Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.
Looking for the Perfect 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.
She's Got Bette Davis Eyes...Or Not?
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.
Read More From Reelrundown
Davis was known not only for her acting skills, but her large, beautiful eyes, which prompted singer Kim Carnes to record her hit song "Bette Davis Eyes" in 1981.
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.
Lucille Ball Was on Her Knees
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.
Katharine Hepburn-Not 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 1940's biggest box office hits. The movie garnered the actress her third Oscar nomination, and in the following decades, she would 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-A Night In Bed 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 desperate to get her name on the Gone With The Wind cast list and was actively lobbying MGM studio execs to sign her up. She even went so far as to have Selznick stay the night in her Hollywood mansion so she could charm him into signing her.
"The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs in 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?'"
— Bette Davis
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: 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.
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!
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 apparently 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. However, it's entirely possible that since Selznick was so leery of signing either Bankhead or Goddard due to potentially bad publicity from their private lives, he might also have passed on Leigh. Her private life was full of turmoil, and she suffered from bipolar disease, nymphomania, and mental health issues. You can learn more about Vivien Leigh's private life here.
None-the-less, David O. Selznick stuck with his decision and the Gone With The Wind cast was complete.
Selznick Finds His Perfect Scarlett
Questions & Answers
Question: Did Hedy Lamarr audition for Scarlett O Hara?
Answer: I don't know if Lamarr actually auditioned or took a screen test for the role of Scarlett O'Hara, but she was one of the actresses being considered for the part. Several sources claim she was offered the role but turned it down. I can't find credible information to support this, however, Lamarr's resemblance to Vivien Leigh is remarkable.
Question: Is it true that Joan Bennett was also a main choice for Gone With the Wind?
Answer: This is true. She was one of the many actresses who auditioned for Selznick. Although she was at the top of the list with Paulette Goddard, Bennett didn't get the part (thanks to Vivien Leigh), but she went on to film "The Man in the Iron Mask" and got great reviews.
Question: The actress who played Mammy won which award and did her acting career benefit from the role?
Answer: Hattie indeed won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Whether it gave her career a boost or not is debatable. Her film career only lasted another 10 years or so, and she typically played a black maid. None-the-less, she was being paid good money for a black actor for that time, sometimes raking in $700 or more per week. She did have success on radio in the "Beulah" series and later played the role on TV. However, her TV career was cut short when health problems surfaced, and Hattie passed away in 1952.
Question: Did either Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn ever make actual screen tests for David O. Selznick, for the role of "Scarlett O'Hara?"
Answer: As far as my research shows, neither actress was actually invited to do a screen test. Their names came up apparently, largely due to their popularity in the 1930s, and their names were tossed around. But neither actress was filmed doing a screen test.
Question: Was Veronica Lake considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara?
Answer: Her name didn't show up in my research, however, hundreds of actresses were considered, so it's possible she was on the long list.
Question: Was Norma Shearer considered for Scarlett? What happened?
Answer: Yes. In fact, in the summer of 1938, some newspapers were reporting she had been selected by Selznick to play Scarlett, even though the casting hadn't been officially announced. Apparently, the public wasn't thrilled and let Selznick know with a flood of anti-Shearer letters. Shearer soon made a public statement that she was not interested in the role of Scarlett and of course, we now know it went to Vivien Leigh.
Question: Was Olivia DeHavilland originally aiming to get to the role of Scarlett O'Hara?
Answer: Not to my knowledge. Olivia pretty much had an early lock on the Melanie Hamilton role, although other actresses, such as Loretta Young, Janet Gaynor, and Joan Fontaine were considered early on for the role.
© 2016 Tim Anderson
Rupert17 on January 02, 2020:
Paulette Goddard could have done it, but Vivien Leigh was successful and no one can quibble with that.
It's a narrative shown on a grand scale, but not one of my favourite movies. I wonder if a remake will ever be done. Not in my time.
Kelly on July 06, 2019:
Nobody else could do it but Vivien Leigh
Tim Anderson (author) from Utah on May 08, 2019:
She was considered for the role, but for some unknown reason was never invited to take a screen test.
Michael zablocki on May 08, 2019:
Was Barbara Stanwick ever in the running forScarlet
Tim Anderson (author) from Utah on May 16, 2018:
Thank you Rachael! I agree and found a photo of Leigh I liked better! I appreciate your input!
Naomi Starlight from Illinois on May 16, 2018:
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.
Liz Cimino on March 25, 2018:
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.
Sonali Nag. I'm From India. on November 15, 2017:
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.