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

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

Vivien Leigh was chasing a married man in Gone with the Wind.  Although she never landed in bed with Ashley Wilkes in the movie, off-screen she carried on many torrid love affairs.

Vivien Leigh was chasing a married man in Gone with the Wind. Although she never landed in bed with Ashley Wilkes in the movie, off-screen she carried on many torrid love affairs.

Gone With The Wind: The King of Seduction and The Nymphomaniac

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 two major stars 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.

People Paid Big Money to "Spend Time" With Rhett and Scarlett

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. The movie won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh certainly heated up the big screen as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, and their private lives were no different.

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

Clark Gable as the lovable rogue Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind."

Clark Gable as the lovable rogue Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind."

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?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which of the following four statements about Gable is NOT true?
    • Clark Gable was Adolf Hitler's favorite actor.
    • Gable had false teeth.
    • His birth certificate mistakenly listed his sex as female.
    • He once got lost in the Amazon while making a movie.

Answer Key

  1. He once got lost in the Amazon while making a movie.
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 on her wedding day in 1932 to a barrister named Leigh Holman.  They would have one child, a daughter, whom they named Suzanne.  The couple divorced in 1940 and Leigh immediately wed actor Laurence Olivier.

Vivien Leigh on her wedding day in 1932 to a barrister named Leigh Holman. They would have one child, a daughter, whom they named Suzanne. The couple divorced in 1940 and Leigh immediately wed actor Laurence Olivier.

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 secluded in a hotel room. The couple would stay in their suite, live on room service, and make continuous, passionate love before she returned to the set.

Vivien Leigh and the love-of-her-life Sir Laurence Olivier began an affair in 1937.  Both were married, but their spouses refused to grant divorces, so the couple quietly began living together.

Vivien Leigh and the love-of-her-life Sir Laurence Olivier began an affair in 1937. Both were married, but their spouses refused to grant divorces, so the couple quietly began living together.

"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.

Vivien Leigh was the perfect Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," and won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal.

Vivien Leigh was the perfect Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," and won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal.

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 disorder.

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. She also goes into Leigh's sometimes shocking and scandalous sexual activities which were largely hidden from the public during Leigh's lifetime.

If you're a fan of Vivien Leigh, please fasten your seatbelts!

This is one great read I recommend for your library.

Hollywood's Most Beautiful Women.

Questions & Answers

Question: Did Vivien Leigh like Leslie Howard in the movie "Gone With the Wind"?

Answer: While in the movie Vivien Leigh's character is madly in love with Leslie Howard's character, Ashley Wilkes, they maintained a professional relationship off-set. Both had lovers at the time. Howard reportedly hated played the milk toast character of Ashley.

Question: Did Vivian Leigh like Clark Gable ?

Answer: 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.

Question: Who did Vivien Leigh sleep with apart from Peter Finch?

Answer: A book was published some years back claiming Leigh was bisexual and had a number of lesbian affairs. However, this isn't well documented. What is known is that she occasionally had affairs with her leading men, not only Peter Finch, as mentioned in the article, but with Marlon Brando, and Rex Harrison as well. Other biographers have reported she also had regular flings with non-actor younger men.

Question: I have seen the list of actresses considered for Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. Was Heddy Lamarr not on because of her accent?

Answer: There are one or two unsubstantiated reports that Lamarr was offered the role of Scarlett O'Hara, but these are poorly documented and based on hearsay. Almost every actress in Hollywood wanted the role, and to my knowledge, only Vivien Leigh was actually offered (and accepted) the part.

Question: What jobs did Vivien Leigh have?

Answer: Even in her youth, Vivien pretty much worked in entertainment, doing occasional modeling and sometimes getting small parts in films. Her parents were relatively well-to-do, and the young lass didn't need to work.

Question: Was Maureen O'Hara ever considered for Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind"? The looks, the name, the redhead temper, and age all fit.

Answer: Maureen was just starting her career at the time and only had two small movie parts on her resume, so she wasn't well-known at the time and wasn't considered. However, when "Gone with the Wind" was being filmed, O'Hara was also filming her third film, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Charles Laughton. Her role as Esmeralda made her a star and she went on to a long and successful movie career.

© 2017 Tim Anderson

Comments

Jeanmarazis on June 20, 2020:

Last night June 2020 I watched Gone with the wind for the 10th time and l loved it every bit as much as ever to me it is the best film ever .....

That was how it was at that time and every one played a perfect

part Black,brown,brindle, or white .and without them all this film couldn’t have been made.

Tim Anderson (author) from Utah on June 11, 2020:

Yes Stephen. I agree. I always have enjoyed seeing the respectful relationship in the movie between Rhett and Mammy.

Stephen on June 11, 2020:

Very interesting, it is a shame that gone with the wind is being shelved as a piece of history... People should learn and get a historical perspective onhow it was produced In those biased times...I like how Clark gable was a pathfinder in desegregating the set but nobody will ever know that because of 2020 politics...we just erase history.