by Jennifer Uhlarik
I was sick for most of last week. Not so sick that I couldn’t function—but sick enough we ended up cancelling every group, meeting, and obligation we had on the calendar, and I did a rare thing for me. I sat on the couch and watched a long movie.
The movie of choice was the 1939 classic, Gone with the Wind, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. I’d seen it only one other time in my life, and that was at my sixteenth birthday party. A perpetual tomboy growing up, I was more into gangster movies like The Untouchables, but my dear mother suggested Gone with the Wind—and I agreed. I don’t recall being all that impressed with it back then, but in recent years, I’ve heard of people wanting to ban the movie because of its portrayal of slavery and the Old South, and in the last few weeks, I’ve seen several social media posts with interesting facts about the movie and its actors. So I thought I’d share some of the details I’ve learned—and which made me decide to watch it again.
First, many of you may be aware that Gone with the Wind is often known for one particular line, spoken at the end of the movie. The iconic scene where Rhett Butler utters the unforgettable words, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” made movie history for including the “vulgarism” (as it was called by producer David O. Selznick in his attempts to convince the film censors of its necessity). Unsure whether those censors would approve the word’s use, director Victor Fleming shot the scene two separate ways—with the iconic line we all know, and with the alternate, “Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care.” Whether or not we like the line, I think we can all agree the alternate option lacks the punch to push Rhett’s resignation over the finish line. I have read that Selznick was fined $5,000 for the word’s inclusion in the finished product, although other sources I read debate the validity of that statement. And another interesting fact about this scene…the anniversary of the day it was filmed comes in two days—June 27—and will mark eighty four years it has been moving audiences to feel for both Rhett and Scarlett.
Another interesting fact I learned was that leading lady Vivien Leigh wasn’t cast in the part of Scarlett O’Hara until after filming had already begun. As legend has it, Leigh had come from her home in England to California and stopped by Selznick International Studios to meet her agent, Myron Selznick, who happened to be the brother of producer David O. Selznick. It is said she finagled an introduction to her agent’s brother as they were filming the “burning of Atlanta” scene—one of the earliest ones done in the making of the movie. David Selznick supposedly was impressed enough with Vivien Leigh in that momentary meeting that he asked her to immediately read for the part of Scarlett.
In total, there were thirty-two actresses who did screen tests for Scarlett O’Hara. The four finalists were Joan Bennett, Jean Arthur, Paulette Goddard, and Vivien Leigh. (If you would like to see the video of those screen tests, look here.) You might think that with Vivien Leigh winning the part, it was smooth sailing from there on for her as Scarlett. Not so. Apparently, many were quite upset that an Englishwoman would be cast for the role of the very Southern Scarlett. In fact, the Ocala, Florida chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy waged a war of letters against her for the part. Rumor has it, those letters—among many others—poured into Selznick’s office, with movie-goers threatening to skip the show if the part wasn’t recast with a true Southern woman playing O’Hara. However, Selznick gave excellent rebuttal to his choice of Vivien Leigh, written to then-entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan, and the letter campaign all but stopped when the Daughters of the Confederacy were told that Katherine Hepburn (a northerner) might get the part instead. They dropped their case, deciding it was better Scarlett be played by an Englishwoman than a Yankee. (I am unsure how true that final point is—but it is an entertaining thought, at least).
However, of the three directors, Vivien Leigh liked Fleming the least, and often disagreed with his take on the scenes. So in silent protest, she would carry a copy of Margaret Mitchell’s original work to the set and read it, making her opinion known that Mitchell’s work was better.
It’s Your Turn: Are you a fan of Gone with the Wind? Which of the facts I presented today was the most surprising to you?
Tune in next month for more facts about the movie and the actors that played in it.
Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies. www.jenniferuhlarik.com
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