It took two years and hundreds of auditions to cast Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind.” But Vivien Leigh, born 100 years ago today, knew from the start that she’d get the part.
It took two years and hundreds of interviews and auditions to cast Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone With the Wind. But Vivien Leigh, born 100 years ago today, knew from the start that she’d get the part. “I’ve cast myself as Scarlett O’Hara,” she told a journalist after reading Margaret Mitchell’s novel, when the film was in its initial planning stages. “I shall play Scarlett O’Hara,” she remarked in another conversation. “Wait and see.”
Of course Leigh was right, and the $100,000 search for the perfect Scarlett could have been avoided if the film’s makers had just listened to her in the first place.
When Leigh won the role over other great actresses of the time –– Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Bette Davis and many more who were in the running –– she gave life to one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history. Any high-profile casting decision creates controversy, and there were those who argued that Leigh was “too British” for the role of fiction’s most famous Southern belle. But it’s hard to argue with the results of this casting call.
Leigh always preferred stage acting to movies. Although she coveted the part of Scarlett O’Hara, the harrowing film schedule took its toll on her. During the filming, she vowed to husband Laurence Olivier that she’d never do another movie again. “I’m not a film star –– I’m an actress, ” she insisted in an interview. “Being a film star –– just a film star –– is such a false life, lived for fake values and for publicity. Actresses go on for a long time and there are always marvelous parts to play.”
Yet Gone With the Wind brought her fame, and her performance merited the Academy Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actress. It also ensured that both Leigh and Scarlett O’Hara would live on. Though Leigh was only 53 when she died of tuberculosis, she is remembered as one of cinema’s finest actresses, thanks in no small part to Gone With the Wind.