Daily Archives: December 15, 2014

“As God is My Witness . . .”

First up this morning, Donna Huffer and Bob Parker showed up for their goodbye hugs before they headed out for Rockport down south. Looks like we’ll catch up with them again in Tucson at the Escapade the first part of next March.

A little while after that, Jan and I left on our 85 mile Austin roadtrip about 10am, heading for the Gone With The Wind exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center located on the University of Texas campus. But our first stop was the big Buc-ee’s in Bastrop for breakfast kolaches, coffee, and a bathroom break. We got to the Harry Ransom Center a little before noon, and luckily found parking about a block away.

The exhibit which filled a number of rooms, and consisted mainly of photos, telegrams, and letters, to and from studio executives, actors, attorneys, and censors. You follow the story from the book’s publication in June of 1936 though the film’s debut in December 1939.

David O. Selznick bought the rights for $50,000, the most ever paid for film rights at that time, and spent the next 3 years trying to get the movie made. While he was trying to raise the money, he was also trying to find his ‘Scarlett’, which proved a much more daunting task than Selznick originally thought. Over 1400 actresses around the country were auditioned, both known and unknown. Some of the known were Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, Norma Shearer, Miriam Hopkins, and Katherine Hepburn. The problem with many of these established actresses was their age. Scarlett is 16 at the beginning of the movie and 28 at the end, and a lot of these women were in the 30’s, and would have a problem playing  a 16 year old girl.

But in the end, it all came down to 4 finalists: Paulette Goddard, Jean Arthur, Joan Bennett, and Vivian Leigh. Paulette Goddard was actually Selznick’s first choice, but Goddard was pretty openly living with Charlie Chaplin at the time, and Selznick was afraid of the bad publicity.

As it turns out, the eventual choice, Vivian Leigh, was a dark horse, last minute candidate. Although Selznick had known about her for over a year, she was already signed to other projects and wasn’t available. Then in the last 48 hours, her other movie fell through, and she was available. So she got the role.

Strangely enough though, two complete unknowns were offered the part of Scarlett O’Hara earlier. Both girls, found in the auditions done around the country, turned the role down. One of them, Adele ‘Billie’ Longmire, from New Orleans, was offered the role in 1938, when she was 19. But her parents would not let her go to New York for a final screen-test and contract signing. Plus she objected to the long-term contract she was offered, as did the second girl.

Longmire went on to make a number of movies with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, a lot of TV from The Long Ranger to I Love Lucy, and was well-known enough at the time to have been profiled on This Is Your Life in 1953.

One funny thing about the casting of Vivian Leigh, was that a number of Southern groups and associations were insisting that a southern girl be cast as Scarlett. One organization, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was particularly insistent. But when Leigh, who was from England, was cast, they said that was OK, just as long as it wasn’t some ‘Yankee’.

Jan and I spent a lot of time reading through all the correspondence covering the walls, and two things stood out from this.

One was the fact that telegrams were apparently the email of the time. I counted as many as eight back-and-forth telegram conversations between Hollywood and New York in one day. Some of them less than one hour apart. This was when some guy on a bike would show up at your door with the telegram, you’d read it, write down your answer, and he would take it back to the office to be sent. And then the same on the other end.

Second was the content of some of the studio letters and telegrams. I’m sure you’ve read lately about the North Korean’s hacking Sony and releasing the the emails between studio executives, revealing the many ‘snarky’ conversations about actors, actresses, and other executives.

Well it was exactly the same back in the 1930’s. Actresses were called ‘mental midgets’, actors were ‘drunks’ and ‘lechers, and other executives were ‘liars’ and ‘adulterers’. And that was just the nice things they said.

People never change.

Another interesting part of the exhibit were the letters from the ‘Hays” board censors listing the things that should be taken out of the script. I had always heard there was a lot of controversy about the ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ line, but I did not find anything in the letters about that iconic line. Instead there were a number of complaints about the childbirth scenes and the wounded soldiers, but I was surprised to find out that the censors had a problem with Scarlett’s ‘As God is my witness’ line and wanted it taken out.. Obviously, they didn’t get their way.

The other part of the exhibit was a number of the actual dresses worn by Vivian Leigh in the movie.

GTTW Purple Dish 1

Very elegant

This one was the dress that Scarlett wore for her first wedding at the age of 16.

GTTW Beige Dress 1

I’m sorry, but this one is just ugly.

This one was a robe Scarlett wore while sitting out on the porch.

GTTW Black and Purple Robe 1

One thing unusual about this one was the colors. When looking at the dress on exhibit, you really can’t see much difference between the fur and the dress, just a little when the light is right. But the camera (no flash) sees the dark purple part of the robe completely different.

And, of course, no GWTW dress exhibit could be complete with the iconic ‘Curtains’ dress.

GTTW Curtain Dress 1

This dress, made by Scarlett and Mammy from the curtains left in Tara’s shambles, showcased Scarlett’s indomitable will as she wears it to plead with Rhett Butler for the $300 she needs to pay the taxes on Tara.

And, of course, you can’t talk about the GWTW ‘curtains’ dress without mentioning Carol Burnett’s version in ‘Went with the Wind’.


Carole thought it looked better with the curtain rod still attached.


Thought for the Day:

Five things you probably didn’t know about Gone with the Wind:

1. Scarlett was originally named ‘Pansy’.

2. Tara was originally called Fountenoy Hall.

3. Margaret Mitchell, GWTW’s author, was a cousin by marriage to ‘Doc’ Holiday, the gunslinger (and sometimes dentist).

4. The original title of GWTW was “Tomorrow is Another Day”, the last line of the book.

5. Margaret Mitchell was hit and killed by a drunk driver in Atlanta in 1949 as she crossed Peachtree Street.