15 February 2015

We don't want Norma Shearer, we want Scarlett

On 24 June 1938, several newspapers including The New York Times (read here) and The Dallas Morning News (see image below) announced that Norma Shearer was going to play the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). It was stated that, after a long search for the ideal Scarlett, producer David O. Selznick had decided on Shearer and that author Margaret Mitchell was pleased with his decision. The announcement caused a flood of negative reactions from people who thought Shearer was not suited for the part. Furthermore, people were outraged by the fact that she wanted to change Scarlett's character. Shearer didn't think that Scarlett was sympathetic enough --especially in the latter part of the story-- and wanted Selznick to change the script in order to make the character more likeable. In the end, due to all the negative response to her playing Scarlett, Shearer decided to give up the role (read more about it here in an article from The New York Times dated 1 August 1938).

Contrary to what the newspapers wrote in June of 1938, Norma Shearer and Clark Gable-- shown here in the 1932 "Strange Interlude"-- would not star together in "Gone with the Wind".

Below you'll find four of the many letters that were written to David Selznick in protest of the casting of Norma Shearer. The letters will be shown in transcript only and are taken from a wonderful fanmail data base regarding the making of Gone with the Wind (to be found on the website of the Harry Ransom Center). For the original images of the letters, click on the links below the transcripts.

Dear Mr. Selznick,

This is the first time I have ever taken the trouble to write about the casting of any picture, but when I read that Norma Shearer was going to play Scarlett O'Hara my blood boiled. Then when I read this morning that she wanted the story changed to suit her, I could bear it no longer. We don't want Norma Shearer, we want Scarlett. To change the woman's character is to spoil the story, and I don't think Miss Shearer at all the type, or that she possesses the beauty. I think Clark Gable ideal, and thought so when I read the book, and hope he plays Rhett Butler, but please no Norma Shearer.

Harriet Davis

P.S. I'd a thousand times rather see Carole Lombard as Scarlett than Norma Shearer


July 8, 1938

David Selznick
Selznick International Pictures, Inc.
936 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, California

Dear Mr. Selznick:

Some time ago it was announced that Norma Shearer was to play Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind". That in itself was a disappointment as Norma Shearer does not possess the personality that was Scarlett's. But now comes this blow, Norma Shearer thinks herself big enough to want to change this book that has been read and enjoyed by so many people. Such arrogance, such conceit. Not satisfied with ruining a character that has been so faithfully portrayed by the author, she wants to alter the book to suit her own taste without regarding the disappointment of the readers of the book when they eventually will see the picture.

In all fairness to your company, however, Clark Gable is a superb choice for Rhett Butler, and I hope that equally good judgment will eventually be shown as regards to casting and story.

I am sure that my opinion in this matter is not solitary, as all the people I know who have read the book are up in arms about the whole thing and have resolved not to see the picture should the present plans materialize.

Sincerely yours,

G. Luptrom

Source: harry ransom center

Irvington, Calif.,
July 7, 1938

Mr. David Selznick,

Dear Mr. Selznick:

Of all the stupid choices for parts, yours of Norma Shearer for "Scarlett" takes the cake. I spend three months each year in and around Hollywood. I have seen most of the stars at some time or other.
I have read "Gone with the Wind" five times and I'll be darned if Miss Shearer fits in the picture whatsoever.

As great an admirer as I am of Norma Shearer, she certainly is going to be miscast.
How did you ever come upon this decision anyway?
I for one, will stay blocks away from the picture when it plays San Francisco under the present set-up. And from what I have heard there are hundreds of others who share my opinion.

You have four girls in Hollywood who could and would take the part very well. They are Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Sullavan, Miriam Hopkins and Paulette Goddard.

If Norma Shearer accepts the role of Scarlett, she is going to do herself more harm than good and she will be gone with the wind.

She just isn't suited to the part and no revamping on your part can alter that fact. If you are giving Norma the break because it is your means of showing your gratitude for some specific reason for God's sake show it some other way before such a fine person and lovely actress as Miss Shearer loses all it has taken years to build up.

Oliver Campos

Source: harry ransom center


My dear Mr. Selznick:

According to our movie scandal columnists, the latest reports on "Gone With The Wind" are that Rhett Butler will be played by Clark Gable and Scarlett O'Hara by Norma Shearer. Imagine Norma Shearer as Scarlett!! -- I'm actually laughing, D.O.S., and not with you, but at you. What's the matter with Eleanor Roosevelt being signed for the part? --or May Robson, Patsy Kelly-- Baby Snooks?? Just what are we to expect of this production now-- well, at least I can be assured of saving 50 c and spending one night at home when this picture is released. Anyway, thanks to Warner Bros. for "Jezebel" with a really swell cast and an actress who can portray a role with ability and not because of a name. Oh, well-- we all have to make a living.

Yours in disgust and laughter,
Roger Templeton,
San Francisco

Source: harry ransom center


  1. Wow! What a response. Great reading these letters.

    1. Yes, I think it's great to read them too. I never knew about the overwhelming negative response to Norma Shearer's casting. And her wanting to change Scarlett's character!? Thanks for reading!