On the night of December 10, 1938, shooting began on Gone With The Wind with "The Burning of Atlanta" scene. As yet no one had been chosen for the role. David Selznick's brother Myron, the man who had defined the role of the Hollywood agent, came onto the set that night escorted by a strikingly beautiful, mysterious woman.
That woman was Vivien Leigh.
Leigh's entrance was no accident. She had come to Hollywood from England ostensibly to be with Laurence Olivier, one of Myron's clients, who she would marry a year and a half later when his divorce became final. But she had also come to Hollywood to pursue the part of Scarlett.
Both Selznicks already knew of Leigh. But it wasn't until that night that David O. Selznick and Vivien Leigh met face to face.
Leigh reportedly auditioned for George Cukor that very night. A week and a half later, on December 21 and December 22, her screentests were made. Legend has it that George Cukor called her three days later on Christmas Day to tell her she had the part. She signed her contract on January 16, 1939. Principal photography began on January 26.
The casting choice was controversial. There was at first widespread protest that someone other than a Southern woman had been chosen. Letters of protest poured in. So Selznick's publicity department, headed by Russell Birdwell, went to work on gossip columnists like Ed Sullivan, Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell to persuade them that Leigh was the right choice for the part. Birdwell also wrote and distributed this bio of Leigh to magazines and newspapers with the same goal in mind.
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Exhibit design by Steve L. Wilson
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