30 November 2014

Casting Rhett Butler

Although the search for Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind" (1939) wasn't nearly as complicated as the search for Scarlett O'Hara, producer David O. Selznick still had a hard time finding his Rhett. Admittedly, Clark Gable was Selznick's first choice from the start, but since Gable was under exclusive contract to MGM, Selznick had to pay a lot of money to get him. Selznick therefore decided to look elsewhere and to try other options first. Gary Cooper was next on his list, but he was under contract to Samuel Goldwyn and Goldwyn refused to loan him out. So after months of trying to get Cooper for the role, Selznick had to let him go too. 

Another actor Selznick was seriously interested in was Errol Flynn. Flynn's studio (Warner Bros.) offered a whole package with Flynn, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in the leading roles, but the problem here was that Davis did not want to play opposite Flynn. So by mid-1938, Selznick --still empty-handed-- decided that Gable, who was also the public's favourite, was still the best choice and ultimately struck a deal with MGM to secure him. Incidentally, Gable did not want to play the role, but finally accepted when MGM's boss, Louis B. Mayer, offered him a bonus to pay for his divorce settlement. (Gable was married to Maria Franklin but having an affair with Carole Lombard, whom he married right after his divorce.)

Selznick's three choices for Rhett Butler: Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn.
On 4 January 1937, David Selznick sent the following memo to Daniel O'Shea, secretary of Selznick International Pictures, regarding his choices for the role of Rhett Butler. The memo shows that Selznick and GWTW's first director George Cukor had just added Errol Flynn to their short list.
_____________
TO: Mr. O'Shea 
SUBJECT:   
DATE  January 4, 1937
One of our strongest possibilities for the lead in "Gone With The Wind" is Erol [sic] Flynn.
Myron is going to determine from Warner Brothers whether they would give us a picture a year with Flynn, if we gave him this lead. Please follow him up on this. 
For your confidential information, Cukor and I jointly feel that the choice is in the following order: 1. Gable. 2. Gary Cooper. 3. Erol [sic] Flynn. This so you may guide yourself accordingly. 
dos:ew
Source: harry ransom center (click here for the original image)

Clark Gable with David O. Selznick and Louis B. Mayer (seated) at the contract signing in 1938 (left photo), and Gable reading Margaret Mitchell's novel.

Clark Gable was reluctant to accept the role of Rhett Butler, fearing he wouldn't be able to meet people's high expectations (especially in his emotional scenes). Well, he needn't have worried!


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