Gone With the Wind Indeed!
by Kirtley Baskette
Photoplay magazine, March 1937
Call out the riot squad! A new Civil War is raging! Who will play the principals in the world’s best seller?
Time was when you could call a man a rat in Hollywood and get yourself a stiff poke in the nose. But now what you get is–“Rhett? Rhett Butler? Well–I don’t know about that ‘profile like an old coin’ stuff, but I’ve been told I am rather masterful and–”
Yes and there was a day when you could call a woman scarlet in this town and find yourself looking into the business end of a male relative’s shotgun. But now it’s–“Scarlett? Scarlett O’Hara? Oh, do you really think so? Well, I wish you’d say that around Mr. Selznick. Of course, my eyes aren’t exactly green, but unless they use Technicolor–”
Ever since that very small but very un-Reconstructed Rebel, Mistress Peggy Mitchell, of the Atlanta Mitchells, wrote a book called “Gone with the Wind”, which went like a seventy-mile gale over the country and whipped up a grade-A tornado, a civil war, the like of which Jeff Davis never dreamed, has been raging uncontrolled way out in Hollywood.
Houses are divided, brother against brother, husband against wife, butler versus pantry maid.
“Why, Judge,” a woman told the court the other day, “this bum says the only man to play Rhett Butler is Warren William. How can I go on living with a cretin like that?”
“Yeah,” countered the defendant, “and, Your Honor, she embarrassed me before my friends plugging for Ronald Coleman. Ronald Coleman–imagine! My business dropped off.” “Divorce granted,” murmured the court, “although personally I’ve always thought Gary Cooper would be a natural for the part.”
What is considerably worse, actors and actresses who have never been South of the Slot in San Francisco or below Twenty-third Street in Manhattan, whose closest tie to Dixie in fact, is a faint resemblance to Virginia ham, wander around calling people “Honey” in a languid, molasses manner. Mugs who always thought Pickett’s charge was a labor demonstration, now demand real mint in their grog. Even the high yellows down on Central Avenue are brushing up on their southern accents.
It’s really pretty awful.
Of course if you haven’t read the astounding book that has leaped clear out of the ordinary fiction league to become the marvel of modern American literature, all this may leave you as dizzy as a six-day bicycle rider. In that case, all I can say is that if you’re around number sixty-seven on the waiting list and sound of wind and limb there is still hope.
But if you have, you’ll understand why nerves are snapping from Burbank to Brentwood as the two juiciest parts in the history of Hollywood dangle like ripe luscious cherries just above tiptoe reach. For “Gone with the Wind” is all set to be made into the greatest moving picture of all time (they admit it). Only there isn’t any Scarlett O’Hara. There isn’t any Rhett Butler. The suspense is terrific.
So look what happens. Sixty thousand letters, wires, communications of all sorts, sent direct or forwarded by critics, columnists and radio commentators have poured in and keep pouring to sweep the excitement higher and higher. The result is the biggest screen sweepstakes of modern movie history. The prize: fame, fortune, and the greatest eager, ready-made audience any star ever dreamed about.
Who will win? Well–here are the favorites, complete with clockings, handicaps, and pole positions. You pay your money and you take your choice:
Ladies first, which means Rhett Butler–
Clark Gable is the odds on favorite. He probably will play the part. If he doesn’t there may be a Revolution. The nationwide choice, by a wide margin, he runs neck-and-neck with Warner Baxter in the South, which, incidentally, will have plenty to say about the casting of this picture. Gable is also the big Hollywood favorite, although if you can’t see him you can’t see him at all. It’s that way. Letters have poured in threatening boycotts and reprisals (honest) if he’s cast as Rhett. The same if he isn’t.
Clark is the right age, the perfect build, the effective sex quotient. On a very touchy point–whether or not he can put on a Southern accent and wear it becomingly–he is doubtful. He would give a year of his life to play Rhett–why not? It would be the biggest money gland his career could conceivably manage.
But–Gable is among the most jealously hoarded of MGM stars. And Selznick International, not MGM, copped this prize story of the century. MGM turned it down! Selznick International means John Hay Whitney and David Oliver Selznick. But again–David Oliver Selznick is married to Louis B. Mayer’s daughter. Would Gable be available? What do you think?
Frederic March is the only actor so far officially tested for Rhett. Was the early choice, but seems to have faded in the back stretch. Would be available, eager and willing to play Rhett on a moment’s notice. Runs about third in the terrific straw balloting which increases every day. Is regarded by millions as a great actor–many others do not agree. Played the other great sensational best seller title part, “Anthony Adverse.” Consensus of opinion is that Frederic would be an adequate Rhett, but that’s all. Lacks the sinister sex considered absolutely essential to a great performance.
Warner Baxter has surprising support from Atlanta and the deep South. Is the best “sympathy” actor in the race. His recent sock hit in “To Mary–With love” is considered an apt build-up. Warner has the strong support of all who picture Rhett Butler as a man who suffered and suffered. Is keeping his fingers crossed day and night because if he landed it would be “In Old Arizona” all over again for him. His contract, of course, is with Twentieth Century Fox, which makes him eligible. Darryl Zanuck who is a borrower of stars in the talent market wouldn’t dare bite the hand that feeds him and keep him locked in the closet. Warner, too, is about the right age, a little on the oldish side. His weakness, too, is no powerful sex appeal.
Ronald Colman popped into the running through an erroneous press dispatch. But once in has remained a strong contender. Chief advantage is his spot as long term contract star with Selznick International, his decided romantic charm, suavity, age and sympathetic personality. Chief disadvantage is ever-lovin’ Britishness, hard for the folks down South to swallow when the story is almost a sectional issue.
Those are the favorites. But Cary Grant, Basil Rathbone, Edward Arnold haven’t given up yet.
Now gents–it’s your turn.
For Scarlett O’Hara–
Tallulah Bankhead–shared the same bum steer announcement that brought Ronald Coleman in. Was tested by Selznick twice, once in Hollywood while on the stage in “Reflected Glory.” It was a simple color test but it gave the newshawks ideas. Tested again in New York by Director George Cukor. Is a professional choice, being considered the best actress of all candidates. Would satisfy Dixie, hailing originally from Alabama. Her pappy represents the state as Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington. Talu could probably recapture a sugar-lipped drawl, all right, buy the years and an aura of sophistication are against her. The part would be like long delayed manna from Heaven for her, bestowing the great screen break her rooters have long wailed has been denied a great artiste. Only a lukewarm choice in the popular response. But vigorously opposed by an opinionated minority.
Miriam Hopkins is the red hot choice of Atlanta and the South. Leads other actresses by a nice margin in the letter deluge. One reason, she hails from Bainbridge, Georgia, right close to home. Is a good subject for color, if it is used, except she’ll have to wear a wig. Played Becky Sharp, the character generally compared to Scarlett O’Hara, but that might work against her.
Bette Davis is the number one Hollywood selection. Just missed cinching the part by a matter of minutes. On her way to England, Bette was told by Warner’s New York story board they were buying a great story for her, “Gone with the Wind.” But by the time they wired Hollywood for an okay, the hammer had dropped. The day His Majesty’s courts decided that Bette was a “naughty girl” and “must go back to jail” her low spirits were lifted by a columnist’s clipping calling her the ideal Miss O’Hara. Answers to Scarlett now around the Warner lot. Bette is the only Yankee girl to score below that well-known line. Ranks third in the Cotton Belt. Is considered to be just the right age to handle the assignment and blessed with the right amount of–er–nastiness. No complaints from the home folks on her southern accent in “Cabin in the Cotton” or as Alabama Follansbee in “The Solid South” (stage).
But–Bette is in the doghouse chained and collared, and one of the main issues of her legal whipping was her loan out demand. Warners can–probably would keep her in the cooler. Selznick, in fact, is supposed to have said, “Bette Davis? Great–but could we get her?”
Margaret Sullavan holds the second spot in returns from down yonder. Is a Virginia girl, and knows what to do when a lady meets a gentleman down South. Handed brilliantly the lead in “So Red the Rose”, another Civil War picture. Fractious and fiery enough to make Scarlett a vivid character. Tagged next to Bette Davis in Hollywood.
And the Field–Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert and Jean Harlow.
Now as if puzzling about all this were not enough to set a body weaving baskets in the clink, Messrs. Selznick and Company announce that they want for Scarlett and Rhett not Hollywood stars at all. No–instead they have arranged to canvass all the finishing schools of Dixie, and ogle Junior Leaguers at the very lovely teas and discover and “unknown” Scarlett. A similar search, minus the tea, is hoped to dig up an indigenous Rhett.
Thus, they say, everything will not only be peaches and cream for professional Southerners, but what is much more important, two brand new stars will be born. Why take other studio’s stars and build them? Isn’t this going to be the greatest picture of all time?
Well–as to the first idea–it’s great if it works, is the opinion of the Hollywood wise ones. But it won’t work, they say. Whom are you going to find in the sticks to handle parts like those? Whom could you dare gamble on?
And that “greatest picture of all time” stuff. It smacks strongly, I grant you, of the old mahoskus. It’s press agent oil of the most ready viscosity and has flowed freely around every epic from “The Great Train Robbery” to Shirley Temple’s latest cutrick. But this time the answer that snaps right back out of your own skeptic brain is, “Why not?”
These gentlemen–Whitney and Selznick–have, and they know what they have, the greatest screen story of our day. If you don’t think so, here’s the cold cash proof: The day after they laid $50,000 on the line for the picture rights, another studio offered them $100,000. The next offer was boosted to $250,000. The last bid, not long ago, was $1,500,000 and an interest in the picture besides! Tie that.
They said “No” and they are still saying the same. Mr. Whitney and Mr. Selznick are not ribbon clerks. They shot $2,200,000 on “The Garden of Allah.” They will pinch no pennies on “Gone with the Wind”. If color will help it (and it probably will) they’ll shoot and extra million. Sidney Howard is writing the script. George Cukor will direct. Walter Plunkett is designing costumes. These men are all top flight.
So you can reasonably be sure of this–when you finally see “Gone with the Wind” you’ll see a picture dressed in the best trappings of modern production, primed with meticulous preparation, artistic thoroughness and as many millions as it can comfortably stand.
But as for who will be Scarlett and who will be Rhett–well, the riot squads are doing a nice business, thank you. And good citizens of Hollywood scowl across Cahuenga Pass at North Hollywood muttering. “Dam’ Yanks!” While out in Beverly Hills the South Side of the Tracks is threatening to secede if somebody will only fire on the Brown Derby.
It looks as if we’ll fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. Everybody’s welcome, and usually it doesn’t require a second invitation. Just casually mention the subject. You’ll see. Matter of the fact, the only person I can think of offhand who doesn’t seem to be at all upset about the matter is the lady who wrote the book.
Early in the fray, Margaret Mitchell allowed it would be nice if a Southern girl could play Scarlett. But the reaction was so violent that it must have surprised her. At any rate she announced the other day it was her one desire to remain only as the humble author, and to a close friend she confided:
“I don’t care what they do to ‘Gone with the Wind’ in Hollywood. Just so they don’t make General Lee win the war for a happy ending!”