Let’s take a look at the stars of Gone with the Wind before they starred in their iconic roles 75 years ago…
Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara)
Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes)
Ann Rutherford (Carreen O’Hara)
Evelyn Keyes (Suellen O’Hara)
Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes)
Barbara O’Neill (Ellen O’Hara)
Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O’Hara)
and…a young Clark Gable (Rhett Butler)
Everyone has specific years in their lives where they look back and realize that that particular year was one of the most memorable of their entire lives. 1939 is being heralded quite a bit this year, as it is widely considered the best year for movies in history, with classics such as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dark Victory, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights, Beau Geste, Juarez, Stagecoach, etc.
Looking back, I don’t think that Clark Gable could deny that 1939 was indeed a special year for him, personally and professionally. Let’s have a look back at Clark’s life, 75 years ago….
January –After years and years of pre-production and speculation, talent searches and screen tests, Gone with the Wind finally began filming. Clark joined his co-stars for Technicolor tests on January 20. Filming began officially on January 26, but Clark’s first day on the set was January 31, to film the charity bazaar scene.
Idiot’s Delight, co-starring Norma Shearer, was released and did moderate box office.
March–On March 8, 1939, Clark’s second wife, Ria Franklin Gable, had finally had enough of being villianized in the press for holding onto her loveless marriage for dear life. And thanks to Clark’s contract for Gone with the Wind, she received the hefty lump sum of $300,000 she wanted in exchange for her marital status. So off to Reno she went and was granted a divorce.
On March 29, 1939, Clark Gable wed Carole Lombard in Kingman, Arizona. After four years together (perhaps longer), this was the marriage Hollywood was waiting for with breathless anticipation.
On March 30, after driving all night, Clark and Carole awoke to find hundreds of members of the press on the lawn of Carole’s Bel Air home. The adorable photos of the newlyweds, still in their wedding clothes, were taken that morning and their love still shines through in them to this day.
June–On June 27, the long and tedious production of Gone with the Wind came to an end. Clark and Vivien Leigh filmed the final scene of the picture, where Rhett walks out on Scarlett and leaves her with those iconic eight words.
July–In July, after months of renovating and decorating, Clark and Carole finally moved into what would eventually be both of their final residences, the ranch in Encino.
August–In August, Carole was entered the hospital to undergo an emergency appendectomy (some people say that in actuality she had suffered a miscarriage). Clark arranged to stay in the room next to hers so she wouldn’t be lonely.
September–In September, Clark reported to the set of his next picture, Strange Cargo, co-starring Joan Crawford. Their romance had long since fizzled and Joan had recently been named “box office poison” so she was re-teamed with Clark in the hopes of rekindling their onscreen chemistry. The production involved location shooting in Pismo Beach.
December–On December 12, Douglas Fairbanks died. Clark had considered him a friend and him and Carole drove out to his home to pay their respects to his widow, Sylvia Ashley, who would become the fourth Mrs. Gable in ten years time.
On December 14, Clark and Carole arrived in Atlanta for the world premiere of Gone with the Wind. They rode through downtown Atlanta in a huge parade before hundreds of people, spoke a few words, and retired to their suite at the Georgian Terrace Hotel to change, before attending the ball at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.
On December 15, Clark and Carole attended a press luncheon, took a tour of the Cyclorama and visited the governor’s mansion. at 8:15pm, they were front and center at Loew’s Grand Theater for the premiere of the film.
December 25 was the newlyweds’ first Christmas in their new home. She gave Clark white silk pajamas and a matching robe; he gifted her a heart-shaped ruby necklace.
On December 27, Clark and Carole were back in their finest duds to attend the Hollywood premiere of GWTW at the Carthay Circle Theater.
From July 1937:
The whole MGM commissary was agog the other noon when the luscious Carole Lombard dropped over for lunch with Clark Gable. And we understand that it was none other than little Missy Lombard who’s responsible for those twenty pounds Clark dropped after completing work on “Parnell.” Seems the studio had been after him to lose weight for months, but it took the iron-hand of Carole to get him to be serious about the situation. And as Gracie Allen would say, he certainly looks beautiful!
This is one heartwarming story from the set of Gone with the Wind. Lenny Bluett, a young black man playing an extra in the film, was distraught over discovering that the port-a-potties on the set were labeled for White and Colored. He brought to the attention of Clark Gable, who had a few choice words for Vic Fleming and the property manager…
I just love that video.
Clark was far from perfect (who is?) but it ruffles my feathers when I have heard people call him racist (don’t even get me started on Marcella Rabwin’s book!!!). I have no idea where that came from, but he was in no way racist. He and Hattie McDaniel were very fond of each other; in fact one of the reasons he didn’t want to attend the premiere of GWTW in Atlanta was that Hattie couldn’t go because of segregation.
Lenny is still with us, at 95 years of age!
Many people over the years have seen the above photo of Clark clutching hands and beaming at this random brunette woman in Atlanta and wondered, WHO is that incredibly lucky girl?
The answer is…Mildred Hartsfield.
William B. Hartsfield was the 49th Mayor of the city of Atlanta (and yes, that airport you transfer in everytime you fly Delta is named after him). He was mayor from 1937-1962, the longest tenure of any Atlanta mayor. He was in full support of hosting the premiere of Gone with the Wind , seeing it as an oppurtunity to show off his fine city to the world and therefore pulled out all the stops. He declared the day of the premiere (December 15, 1939) a holiday and gave city workers the day off. Hartsfield’s date to the three-day extravaganza was his starstruck 20 year-old daughter, Mildred.
Mildred was the envy of millions of swooning fans when she was given the honor of sitting next to, and constantly conversing with, Clark Gable. I constantly see photos of her and Clark mislabeled as other women, but it is indeed lucky Mildred! She definitely seems enamoured with Clark! Who can blame her…
Mildred passed away on February 16, 2012, at the age of 92. As for what she was whispering to Clark, we can only guess…
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.
From June 1937:
During the preparation for the last three pictures he’s appeared in, Clark Gable has been sitting in on all story conferences. Studio executives feel he is a real help in working out details for baffling situations and more than welcome his presence. In fact, Anita Loos, who has been working on “Saratoga,” insists Clark has one of the best story minds in Hollywood.
A short little interview with Vivien Leigh from November 1939:
When David O’ Selznick shortly releases Margaret Mitchell’s famous story, “Gone with the Wind,” a little English girl, born in India, will be under the guns of Hollywood. For the comparative newcomer, Vivien Leigh, landed the role every actress in the movie colony longed to play. Is Miss Leigh, the Scarlett O’Hara of the film, afraid?
“Why afraid?” returns Miss Leigh coolly. “All that talk of hundreds of actresses trying for the part was publicity, a lot of it on the part of other studios. Actually less than a dozen made tests. Norma Shearer, who had considered the part, sent me a swell letter of congratulation after I was chosen.
“I got the role by chance. I came over from London to spend a single week in the Hollywood colony. One nighty I went to a party at Myron Selznick’s home. He suggested that we go over to his brother’s studio to watch the mimic burning of Richmond. Although they had not cast the principal roles, they were shooting some of the spectacular scenes. While we stood by, Myron Selznick said jokingly, “’How about a test for Scarlett?’ I took the test next day and got the part. I started in January, worked twenty-two weeks straight with only five free days. I hardly saw anything of Hollywood. I was too tired after work to go about, and I slept through the free days.
The film carries Scarlett from the age of sixteen to twenty-eight. It was easy to look the part until about June. I’m twenty-two but even so the strain began to show then. I felt a million years old. I’d say to myself, ‘Now, can I look twenty-eight?’ and worry.
“It isn’t as hard as you would think for an English girl to play a Dixie heroine. We English often drop our r’s and we talk in a lackadaisical way. The dialect came easy. Indeed, the director would tell me every now and then, ‘Not too Southern, Viven!’ And those rumored quarrels with Clark Gable who played Rhett Butler. We finally came to joke about the reports. We’d say when we’d meet in the morning, ‘What’ll we quarrel about today?’”
Still, in spite of all her confidence, Miss Leigh is on the firing line—or will be, now that “Gone with the Wind” is to be released. The part will make or break her.
Although she has the most coveted role in years, Miss Leigh still is unknown. She went about New York recently unrecognized, even toured the World’s Fair unobserved. It will be different after the release of the picture. She will be a name and a face then, I trust.
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