Gone With The Wind: 8 Famous Movie Actresses Who Wanted to Be Scarlett O'Hara and Failed

Updated on June 27, 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.

The Gone With The Wind movie is considered by most critics to be one of Hollywood's greatest films.  The most important role was that of Scarlett O'Hara, and more than 1,000 actresses were considered for the part.
The Gone With The Wind movie is considered by most critics to be one of Hollywood's greatest films. The most important role was that of Scarlett O'Hara, and more than 1,000 actresses were considered for the part.

Looking for Scarlett O'Hara

Margaret Mitchell's best-selling civil war novel Gone With The Wind hit the bookstores in 1936. Hollywood producer David O. Selznick bought the movie rights for $50,000, and immediately began to put together a believable cast for the Gone With The Wind movie.

The Gone With The Wind actors had to be believable. After all, it was a period piece and the performers had to convince the audience they were from the Civil War-era South.

Handsome leading man Clark Gable had the role of Rhett Butler from the start. Ever since his Academy Award Oscar for Best Actor in 1934's It Happened One Night, almost any Clark Gable movie was guaranteed to be a big success.

Actress Olivia de Havilland was signed for the important role of Melanie, but the search for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara, the book's central character, would last for over two years. The Gone With The Wind book was one of the most successful novels ever published, and while Selznick had decided to take some liberties with telling the story on the big screen, he knew for the movie to be a success, he must choose the right actress.

Instinctively, he knew the success or failure of the picture would depend upon a believable Scarlett O'Hara. Selznick already knew he couldn't depend upon any reliable advice from Gone With The Wind's author, since Mitchell had once seriously suggested comedian Groucho Marx for the role of Rhett Butler.

Before the search finally came to an end, and without any input from Mitchell, over 100 actresses auditioned or were considered for the coveted role.

Here are some of the better-known names.

After a two-year search, Gone With The Wind's producer David O. Selznick finally found his Scarlett O'Hara with British actress Vivien Leigh, who will win the Best Actress Academy Award for her acting.
After a two-year search, Gone With The Wind's producer David O. Selznick finally found his Scarlett O'Hara with British actress Vivien Leigh, who will win the Best Actress Academy Award for her acting.

Who is Number Two?

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Bette Davis
Bette Davis

Bette Davis-America's Choice to Play Scarlett O'Hara

One of the favorites was actress Bette Davis who'd recently filmed 1938's Jezebel in which she played a precocious Southern belle. Davis won her second Academy Award for the movie and was now one of the most popular actresses in America. In the 1930s, Bette Davis movies were almost sure-bet winners with audiences.

Davis made no effort to hide the fact she desperately wanted the part. And adding to the pressure to hire her for the role was a nationwide radio poll that declared her the audience's favorite to play Scarlett.

Still, Selznick wasn't convinced she could pull it off, and turned down a deal with Warner Bros. that would "lend" Davis and actor Errol Flynn to Selznick and MGM, with Flynn playing Rhett Butler.

The setback didn't hurt Davis's career; she would go on to enjoy a lifetime of cinematic acclaim, and receive eight more Academy Award nominations (10 total) in the next five decades.

Bette Davis Movies

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Jean Harlow
Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow Never Got the Chance

Harlean Carpenter, better known as the 1930s super sex symbol Jean Harlow was an early consideration for the role of Scarlett.

The actress who claimed she never wore underwear, and always slept in the nude, had already starred with Clark Gable in six movies, including Red Dust and Saratoga, and their on-screen chemistry led to a passionate off-screen romance.

Harlow was, in the 1930s, what Marilyn Monroe was in the 1950s: a bonafide sex symbol, and almost all Jean Harlow movies made M-G-M money.

Sadly, any chance she may have had at appearing in the Gone With The Wind movie was lost when she died in 1937 from acute nephritis.

How Well Do You Know Jean Harlow?

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Lucille Ball in 1943
Lucille Ball in 1943

Lucille Ball-She Who Laughs Last, Laughs Best

Before she became America's favorite TV comedienne, young actress Lucille Ball enjoyed a reasonably successful career on the big screen. Like practically every other actress in Hollywood, she had read the Gone With The Wind book and imagined herself as the book's heroine, Scarlett O'Hara.

In her late 20s, Ball had begun her career in the early 1930s with a handful of bit parts and uncredited roles. But by the middle of the decade she began landing better roles and began to move up the career-success ladder, albeit in mostly "B" movies.

None-the-less, after learning of Selznick's search for his perfect Scarlett O'Hara, Ball went to Selznick's office and waited for him. Having been drenched in the rain outside, she was kneeling in front of his office fireplace trying to dry her hair.

Selznick had her read her lines while she was still kneeling and then quickly dismissed her. Lucy never forgot the slight, and several decades later after achieving fame and fortune with her "I Love Lucy" TV series, she bought Selznick Productions and moved into his office.

She and her "I Love Lucy" cast members would all go on to become television icons and beloved the world over.

Do You Know Lucy?

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Katharine Hepburn -- another Scarlett wannabe!
Katharine Hepburn -- another Scarlett wannabe!

Katharine Hepburn-Was She Sexy Enough for the Scarlett Role?

In the Gone With The Wind book, Scarlett O'Hara had a strong and steely determination when it came down to facing life's many challenges. Selznick needed an actress who could portray that on the big screen. And Kate Hepburn was just the answer.

"I am Scarlett O'Hara," declared Katharine Hepburn when she approached David O. Selznick to audition for the role of Scarlett. Hepburn, now in her mid-30s, had already been nominated for two Best Actress Academy Awards, winning in 1934 for Morning Glory.

As the story goes, Selznick was none-the-less unimpressed and is reported to have responded to her audition by saying, "I can't image Rhett Butler chasing you for twelve years." Ouch!

Unfazed by the rejection, Hepburn filmed The Philadelphia Story with Jimmy Stewart, and it was one of 1940s biggest box office hits. The movie garnered the actress her third Oscar nomination, and in the following decades she will be nominated nine more times for a Best Actress Academy Award, and win three times, giving her a total of five Best Actress Oscars in twelve attempts.

Today, Hepburn is regarded as one of the most accomplished actresses in cinematic history, and many Katharine Hepburn movies show up regularly on late-night TV.

Joan Crawford - Clark Gable's Off-Screen Lover!
Joan Crawford - Clark Gable's Off-Screen Lover!

Joan Crawford-A Night With Selznick Didn't Convince Him

Gone With The Wind movie producer David O. Selznick had recently worked with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford on the film, Dancing Lady, and noticed the chemistry between them. It was a chemistry that led to a long-time love affair between the two actors, and it's been reported that when Gable's then-wife actress Carole Lombard died in a 1942 airplane crash in Nevada, Gable was in bed with Crawford when the phone rang to give him the bad news.

Crawford was lobbying studio execs over at MGM to give her the role, and even went so far as to have Selznick stay the night in her Hollywood mansion so she could charm him into signing her.

But her plan didn't work, and despite her close relationship with Clark Gable, Selznick wasn't convinced she was right for the role and she was soon added to the list of Scarlett O'Hara wannabes.

In 1978, a year after the movie icon's death, her adopted daughter, Christina Crawford, authored the book "Mommy Dearest," in which she detailed incidents not only of child abuse, but also allegations of sexual misbehavior and bi-sexualism.

The public has largely shrugged off these claims, and today Joan Crawford movies are still popular, and often replayed on classic movie channels.

Gable and Crawford: Chemistry On-Screen and Off!

Lana Turner missed her chance to star with Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind, but made up for it in 1941's Honky Tonk.
Lana Turner missed her chance to star with Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind, but made up for it in 1941's Honky Tonk.

Lana Turner-Could The Sweater Girl Play a Southern Belle?

In November 1938, a young blonde beauty named Lana Turner showed up to audition for GWTW producer David O. Selznick.

Turner was an up-and-coming Warner Bros. sex symbol. The "Sweater Girl" had caught the public's attention in Warner's 1937 film, They Won't Forget where she'd played a Southern beauty. Selznick had her audition in a scene where actor Melvyn Douglas played the part of Ashley Wilkes. However, Selznick was not impressed, saying her audition was "completely inadequate," and that the fledgling star was simply "too young to have a grasp of the part."

A few years after her rejection, Turner appeared in the 1941 horror-film classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and five years later would star in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Her one Academy Award nomination for Best Actress came in 1958's Peyton Place, but the Oscar went to Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve.

The five most financially successful Lana Turner movies were: 1) Peyton Place, 2) The Postman Always Rings Twice, 3) Imitation of Life, 4) Honky Tonk and 5) The Three Musketeers.

Carole Lombard -- Clark Gable's true love
Carole Lombard -- Clark Gable's true love

Even Boyfriend Clark Gable, the King of Hollywood, Couldn't Land Carole Lombard the Part

Like nearly every other actress in Hollywood, any Carole Lombard biography will tell you she longed to play Scarlett O'Hara. But she decided to try a different tack from her fellow actresses: rather than approach producer David O. Selznick, she sent actor Clark Gable a copy of the Gone With The Wind book, writing on the inside, "Let's do it! Carole."

The pair had starred together in 1932's No Man of Her Own, and they'd kept in touch. Gable took the gift as an invitation to hook up.

To make a long story short, Carole Lombard didn't get the part, and didn't even get asked to do a screen test. But in her eyes, she got the bigger prize: a torrid love affair soon ignited between the couple and in March 1939 the two were married in Kingman, Arizona.

Scarlett O'Hara could never tame Rhett Butler… but Carole Lombard did!

Had Vivien Leigh failed to impress producer David O. Selznick, actress Paulette Goddard may well have starred opposite Clark Gable as Scarlett O'Hara.
Had Vivien Leigh failed to impress producer David O. Selznick, actress Paulette Goddard may well have starred opposite Clark Gable as Scarlett O'Hara.

Paulette Goddard-Could Charlie Chaplin's Child Bride Convince America She Was Scarlett?

By all accounts, the role of Scarlett O'Hara would go to a favorite actress of Selznick: Paulette Goddard, the wife of silent screen comedian Charles Chaplin.

Selznick had anguished over who should get the coveted role, and by most accounts, had narrowed his choices down to two actresses: Tallulah Bankhead and Paulette Goddard. And Goddard desperately wanted to be added to the list of Gone With The Wind actors.

But Hollywood studios had started including "morality clauses" in their contracts which presented Selznick with a big problem: Bankhead was an active lesbian in Tinseltown circles, and Goddard couldn't prove she was officially married to Chaplin. The pair claimed they were married aboard a ship on a cruise to the Far East in 1936, but had no documents to back them up. Any type of bad publicity could sink Selznick's "ship," and after agonizing over who to pick, Selznick finally made his Scarlett choice after filming on the movie had actually begun.

It would be a relatively unknown British actress by the name of Vivien Leigh. And her acting was so convincing, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

David O. Selznick had finally found his Scarlett, and the Gone With The Wind cast was complete.

Selznick Finds His Perfect Scarlett

When the exhaustive search for Scarlett O'Hara was over, British actress Vivien Leigh won the role.
When the exhaustive search for Scarlett O'Hara was over, British actress Vivien Leigh won the role.

Actual Screen Tests for Gone With The Wind

Who would YOU have picked?

If Vivien Leigh hadn't played Scarlett O'Hara, who would YOU have picked?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Tim Anderson

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      • Timothy Anderson profile imageAUTHOR

        Tim Anderson 

        2 months ago from Utah

        Thank you Rachael! I agree and found a photo of Leigh I liked better! I appreciate your input!

      • RachaelLefler profile image

        Rachael Lefler 

        2 months ago from Illinois

        I'd have picked Joan Crawford because I would have been afraid of her. She's like the Hera of Hollywood. Not to be scorned. Lol.

        Also the picture of Leigh on the bottom looks a little distorted, you might want to swap it out for a better one.

      • profile image

        Liz Cimino 

        3 months ago

        There are certain movies that never seem to age. I cannot imagine anyone other than Vivien Leigh being Scarlett. Contrary to Margaret Mitchell's marvelous book which begins, "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful......" Vivien Leigh was gorgeous.

      • profile image

        Sonali Nag. I'm From India. 

        8 months ago

        In "Gone With The Wind", Role Of 'Scarlett O'Hara' Is Unique. She Is Very Sensual But When Crisis Occurs, She Can Become Very Efficient. Paulette Goddard Is Very Charming No Doubt But Scarlett O'Hara Is Very Different Type Of Role. Very Complicated Role. This Short Of Role Is Played By Katherine Hepburn If Vivien Leigh Didn't Play The Scarlett O'Hara's Role. Katherine Has Charms & Toughness. Only Charms & Seductions R Not Sufficient To Play Scarlett's Role In "Gone With The Wind". So I Consider Katherine Hepburn Is Perfect To Act Scarlett O'Hara's Role If Vivien Leigh Didn't Play Scarlett O'Hara In GWTW. Thanks.

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