8 June 2017

Miss Leigh seems to be the best qualified

In December 1938, a young unknown British actress named Vivien Leigh visited the set of Gone with the Wind accompanied by talent agent Myron Selznick. Myron's brother, producer David Selznick, had just started production of GWTW (the burning of Atlanta scene), even though he still hadn't found his Scarlett O'Hara yet. After being introduced to Leigh, Selznick was impressed and very quickly considered her a serious candidate for the role of Scarlett. Despite widespread protests against the casting of Leigh (being a non-Southerner), Leigh got the coveted role and signed her contract on 16 January 1939.

When word got out that Vivien Leigh was to be cast as Scarlett, David Selznick sent numerous letters to entertainment journalists to justify his decision. Shown below is Selznick's letter to Ed Sullivan (a gossip columnist at the time), written on 7 January 1939, just nine days before Leigh was officially hired. Although Selznick denied that he had chosen Leigh ("Vivien Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett"), it is quite clear that he had already made his decision.

Selznick's letter is shown in transcript only. 
You'll find the original image of the letter via this page.

David Selznick and Vivien Leigh both won Oscars for GWTW for resp. Best Film and Best Actress.
January 7, 1939
Mr. Ed Sullivan 
621 North Alta Drive
Beverly Hills, California  
Dear Ed: 
Vivien Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett. There are three other possibilities. But should we decide on Miss Leigh for the role, I think the following answers your question:
  1. Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish.
  2. A large part of the South prides itself on its English ancestry, and an English girl might presumably, therefore, be as acceptable in the role as a Northern girl.
  3. Experts insist that the real Southern accent, as opposed to the Hollywood conception of a Southern accent, is basically English. There is a much closer relationship between the English accent and the Southern accent than there is between the Southern accent and the Northern accent, as students will tell you, and as we have found through experience.
  4. I think it would be ungrateful on the part of Americans, particularly Americans in the film and theatrical worlds, to feel bad about such a selection in view of the English public's warm reception of American actors' portrayals of the most important and best-beloved characters in English history and fiction, ranging all the way from Wallace Beery in "Treasure Island", to Fredric March as Browning in "The Barretts", to Gary Cooper in "Bengal Lancer".
  5. And, finally, let me call your attention to the most successful performances in the American Theatre in many, many years-- those, respectively, of the American Helen Hayes as "Queen Victoria" and the British Raymond Massey as "Abraham Lincoln". 
Ed Sullivan
I feel that there are days when we should all do everything within our power to help cement British-American relationships and mutual sympathies, rather than to indulge in thoughtless, half-baked and silly criticisms. As I have said, Miss Leigh is not set for the role, but if she gets it Miss Leigh seems to us to be the best qualified from the standpoints of physical resemblance to Miss Mitchell's Scarlett, and- more importantly- ability to give the right performance in one of the most trying roles ever written. And this after a two-year search.
And if she gets the role, I like to think that you'll be in there rooting for her. 
Cordially and sincerely yours, 
P.S. Incidentally, just where do the carpers think the name "Georgia" came from, but from England? I suppose they'd also object to George Washington being played by an Englishman! 

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