1938– a year full of suspense and speculation in regards to Gone with the Wind. Who would be Rhett? Who would be Melanie? Who would be Ashley? And especially…who will play Scarlett? To call the book a sensation would be an understatement. In three separate celebrity interviews from that year, magazines stated that young Judy Garland “spent last Christmas reading Gone with the Wind,” Deanna Durbin “has read Gone with the Wind twice!” and–the horror–“Nelson Eddy admits he has not yet read Gone with the Wind!” There was a lot at stake for this cast…

In February, Photoplay magazine reported:

Our monthly “Gone with the Wind” Department…whispers now have it that most likely Scarlett O’Hara is that new 20th Century-Fox discovery, Arleen Whelan…Selznick wants her, but so far Zanuck won’t give…judging by her photography exclusively, I’d say she is much more Scarlett than Paulette Goddard, next most rumored candidate for the role.

Arleen popped up in Motion Picture magazine too:

arleen whelan

She is the girl who was chosen, months ago, to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. And the only reason why she won’t be playing Scarlett is that the studio to which she is signed (20th Century Fox) won’t sell her contact to the studio producing the picture (Selznick International). Fifty thousand dollars were offered for her contract–and refused….

How did the Selznick-International people become interested in her–an untried newcomer at another studio?

“Sidney Howard, who wrote the script for Gone with the Wind, saw me in the Brown Derby. He thought I ‘looked like Scarlett,’ and he said he knew I was an actress ‘by the way I ate.’ I’ve been self-conscious about eating ever since. They arranged with Mr. Zanuck to test me. Then they set me to studying a Southern accent, learning how to wear those grand old Southern clothes. I’ve never enjoyed any experience so much as that. I’m still studying with the coach I had there–Gertrude Fogler.”

She isn’t breaking her heart over the impasse that prevents her from playing that other unpredictable Southern girl, Scarlett O’Hara. She told me, with a warm smile, “Everything always happens for the best.”

By March Motion Picture magazine declared:

paulette goddard gone with the wind

But by May, someone else seemed to be edging Paulette out:

We hope by the time you read this you will know more about the casting plans for “Gone with the Wind” than Hollywood does at present.

However, the  latest moves seem to indicate that Frederic March is a sure bet for Rhett with Katharine Hepburn nominated as the lucky Scarlett. But then, of course, Clark Gable and Paulette Goddard are also rumored “in the running”—STILL!

Photoplay followed that blurb up with a whole article about Katharine Hepburn being the most likely candidate for Scarlett– “What! Another Scarlett O’Hara?” In the article, they called her casting “inevitable.”

katharine hepburn scarlett ohara gone with the wind

Hepburn is Scarlett O’Hara at heart. George Cukor said in a recent interview: “Scarlett is typically Southern. That kind of woman couldn’t have happened anywhere else. She is very female and like the average woman has no abstract sense of proportion. She hasn’t much of a mind and has no nobility. Yet she has a lot of character. I know at least five woman in Hollywood and on the stage not as stupid as Scarlett, but who have her kind of temperament. They all came from the South and they have cut a wide swath.”

…Doesn’t a modern quote like this from Hepburn’s own lips sound a little as though Scarlett O’Hara might have spoken had she been a young star in Hollywood?

“I have moods,” said Miss Hepburn. “Well, they’re mine. Why should I change? If I don’t feel like having my picture taken at a tennis match, why should I? If I feel like putting my hands over my face, why shouldn’t I? Posing for pictures takes time. You know that I will not be anything but myself for anybody. Why don’t you leave me alone?”

Hollywood magazine made a case for newcomer Louise Platt (Stagecoach) who “turned down two screen tests to make the first screen test for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind and waited six months for another Hollywood call.”

louise platt

They also gave their support to another new face, Susan Hayward. George Cukor offered her a screentest for Scarlett.

susan hayward

[Recalled Susan:]”They gave me a screentest in a Long Island studio and there must have been something about it that pleased them because they brought me to Hollywood where I was tested again and again. For some reason, never explained, they changed their minds, and I found myself in the ranks of the also-rans in the Scarlett race.”

 

Gee, I hope this whole Scarlett casting thing works out…

vivien leigh

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

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.

 

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable

As is Gone with the Wind folklore, producer David Selznick’s search for the perfect Scarlett O’Hara reached far and wide, cost thousands of dollars and took years. Every female star auditioned for the part, regardless of how qualified she was. People on the street debated on who should play her. Southern debutantes took acting lessons and bought train tickets to Hollywood. It caused a nationwide frenzy.

Then appeared the dark horse: British Vivien Leigh–whose casting surprised some, and rattled others. Civil War descendants decried her casting in letters to newspapers, stating, “The selection of Vivien Leigh is a direct affront to the men who wore gray and an outrage to the memory of the heroes of 1776 who fought to free his land of British domination.” Yikes.

Clark, worried over the daunting role of Rhett Butler, expressed concern at first also:

I’ll be truthful about it… 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.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh

Whatever outrage there was seemed to fade as filming began, as most were just excited the film was finally underway. Soon after filming began, Vivien was described as: “a small, slim, beauteous girl with a personality like a slumbering volcano, which many erupt at any moment, and an English accent that sounds as if it came right out of Oxford. Her Southern accent, ma’am? She can turn that melting accent–leared from Susan Myrick, the Emily Post of the South–on and off like a faucet.”

Although it was a highly coveted role and one she had sincerely wanted, there was a lot of strain for Vivien on the set. Scarlett being in virtually every scene, Vivien worked for 125 days–in contrast to Clark’s 21–and had to work with constant script revisions and three directors. When asked if she changed her characterization of Scarlett for each director, Vivien had this to say:

I didn’t change my characterization. I just had to get used to working with different directors, but my characterization is my characterization, and I wouldn’t change it for anyone…I admired [Scarlett] tremendously, but at the same time I was furious with her for being so hard and selfish, and when Rhett Butler left her, I felt she had gotten exactly what she deserved. If her mother had lived or if she had allowed herself to come under the influence of Rhett Butler, she might have been a different girl. But because Rhett Butler was so much like her–though in a much nicer way–she didn’t realize how right he was for her, but she was interested in Ashley, who was completely wrong for her.

As filming dragged on and on, the press reported rumors on both side of the spectrum: that the strain of filming was getting to the two principal actors and that there was quite a feud between Clark and Vivien, or that the two were romantically involved. Not so, says Rhett and Scarlett.

Clark says:

Hollywood goes just as much to extremes when it comes to male and female stars cast together as it does on any other subject. Get a man and a woman in a picture together and you are immediately reported as either fighting or romancing. The fact that in eighty per cent of your pictures you have no emotion about the beautiful creature opposite you, other than an interest in her acting ability, is never printed. Yet that’s the truth more often than not.

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.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh

Vivien dismissed any notion of a feud, saying:

Who could quarrel with Clark Gable? We got on well. Whenever anyone on the set was tired or depressed, it was Gable who cheered that person up. Then the newspapers began printing the story that Gable and I were not getting on. This was so ridiculous it served only as a joke. From the time on the standard greeting between Clark and myself became, ‘How are you not getting on today?’

There’s been much published about Vivien hating to kiss Clark because of his bad breath. I am sure thanks to his full set of dentures, love of onions and three-pack-a-day smoking habit, his breath wasn’t always perfect, but it didn’t seem to cause a major rift. And the countless leading ladies that preceded Vivien didn’t complain!

So, no, Vivien was not flung into the heap of Clark’s leading ladies that were leading on AND off screen. And although they did not appear to be close friends for the years following, Vivien send a sympathy note to Clark’s widow Kay at his death and also sent a silver rattle at the birth of his son.

Vivien Leigh

The “ghost” of Scarlett  followed Vivien the rest of her life. All of her film performances were compared to that iconic role and even when she died nearly thirty years later, some headlines proclaimed “Scarlett O’Hara Dead!”

When comparing herself to Scarlett, Vivien mused:

I hope I have one thing that Scarlett never had–a sense of humor. I want some joy out of life. She never knew what joy was, except when she was very young.

And she had one thing that I hope I never have–selfish, blind egotism. I understand that that’s something people sometimes get in Hollywood. I’m watching out for it.

Scarlett was a fascinating person, no matter what she did. But she was never a great person. She was too petty, too self-centered. She could never consider another person, for that person’s sake. She promised Ashley that she would look out for Melanie. But she didn’t make that promise for Melanie’s good. She made it as part of her scheme to win back Ashley’s love.

In many ways, she wasn’t a very admirable person. But one thing about her was admirable–her courage. She had more than I’ll ever have.

I am not so sure of that, Miss Leigh…

This post is part of the Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Appreciation Blogathan. Visit vivandlarry.com to see all the posts!

From March 1940:

Talk of Hollywood, recently, is how much luck the girls who did NOT get the Scarlett O’Hara role in Gone with the Wind had!

Of course, Vivien Leigh was the “lucky” one who got the part. But look at the others–

Bette Davis did Jezebel instead and won an Academy Oscar; Norma Shearer, in The Women, did such a swell job that she may get the next Award; Tallulah Bankhead, when she flopparooed on Scarlett, did the stage play that’s getting her international raves…ditto Katharine Hepburn, who also did NOT get the O’Hara plum, but who scored hugely behind the footlights in Philadelphia Story. And Susan Hayward, Paulette Goddard and Miriam Hopkins, who also went pfft on their O’Hara tests, are running tops in the Hollywood handicap in other films.

Margaret Tallichet was another Scarlett also-ran. But instead of getting a part-time role as the O’Hara, she got herself a full-time role as Mrs. Willie Wyler!

And Carole Lombard!–whee, without even being IN the picture, much less Scarlett O’Hara–Carole got Rhett Butler all for herself!!!

____

Today and tomorrow I am attending the festivities in Marietta, GA the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum is hosting to celebrate thne 75th anniversary of the novel! Details are here. I will have a full report!

We’ve reached 9,000 images in the gallery! Wahoo! New this week are screenshots from Men in White.