clark gable gone with the wind rhett butler

From April 1940:

I asked Clark Gable if he felt it dangerous to work so long in a single film such as “Gone with the Wind.” Fans forget easily. Will the role of Rhett Butler, no matter how colorful, be strong enough to hold Clark at the top, to overcome the long months of getting him on celluloid? Gable writes thus:

“Rather than being too dangerous to work too long in one picture, I can say from experience that it is of definite value to an actor and makes for a superior film. There is no substitute for adequate and careful preparation. ‘Gone with the Wind’ proves this. From an acting stand point, the player benefits from a long production schedule, which enables him to become thoroughly acquainted with the character he is portraying and develops the characterization to the fullest extent of his ability. I do not believe that working too long on one film is any menace to a career. If an actor makes one role stand out and remain memorable, he has certainly profited as much as if he made four pictures over a similar period. There is no truer saying in Hollywood than that an actor is no better than his last picture. And if working for more than a year in ‘Gone’ has menaced Vivien Leigh’s career, I could stand a lot of menace.”

So there you are, Clark is willing to stand or fall on Rhett. A recent exhibitor poll, conducted by The Motion Picture Herald, a trade paper, found Gable still among the first ten stars. No. 4 to be exact. And he had only two films released in 1939, “Idiot’s Delight” and “GWTW.” Which shows the potency of Gable’s personality. Absence only makes the fans’ hearts grow fonder.


clark gable photoplay gone with the windHere is an article from Photoplay magazine in February 1940 in which Clark dispels some rumors about Vivien Leigh, his feelings toward playing Rhett Butler, and his marriage to Carole Lombard.

Some quotes:

On the challenge of playing Rhett Butler:

“…my mind was preoccupied with Rhett Butler. He had me plenty worried, so worried that I didn’t want to play him.

Don’t think that was because I didn’t realize what a fat part he was. Rhett is one of the greatest male characters ever created. I knew that. I’d read the entire book through six times, trying to get his moods. I’ve still got a copy in my dressing room and I still read it once in a while, because I know I’ll probably never get such a terrific role again. But what was worrying me, and still is, was that from the moment I was cast as Rhett Butler I started out with five million critics.

About all the handicap an actor ordinarily has is two or three professional critics to a city which adds up for the whole world to about one large theater’s matinee business. Those birds may rap you and while you’d prefer their praise, still you can take those raps, if need be, hoping that the public which makes up all the millions of other movie-goers will like you regardless. But five million people have read “Gone with the Wind” and each must have his or her own idea of how Rhett should be played.

There was not only that, but I had an accent to think of, long hair to wear, and twenty-six costume changes—more than Carole has ever had in any one of her pictures (which brought me in for lots of ribbing from that one, too).”

On his wedding to Carole:

It has been written since then that Carole and I had that wedding day planned out for months in advance, but that’s not true. It happened this way. On the afternoon of March 28, I was finished with my scenes about three in the afternoon. While I was taking off my make-up, the assistant director came over and said I didn’t need to work the next day. I called Carole at once and with the aid of a close friend, we headed put that night to Kingman, Arizona. We took Otto along, not only to untangle any difficulties we might get into, but because he had a new car without license plates which meant we wouldn’t be spotted.

We were married at three-thirty that afternoon and left at five-thirty, getting home the next morning at three. Carole’s mother was there, all excited, which kept us up till five. Finally we got to sleep, only to be awakened at nine to discover forty cameramen, three newsreel men and twenty reporters waiting out in the front yard to interview us. Under the circumstances, David gave me another day off.

But the next morning when I reported at the studio, ready for the prison sequence, I discovered Vic had switched things on me and was prepared to do the wedding scene, only this day my bride was Vivien. David had engaged a full orchestra which was gurgling through the wedding march and whole I knew it was all a rib on me, I blew up in the first take. The stage hands all groaned, Vivien asked solicitously what was the matter with me, and Vic said, “It’s just that Clark has always been shy of girls.”

On Vivien Leigh:

As for any possibility of Vivien Leigh’s falling in love with me I knew that was out from our first glance. For never have I seen any girl more completely in love than that one is—with Laurence Olivier. It’s as visible as a Neon sign that she can’t think or talk of or dream about anything or anyone else on earth—except when she’s on the set. When she’s on the set, she’s what a good actress should be. She’s all business.

As for my falling in love with her, I’m sure that could have been plenty pleasant except that, added to her lack of interest in me, I didn’t have any heart to give away, either. Mine was staked out to that Lombard girl who is mighty beautiful and brainy. Carole and I weren’t married when Vivien and I first met, but we did marry while I was working on the picture and there’s a story about our wedding that has never been told and which I’ll get to presently.

I’ll be truthful about it, however; I’ll confess that the first time I saw her I doubted that Vivien could really play Scarlett. That reaction shows I’m no casting director. But, accustomed to the more abandoned and superficial personalities of Hollywood girls, Vivien seemed too demure to me, at that first meeting, for the vivid, relentless Scarlett.

David Selznick introduced us to each other at a dinner party at his home. Vivien was wearing a very plain, tailored dress. She’s much tinier in real life than she appears on the screen, and since she uses little make-up she has a very young, unsophisticated air. Besides, she had all the fires banked that evening and that Olivier guy was her escort.

Now I know I should have stopped to consider all that. But having seen Vivien only in “A Yank at Oxford”, in which she didn’t have a lot to do, I just looked at her that first evening at David’s and wondered if that keen-minded producer had gone haywire when he signed her.

I knew he hadn’t the first day Vivien and I got on a set together.

Read the article in its entirety in The Article Archive.

Clark Gable hated taking publicity photos. He often said it made him feel like a ham. Gone with the Wind was no exception and after hours working on set he was subjected to several more hours of sitting under hot lights in heavy Civil-War era suits, grinning (or scowling) for the camera over and over.

Let’s take a look at some of the solitary shots of Clark Gable (suffering) as Rhett Butler.

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Gone with the Wind did not suffer from lack of marketing. Products sporting the film’s name were pushed upon the public long before the film was released; everything from clothing to perfume to candies to jewelry.

In 1938, even before the film was cast, you could buy yourself a “Scarlett O’Hara sweater” that is “inspired” by the film:

gone with the wind scarlett sweater

Or you could “Play the lead in Gone with the Wind” in this dress:

scarlett dress gone with the wind

As the film was in production and released, the marketing hit a fever pitch and you could get your hands on Gone with the Wind jewelry:

gone with the wind jewelry

Or you could win it in a magazine contest!

gone with the wind jewelry gone with the wind jewelry

In case you’re wondering who beat you to the punch and won (hope they saved their prizes for their grandchildren!): gone with the wind jewelry

clark gable vivien leigh gone with the wind

In 1940, Photoplay magazine supplied its readers with facts on Gone with the Wind so that they could play their own GWTW trivia game…

Hollywood can talk of nothing these days but Gone with the Wind. It’s crept into every luncheon and dinner party until hostesses, in despair, have invented a Gone with the Wind game. Pencils and papers with questions to be answered concerning the mighty epic are passed around at every gathering. The one winning the highest score gets the prize. Why not try it at your parties, too? With [us] supplying all the answers to facts and figures, you can make up your own questions.

Here goes:

The Margaret Mitchell book was purchased by David Selznick for $50,000 on June 3, 1936. Garbo was rumored as Scarlett. Other Hollywood producers offered Selznick as high as $1,000,000 for the rights. They were refused.

Gable was signed om August 25, 1938 for Rhett Butler and Shearer was announced as Scarlett. The nation went crazy. Shearer withdrew.

There is no wind in the picture, but there were 4400 people employed directly by the studio for the picture. The largest number who worked at one time was 1, 730. In all, 2,400 extras were employed.

Leslie Howard, an Englishman, and Olivia de Havilland, born in Tokyo of English parents, were signed for Southern Ashley Wilkes and Melanie.

Three talent scouts were dispatched to the South to find a Scarlett. Twenty-eight actresses were tested for the role and a total of 149,000 feet of black and white film and 13,000 feet of Technicolor were filmed in the testing. Cost of testing was $92,000.

First scene shot without a Scarlett on December 10, 1938, was the burning of Atlanta. A visitor to the scene, Englishwoman Vivien Leigh, was signed as Scarlett, January 13, 1939. Official starting date of the picture was January 13, 1939. Final shot was made November 11, 1939.

Seven hundred mustaches, 500 pairs of sideburns and 300 yards of crepe hair were used. Scarlett used thirty-eight different hairdresses. The completed picture runs three hours and forty-five minutes.

On February 15, 1939, Director Cukor resigned in favor of Victor Fleming. Vivien Leigh worked a total of 125 days of actual shooting, Gable seventy-one, de Havilland fifty-nine, and Howard thirty-two.

Scarlett wore forty-four separate costumes. Gable thirty-six, Olivia twenty-one, Leslie eleven. The cleaning bill alone amounted to $10,000.

In use were 1,000 horses, 9,000 bit and extra people, 375 assorted animals and 450 vehicles.

One million man hours of labor went into the making. Exactly 475,000 feet of film were exposed and 675,000 lineal feet of Technicolor film printed.

And, finally, the money spent on the picture was $3,957,000.


clark gable vivien leigh gone with the wind

This week, featured is another article from the archive, Gone with the Wind Indeed!, Photoplay magazine, March 1937. This article is all about the pressing issue of casting the great civil war epic:

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.”

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!”

These choices really crack me up. JEAN HARLOW?? CARY GRANT?? EDWARD ARNOLD?? CLAUDETTE COLBERT?? Really atrocious.

You can read the article in its entirety in the Article Archive.


Clark Gable hated anything that he felt was frivoulous about film making. He wanted to just show up, read his lines and go home. He didn’t like taking promotional stills or messing with endless wardrobe fittings. It was part of the job, but he didn’t have to like it. The costumes in Gone with the Wind were a sore spot with Clark. When he first showed up to film, despite endless fittings, his costumes didn’t fit right. He already disliked wearing period garb and his long hair was annoying to him as well. I think you can tell from these stills taken from wardrobe and Technicolor tests for that he is less than thrilled. The only ones in which he doesn’t come across as thoroughly irritated are the ones with Vivien Leigh!

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clark gable rhett butler gone with the wind

Clark Gable didn’t want to play Rhett Butler–mainly because everyone else wanted him to. He often described how, even before he himself had read the book, people would call him “Rhett” and ask him when he was signing on for the film. He thought it was a great role, certainly, but the pressure was too great. In the end, it wasn’t really his decision, as he was traded like cattle to Selznick for MGM to have the distribution rights.

Clark remained nonchalant about the film for years afterward. He had done his work, gotten his paycheck, that was the end of it to him. I’ve had people say to me at Gone with the Wind events in recent years, how wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Clark was alive to attend such events? My answer is always that there is no way in God’s green earth he ever would. I imagine he would be amazed at how much people still love the film to this day.

It’s interesting to hear him talk about Gone with the Wind when he was older, as he reflected back on it.

From an interview in 1957:

“I don’t see how you could have avoided playing Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind,” I said. “The whole country cast you in it long before the cameras began to roll.”

“That was exactly the trouble,” Gable said. “Not only that, but it seemed to me that the public’s casting was being guided by an elaborate publicity campaign.”

I disagreed. “That casting was a natural thing,” I said. “No studio or producer controlled it. I sat in any number of bull sessions in friends’ homes while we cast that picture. Nobody said we ought to cast it, we just did. And the way we non-movie employees cast it was the way it was eventually cast on the screen. Almost everybody agreed on you as Rhett Butler, Leslie Howard as Ashley, and Olivia de Havilland as Melanie.”

“My thinking about it was this,” Gable told me; “that novel was one of the all-time best sellers. People didn’t just read it, they lived it. They visualized its characters, and they formed passionate convictions about them. You say a lot of people thought I ought to play Rhett Butler, but I didn’t know how many had formed that opinion.”

“Enough,” I said.

“There are never enough,” he told me. “But one thing was certain: they had a preconceived idea of the kind of Rhett Butler they were going to see, and suppose I came up empty?”

I’d never head that phrase before, so he explained, “I thought, all of them have already played Rhett in their minds; suppose I don’t come up with what they already have me doing. Then I’m in trouble. If they saw one little thing I did that didn’t agree with their remembrance of the books, they’d howl. I’d done the same thing myself when I’d wanted to be a Shakespearean actor. I’d taken a copy of ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Richard II’ or ‘Othello’ to the theater with me and I’d sat in the balcony—I couldn’t afford to sit anyplace else—and I’d checked on the Shakespearean actors. I’d say, ‘Why that—missed an ‘and’ or he left out a ‘but.’ He can’t do that.’”

“I’ve seen Gone with the Wind three times,” I told him, “and I had the feeling you enjoyed it.”

“It was a challenge,” he said, “I enjoyed it from that point of view. But my chin was out to there. I knew what people expected of me and suppose I didn’t produce?”

“But you did produce,” I said.

“Maybe so,” he said noncommittally.

“When did you finally get it through your head you’d done all right?”

He said, “The night we opened in Atlanta, I said, ‘I guess this movie is in.’”

“How did you figure that?” I asked. “Did you enjoy it yourself or did you gauge it by other people’s reactions?”

“Other people’s reactions,” he told me.

From 1956:

 I asked Gable what he thought of the continued success of GWTW.

“Those revivals are the only thing that keeps me a big star,” he said. “Every time that picture is re-released, a whole crop of young moviegoers get interested in me.”

“What do you remember about the film’s premiere in Atlanta?” I asked.

“You should have seen the way those Southern belles looked at Carole. She was so damn beautiful.”

“How did the audience react to that first screening?” I asked.

“You’da thought I’d won the second Civil War for the South. The Atlanta papers called it the biggest news event since Sherman.”


Last month, we posted Photoplay magazine’s sketch of Clark Gable as Rhett, from 1937. The following month, Photoplay upped the ante by publishing a sketch of Clark as Rhett with a woman that represented what they thought Scarlett should look like. Think Vivien Leigh fit the bill?

clark gable rhett butler scarlett ohara gone with the windIs This Scarlett?

Again Vincentini scores–with this picture of Scarlett, as Photoplay conceived her. The prime requisite was, we told him, that Scarlett must be in Gable’s arms, for you see we still insist on Clark as Rhett. For the rest, she must have the fire of Paulette Goddard; the acting ability of Shearer; the voice of Alicia Rhett, Southern girl candidate, whose name is really identical with the hero’s. The artist, we believe, has endowed her with all these qualities, and a few identical charms of her own, for isn’t she still Scarlett O’Hara, Miss Unknown? Now turn the page and read her story

Funny they mention Alicia Rhett, who ended up being cast as India Wilkes! That story they mention coming up next week!