Clark Gable & Vivien Leigh: Sex Scandals and the Stars of "Gone With the Wind"

Updated on October 4, 2018
Timothy Anderson profile image

Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.

Vivien Leigh won an Oscar playing Scarlett O'Hara.  Off camera, her sexual hijinks might well have won her a second Oscar in the "Hollywood Hottie" category.
Vivien Leigh won an Oscar playing Scarlett O'Hara. Off camera, her sexual hijinks might well have won her a second Oscar in the "Hollywood Hottie" category.

Gone With The Wind: Secrets of the Stars

One of the reasons the Gone With The Wind movie enjoyed such overwhelming success is due to the fact that all of the main characters were perfect for their roles.

Producer David O. Selznick considered hundreds of women for the part of Scarlett O'Hara before settling on a relatively unknown British actress named Vivien Leigh.

Teamed with handsome leading men Clark Gable and Leslie Howard, and actress Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh and her co-stars achieved a certain degree of celebrity status and fan worship only a few entertainers can even imagine.

But off-screen their lives were anything but idyllic, and here are some of the inside stories of the affairs, sex scandals, and secrets of the men and women who starred in Gone With The Wind.

The Movie Everybody Loves

Off-screen, the Gone With The Wind cast members were some of Hollywood's most daring and sexually active movie stars.
Off-screen, the Gone With The Wind cast members were some of Hollywood's most daring and sexually active movie stars.

The Highest-Grossing Film of All Time

The 1939 cinematic classic Gone With The Wind movie holds the record as the most financially successful movie ever made when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation.

Filmed at a cost of $3.9 million, this classic tale of an ill-fated romance during the American Civil War has earned an astounding $1,700,000,000 in current dollars, easily outpacing runners-up Star Wars and The Sound of Music.

But for all its emphasis on southern charm and social correctness for that era, the fact is many of its major stars were living scandalous lives off screen.

Here is the lowdown on some of the hi-jinks of the stars of Gone With The Wind.

Clark Gable as Rhett Butler
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler

Clark Gable - The King of Hollywood And His Many Queens

After his Oscar-winning performance in 1934's It Happened One Night, where he had some racy scenes with actress Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable was soon being called "The King of Hollywood." He was the hottest actor in Tinseltown and Clark Gable movies were making M-G-M a lot of money. Although married, the big screen's new super-stud had been bedding down Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, and a bevy of young starlets. Gable allegedly had a huge sexual appetite and when he wasn't shaking the sheets with his female co-stars, he occasionally enjoyed the company of high-class call girls.

“I hate a liar. Maybe because I'm such a good one myself..."

— Clark Gable

A year after winning his Academy Award, he was filming The Call of the Wild. During shooting, the 34-year-old Gable had an affair with 22-year-old Loretta Young. Later reports would say he forced himself on her, but she never acknowledged this, only admitting to a "brief" affair. Whatever the case, Young soon found she was pregnant with Gable's love child and took off for England before returning secretly to her mother's house in Venice, California to give birth to their daughter Judy. As an infant the girl was known simply as "Judy Young," but after mother Loretta married businessman Tom Lewis in 1940 she took her stepfather's surname and for the rest of her life was called Judy Lewis.

Gable never acknowledged the child as his daughter.

After filming 1935's The Call of the Wild, Clark Gable and Loretta Young will have a secret love child.
After filming 1935's The Call of the Wild, Clark Gable and Loretta Young will have a secret love child.

In 1939, having divorced his second wife, Gable shot to even higher stardom after playing the roguish Rhett Butler in the film many consider the greatest of all time, Gone With The Wind. He'd now been bedding actress Carole Lombard and surprised his many friends when he took a break from filming and slipped off to Kingman, Arizona where the two were married.

Sadly, this third marriage would only last three years, ending with Lombard's untimely death in a 1942 airplane accident near Las Vegas. Gable was shattered and joined the Army Air Force to escape his pain, but at the war's end, he was back to his old habits, romancing and bedding some of Hollywood's loveliest ladies. His list of "conquests" allegedly grew to eventually include stars like Paulette Goddard, Ann Sothern, Grace Kelly, Virginia Grey, Mamie Van Doren, Ava Gardner and Gone With The Wind movie co-star Evelyn Keyes.

Ironically one of his few co-stars he didn't bed was Vivien "Scarlett O'Hara" Leigh, who had been seeing married British star Laurence Olivier. She will later claim Gable made a clumsy attempt at seduction, but that she rebuffed his unwanted advances.

Clark Gable married two more times before dying of a heart attack at age 59. He had one son, John Clark Gable with his fourth and last wife, Kay Williams.

In 1999, and the American Film Institute has named him the seventh-greatest male star in classic American cinema.

How Well Do You Know Clark Gable?

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Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara

Vivien Leigh -- Sex and Scarlett O'Hara

When it comes to describing Vivien Leigh's off-screen sex life, perhaps the one word that fits best is "insatiable."

In 1932, while working as an up-and-coming actress in England, the British beauty married a barrister named Herbert Leigh Holman. He was 13 years older than his 19-year-old bride, and the following year they had a daughter, Suzanne. But married life didn't sit well with the young mother and rising star and in 1936 she began an affair with another married actor, Laurence Olivier. It started when Leigh attended one of his stage performances and afterwards went to his dressing room to profess her admiration. She began flirting with him, and ended up kissing him on his neck as he left the room to escape her advances. But Olivier couldn't resist the young beauty, and a passionate love affair soon began.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton Woman.
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton Woman.

The affair was still going strong and Vivien was still married to her first husband when producer David O. Selznick offered her the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara after a long and exhausting search. She quickly accepted the part and Olivier would often join her on-set. If you'd like to know the names of some of the Hollywood actresses Leigh beat out for the Scarlett O'Hara role, click here.

Of all the principal actors and actresses in the Gone With The Wind cast, Vivien Leigh shouldered the greatest responsibility. She would spend over 120 days filming Gone With The Wind, whereas Gable logged a little over 70. Some days the actress spent 18 hours on the set and when she had a rare weekend off, she and Olivier enjoyed spending entire weekends in secluded in a hotel room. The couple would stay secluded, live on room service, and make continuous, passionate love before she returned to the set.

"You know the passage where Scarlett voices her happiness that her mother is dead, so that she can't see what a bad girl Scarlett has become? Well, that's me..."

— Vivien Leigh

In early 1940, both divorced their spouses and married later that summer, but even the great Laurence Olivier soon found he couldn't keep Vivien happy. Soon she was seeing other men and Olivier would later state that satisfying her sexually would eventually become burdensome. Leigh would fulfill her sexual needs with many other lovers, including celebrated actor Peter Finch who was a close friend of her husband's. Some biographers have labeled her as a true nymphomaniac.

Leigh, who many experts now believed was bipolar, would continue with her wanton ways right up until her death in 1967, her list of bed mates as long as Clark Gable's. Lover Peter Finch would say after her death, that sex was a "sickness" with the one-time Scarlett O'Hara, a stimulant as powerful and addictive as any drug.

The list of Vivien Leigh movies and roles grew substantially after Gone With The Wind, but American film lovers will always remember her as Scarlett O'Hara.

During my research on the life of Vivien Leigh, one of the books I found most helpful is the highly rated Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Anne Edwards. The author does a great job of helping us to better understand a very complex woman and her struggles with fame and stardom while battling depression and bipolar disease. I particularly was impressed with Edwards' ability to help the reader understand Leigh's obsession with Sir Laurence Olivier, and how she dealt with his ending their tumultuous 20-year marriage. If you're a fan of Vivien Leigh, this is one great read I recommend for your library.

Hollywood's Most Beautiful Women.

Vivien Leigh was considered one of Hollywood's most beautiful women. Which of the following actresses would be YOUR choice?

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Olivia de Havilland as Melanie
Olivia de Havilland as Melanie

Olivia de Havilland -- One of Howard Hughes' Ladies

Compared to her Gone With The Wind movie co-stars Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland who played Melanie was relatively prudish. In the Gone With The Wind book, Melanie was the sweet and innocent "goody-goody" girl. In real life, the same could pretty much be said of Olivia de Havilland.

That doesn't mean she was entirely an angel. Lots of rumors swirled during her eight movies with handsome sex symbol and leading man Errol Flynn over the years. Their on-screen chemistry was undeniable, but she always maintained that while the attraction was always there, there was no love affair in private. Still, Olivia was seeing some of Hollywood's most desirable men -- some married, some not, including the notorious womanizer Howard Hughes.

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood.

In 1939 when Gone With The Wind was released, Olivia had been dating actor Jimmy Stewart who accompanied her to the 1939 New York City premiere of Gone With The Wind. They would continue romancing right up until early 1941 when patriotic Stewart enlisted in the military just months before Pearl Harbor.

So that ended that.

However, the attractive Olivia wouldn't be alone for long. Later that year when she appeared on set for the first day of filming 1942's In This Our Life with Bette Davis, de Havilland immediately found herself attracted to the writer and director of the movie -- a talented and rising actor and director named John Huston. Although married at the time, Huston was a notorious ladies' man and Olivia was caught up in her emotions. Soon the pair engaged in a lustful and passionate love affair which would run hot-and-cold through the war years.

In 1945, while attending a party at David O. Selznick's home, John Huston and Errol Flynn would become involved in one of Hollywood's most famous off-camera fistfights. Both men had been drinking. Huston and de Havilland had split up and when Huston heard Flynn say something he thought impugned de Havilland's integrity, he challenged Flynn to a fight. Reports have it that the brawl lasted nearly an hour, and that Flynn got the better part of Huston, knocking him repeatedly to the ground.

Olivia, by now, had moved on from her earlier romances and in 1946 she married her first husband, Hollywood screenwriter Marcus Goodrich.

Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes
Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Leslie Howard and His True Love

In Gone With The Wind, British actor Leslie Howard played the role of virtuous Ashley Wilkes who was married to Melanie and fending off the amorous advances of Scarlett.

Off-screen, Howard was nothing like the man of high integrity he played in the movie. Although he'd been married to Ruth Evelyn Martin since 1916, Howard had a reputation as a ladies' man, and rumors circulated over the years suggesting he'd enjoyed the intimate company of various actresses, including Myrna Loy, Norma Shearer, Merle Oberon, Conchita Montenegro, and Tallulah Bankhead.

Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy had a steamy Hollywood affair in the early 1930s.
Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy had a steamy Hollywood affair in the early 1930s.

The affair with Bankhead is curious since she was active in the New York City lesbian underground. The pair allegedly began hooking up in 1927 when they were both appearing on the London stage in Her Cardboard Lover. Howard's affair with Montenegro began in 1931 when the couple starred in Never the Twain Shall Meet. And it was just a few years later when his affair with the exotic Merle Oberon began when the pair were filming The Scarlet Pimpernel.

But Howard's most serious love affair began in 1938 just before the filming began for Gone With The Wind. The actor had met a young 27-year-old French woman named Violette Cunnington while filming Pygmalion. Cunnington was the film producer's secretary and Howard soon convinced her to become not only his own personal secretary, but his lover as well. So when Howard came to California to shoot Gone With The Wind, Cunnington was with him and the pair secretly lived together while Howard's wife Ruth and daughter were back in England.

Cunnington may well have been Leslie Howard's true love. The actor was able to get his mistress a few roles in his films "Pimpernel" Smith and The First of the Few. To keep a low profile, Cunnington used the stage name Suzanne Clair and not her real name. This serious love affair continued until her sudden death from pneumonia in November 1942. She was just 42.

Howard went into a serious depression before tragically dying himself six months later when his plane was shot down in June 1943 by World War II German fighter planes over the English Channel.

In his will, it was discovered that Leslie Howard had left his Beverly Hills mansion to his recently deceased lover, not having enough time to make changes before his own untimely death.

Hattie McDaniel as Mammy with Melanie and Scarlett.
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy with Melanie and Scarlett.

Hattie McDaniel -- Mammy and Her "Sewing Circle" Girlfriends

Hattie McDaniel had one of the most famous roles ever by a black actor or actress when she played "Mammy" in Gone With The Wind, and was the first black actress actor to win a coveted Academy Award Oscar. She was also the first black woman to sing on radio in the United States.

The list of Gone With The Wind cast members simply had to include the lovable Mammy played by the black actress who was born for the part.

Hattie was born to former slaves in Wichita, Kansas in 1895 and her first movie role was playing a maid in a Zane Grey western, 1932's The Golden West. Her next film was with Mae West in 1933's I'm No Angel. Thus began a busy career in Tinseltown where she appeared in dozens of movies with some of Hollywood's most popular stars, including Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy to name a few.

Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award Oscar.
Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award Oscar.

Often criticized by the black community for playing maids in her films, McDaniel, who was making $3,000 a month or more during the Depression, would reply "Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week being one."

McDaniel would be married four times, but none of them lasted more than a few years. Some film historians say McDanield was bisexual and a member of the secretive Sewing Circle, a group of Hollywood lesbians and bisexual actresses who often met at the house of actress Dolores Del Rio. The club's members allegedly included Agnes Moorehead, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, and Tallulah Bankhead who were all either bisexual or lesbian. McDaniel, it has been reported, had an affair with Bankhead. Some of these women, including Hattie were in "lavender marriages" which appeared normal to the public, but privately they had same sex lovers.

When she died at age 57 from breast cancer in 1952, McDaniel was single, having divorced her fourth husband in 1950 after a scant year of marriage.

How Well Do You Know Hattie?

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Questions & Answers

  • Did Vivian Leigh like Clark Gable ?

    They didn't socialize a lot. She had Laurence Olivier, and he had Carole Lombard as significant others at the time; both couples will marry after filming started. Years after completing the movie, she allegedly claimed that Gable came on to her one time early in production. It's also well known she once said she didn't enjoy kissing him. Whatever the case, their on-screen chemistry is undeniable, and one of the keys to the movie's sucess.

© 2017 Tim Anderson


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