Can’t Help It if They’re Lucky
FRANKLY, MY DEAR: Betty Stephens, who commissioned all those new women’s restrooms at the Granada, plans to christen the place the Scarlett O’Hara Lounge.
That, natch, is because the Granada was the scene of a sneak preview of Gone with the Wind on October 18, 1939. It was after this-manic producer David O. Selznick’s second secret preview-that Rhett Butler’s famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was reinserted into the script.
Before that, Hollywood’s bluenose censors had insisted that it be “Frankly, my dear, I don’t care.” (Boring.) But Selznick defied them.
As far as I know, Vivien Leigh (Scarlett) wasn’t at the preview and didn’t have to stand in line outside the ladies’ loo, crossing her legs and waiting her turn. Nor did she have to stand in line to get the part, beating out the likes of Norma Shearer, Katharine Hepburn, and Paulette Goddard just by arriving from England with lover Laurence Olivier and immediately catching the eye of Selznick, who as usual had long been indecisive about whom to cast as the vivacious Southern belle. Bette Davis desperately wanted the role.
At that point, the nod was about to go to Goddard, then openly living with Charlie Chaplin, thereby offending Hollywood’s hypocritical morality code. Leigh, born in India to an English couple, reportedly smoked four packs of cigarettes a day during the filming of GWTW and later suffered from bipolar disorder, which manifested itself in countless affairs and led to the breakup of her marriage to Olivier. Selznick, meanwhile, was gambling recklessly, not only in making the film but at the tables, losing $10,000 a week at a time when that was a heavy loss.
Gary Cooper was also in the running for the Rhett Butler role, but his studio would not loan him. Warner Bros. would provide Errol Flynn, but only if GWTW was released through Warner and Bette Davis starred as Scarlett.
But the public demanded Clark Gable. According to On the Road to Tara: The Making of Gone With the Wind, by Aljean Harmetz, Selznick worked the cast like dogs, Leigh along with costar Gable, who was uncomfortable with the role and didn’t want it, but was under orders by MGM. It seems that this great star was insecure as an actor.
English actor Leslie Howard also felt ill at ease, too old to be pursued by young Vivien. But with a $75,000 paycheck in mind, he took the role he called “the abominable Ashley, a dreadful milk-sop, totally spineless and negative.” Selznick considered others, including Humphrey Bogart. In a few years Howard would be dead, shot down during World War II.
Things went wrong from the start of production in January 26, 1939. The script was a mess, and without actors being cast, how were the elaborate costumes to be made? Said Selznick’s executive secretary: “You cannot go into making a $5 million picture, the most popular book ever written next to the Bible, and be enthusiastic and cooperative and work hard if you don’t know what you are going to do in the next five minutes.”
The script, based on Margaret Mitchell’s blockbuster novel, was chopped up and revised by the day. After two weeks of shooting, Selznick fired director George Cukor and hired Victor Fleming, who later had a nervous breakdown due to the intense pressure.
In May 1939, with GWTW far from finished, Selznick ran out of money and desperately sought new financing. He had married into the MGM family, but its price was too high: total ownership of GWTW. He managed to borrow enough money to finish the film, but in the end lost control of it and bankrupted his studio.
Mitchell, who had wisely refused to write the script, was killed by a car while crossing the street in Atlanta, of all places, in 1949, never having published another book in her lifetime.
HE WON A MILLION: Bill Tomicki, a Montecito travel writer, has won $1 million dollars in a Jackpot Rewards sweepstakes drawing.
Tomicki, editor and publisher of Entree travel newsletter, learned of the win by cell while in Aurangabad, India, on assignment exploring the ancient caves of Ajanta.
“I was stunned, to say the least,” said Tomicki, who plans to donate some of his winnings to charities.
Jackpot Rewards, a Massachusetts-headquartered online rewards program, provides consumers with cash back on online purchases as well as exclusive deals and discounts. Tomicki, a former travel columnist for the New York Times Syndicate, has been a Montecito resident for 25 years. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he served as vice president of Tiffany and Sotheby’s. His colorful travel writing career has taken him to more than 100 countries. Along the way, Tomicki was knighted in both France and Portugal. He served in the U. S. Air Force Reserves during the Vietnam War and is married to artist/photographer Barbara Tomicki.