12 January 2014

Dear Mr. Cukor


"Gone With The Wind" (1939) is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The making of the film, however, was a long and complicated process. Apart from the long search for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara, there were also problems with the film's direction. Three directors worked on the project, with Victor Fleming being the main director (due to exhaustion, he was briefly replaced by Sam Wood).

The first director to work on the film was George Cukor. Hired by producer David O. Selznick in 1936, Cukor worked on pre-production for two years. Filming started in January 1939, but after only two weeks of filming Cukor was fired by Selznick and replaced by Fleming. It was rumoured that Clark Gable got Cukor fired. (Gable was afraid that Cukor, being a woman's director, would pay more attention to directing the women than him, and Cukor's homosexuality also made Gable uncomfortable.) Most likely, however, professional problems between Selznick and Cukor were the main reason for Cukor's dismissal. While Cukor complained about the script and Selznick's interference with his direction, Selznick complained about the filming moving too slowly. On 12 February 1939, Cukor was fired.

Left photo: George Cukor. Right: Cukor with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable on the set of "Gone with the wind"

Before filming started, Cukor spent a lot of time coaching Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland. After he was fired, the two actresses were both very upset and pleaded with Selznick to rehire him, but without success. I never knew this, but nearly everything Cukor had filmed was kept in the final picture. I think it's interesting to know that two of Vivien Leigh's best scenes were directed by Cukor (the scene in which Scarlett helps Melanie through labour, while dealing with a hysterical Prissy (Butterfly McQueen); and the scene where Scarlett kills the Yankee soldier). Vivien Leigh felt very comfortable with Cukor, and after he had gone, she had a hard time on the set (she couldn't get along with macho director Fleming). Off the set, Cukor kept working with Vivien and Olivia, secretly meeting with them (separate from each other) to rehearse their parts. Vivien's regular Sunday rehearsal with Cukor was reportedly her favourite part of the week.

The brief letter for this post was written by Vivien Leigh addressed to George Cukor, after he was fired by Selznick:


Source: bonhams / image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

Dear Mr. Cukor-

I, in fact all of us, found your wonderful direction such a great help in our work; & we have found ourselves unable to give our full attention, as it was in your case, to any director since.

Yours
Vivien Leigh

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