Cinema: G With the W

  • December 25, 1939 TIME Cover: Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh)

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    The late leggy, lantern-jawed Sidney Howard was one of the ablest, most dependable scripters who ever turned his successful plays into equally successful movies (The Silver Cord, Yellow Jack, Dodsworth). Selznick considered Playwright Howard "a great constructionist" and turned to him in his hour of need. After a brief total immersion in Gone With the Wind, Sidney Howard arrived in Hollywood in the spring of 1937. With Selznick's famed marked copy of Gone With the Wind as a starter, Selznick, Howard and George Cukor (to supply the director's angle) spent twelve hours of a series of hot summer days, hammering out G With the W Script No. i. When finished, it contained 30,000 words, would have required five and a half hours to run if it ever had been shot. It never was. They made another. Then Selznick made another. In the next year Jo Swerling, Oliver H. P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, John Van Druten, Michael Foster, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Winston Miller, John Balderston, Edwin Justus Mayer all had at least a little finger in the scenario. But next to Sidney Howard's work, the bulk of the scripting, as David Selznick admits, was done by David Selznick. He is still very touchy because a shooting script was not ready even by the time that the final scenes were filmed. When the filming was practically complete the last day's call sheet read: Script to come.

    Scarlett. Midway in producing G With the W, Producer Selznick decided he was in no hurry to get going. The novel was too fresh in people's minds, which meant that they would be critical of any picturization no matter how good. Selznick still had nobody to play Scarlett O'Hara, and for more than two years he maintained himself in this useful and exciting dilemma with tenacity and an astute sense of showmanship. Polls were taken, scouts were despatched, a play about the search was written, had been running two months—and still no Scarlett.

    Racked though they were with Scarlett fever, the U. S. cinemillions on one point were constant—the people's choice to play Rhett Butler was Clark Gable.

    .Selznick therefore had to drive as shrewd a bargain as possible with Loew Inc., the parent organization of M.G.M., to whom Clark Gable was under contract. The terms were hard: 1) M.G.M. to have exclusive distribution rights for Gone With the Wind and a sizable interest in the profits; 2) M.G.M. to finance the picture to the tune of $1,250,000; 3) Gable to begin work for Selznick by Feb. 15, 1939. He was not to be kept beyond a reasonable time.

    Clearly the time had come to find Scarlett O'Hara. The historic discovery happened (by great good luck) to coincide with the first takes of Gone With the Wind —the burning of Atlanta.

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