradict the notion that Gable catalyzed the crisis, no matter how central he was to the outcome. Susan Myrick, the film’s Georgia dialect coach and technical advisor, provided an intimate account in a letter to the book’s author, Margaret Mitchell. She wrote that Cukor told her he had “looked at the rushes and felt he was failing. He knew he was a good director and knew the actors were good ones; yet the thing did not click as it should.” He demanded that they return to the original script by Sidney Howard. Selznick balked and offered his own ultimatium: “OK, get out.”  In 1954, Ed Sullivan wrote that Cukor reached the point of no return when he clashed with Selznick on how to film a scene of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) walking down the stairs to meet Scarlett: “I think Ashley, at that moment, would be scared to meet her,” Selznick said. “I disagree wholeheartedly,” Cukor replied.

Cukor was never specific in his own recollections. “David talks generally,” he said in 1968, recalling the day he was summouned to Selznick’s office. “He said something like, ‘It’s not coming along the way I want it to, I’ve taken complete responsibility and it has to be my way.'”

Bottom line is, that even though Clark was the biggest star of the film, he didn’t have some inflated ego that caused him to demand that Cukor be shoved out and his buddy Fleming be brought in. Selznick and Cukor were butting heads already and Clark’s displeasure was just icing on the cake. Clark didn’t get Cukor fired, but once the decision was made that Cukor was out, he certainly was 100% behind the idea of bringing Fleming in.

And can any of us really say we are dissatisfied with the results?

clark gable vivien leigh gone with the wind

10 Responses to {Rumor Mill} Clark Gable, George Cukor and Gone with the Wind

  1. lovegable says:

    I love Rette,hate Leight.

  2. KimWilson says:

    I tend to believe those stories about Clark in the 1920s.

  3. June says:

    Pardon my bluntness, but I really would not stop adoring Mr. Gable if there were photos of him with a couple of cute sheep down on the ranch! In other words, I love most of his films in one way or another, and that is really all that matters. We cannot ever know the details, can we?

  4. Kendra says:

    It’s surprising how many biographers these days pin the blame for complicated events on people’s (supposed) sexual orientation. As if hat’s somehow the magic answer to all of our questions about old Hollywood: ‘Oh, of course. It must be because he/she was gay. Problem solved.” It happens all the time with Laurence Olivier. The problem with this is not that these people may or may not have been gay. It’s that most of the time these rumors are treated as fact by writers and consequently readers without much effort going in to actually proving their validity. You never really get to the bottom of things, but with a bit of research anyone can get a better and more clear understanding of situations that were obviously not black and white.

    I haven’t yet read the Victor Fleming book but I’ve wanted to for a while and it sounds really interesting.

    Thanks for the great article!

  5. Carl says:

    Back in Clark’s day Republicans WERE the liberal party!

  6. DeeLee says:

    I don’t believe the gay rumors about Clark. Clark Gable, by all accounts, was more introverted than people realized, but he was pretty well grounded in his personal values. Besides, the gay men of that time often said things to try and sully the reputations of the red-blooded “Man’s Man” types–and Clark Gable was certainly that. From the most reliable and truthful accounts of his life and insights into his personality, Clark Gable was generous, uncomfortable with his fame, but comfortable with his masculinity. Someone who had acheived such stature would obviously be the target of gossip and sometimes vicious rumor. Clark Gable responded in the shrewdest and wisest way possible: He just simply did not qualify it with a response at all!
    As for Victor Fleming directing GWTW—that was a very good call. Cuckor had the whole thing bogged down. Fleming dug it out of the mire and breathed life back in to it.

  7. gail lee erichsen says:

    i remenber standing in line to wstch [ gwtw. ] clark gable was an still is my favorite actor—-he reminded me of my father in looks—as for mr.gable as a actor he was the best, just something about him– he had everything– when he passed away i cried hard, —regardless of what if or what not i adored him as a actor an as a men– i rate him as a 10+—-i have read about him with carol lombard, his love for her—there was simply something about this man that shine thru– his dimples,his ears, his personality, his movies, life,personable stories, he was and is the man he was king for a very good reason.——

    gail lee anerson erichsen manti,utah

  8. Pierre de Plume says:

    Among the Hollywood biographers, William J. Mann (e.g., “Behind the Screen”)is among the most credible. His account of a homosexual encounter between Gable and Haines at a party in a Beverly Hills hotel is reasonable and well-documented. This does not make Gable “gay,” however. Hollywood in the 1920s was much more free-wheeling than many people imagine. One of the best sources on the Gable/Haines incident was Haines’ good friend Joan Crawford, who confirmed her awareness of the incident late in her life.

  9. Barry Lane says:

    Several points regarding Cukor and GWTW:
    This is recounted in a book called Memo from David O. Selznick, in DOS’s own words that boil down to dissatisfaction with the packing under Cukor’s direction. The woman’s director label is code language for ‘homosexual’. Gable was unhappy, again according to Memo with his wardrobe and DOS agreed with him, unrelated to Cukor. Now, regarding Pierre De Plume’s comment about William J. Mann — Mann is gay and is on a mission to label almost everyone in that way, though he is not as scurrilous in approach as some others. As fashionable as thay may be, I think it ‘sucks’.

  10. Barry Lane says:

    That of course, should read, ‘pacing’ not packing…

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