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Walter Plunkett

By 1936 Walter Plunkett was known in Hollywood as the foremost authority on period costumes. Katharine Hepburn, with whom Plunkett had worked on several pictures and who was interested in the role of Scarlett, recommended the book to Plunkett. He read it and immediately had his agents, Lichtig and Englander, write Selznick to suggest he be hired as costume designer. Selznick was well aware of Plunkett's abilities, mostly from his costume work on Selznick's production of "Little Women," which was also set in the 1860's.

Plunkett was hired on the spot though at first on a non-exclusive basis: four months research and design without compensation $600 per week for eight weeks of preproduction and $750 per week during production. He promptly left for Georgia carrying a letter of introduction from Kay Brown to Margaret Mitchell. During this trip he wrote to Brown:



copy

FORT SUMTER HOTEL

Charleston, S. C.

Dear Miss Brown -

Am about to leave for New Orleans. Will stop at the Roosevelt there. I landed
in Atlanta with the flu and such a crop of fever sores that I spent most of my
time in the hotel. However, I had two days with Mrs. Marsh. She was delightful
and helped by answering all the questions I could ask. She has given me a list
of books for research that will be very helpful. I am enclosing them, as I
thought perhaps your research department had better try to locate them.

I was too weak with the flu to get around to Kurtz, although I find he is held
in high respect here as an authority. His paintings seem splendid. Miss Mitchell
drove me around and I cannot see that anything is as it was and am sure it would
be valueless as location. Even if there were some few spots, the people would
make a nuisance of themselves.

Savannah is truly beautiful - too different from Atlanta to be of any value -
though some of the city seems unchanged.

Mr. Robinson and Mrs. Ravenal have been charming to me here. We have just spent
the morning in the Daughters of the Confederacy hall. The lady in charge
let me have samples of all the fabrics of the old costumes, and I have accomplished
even more that I hoped. It is a shame that Charleston is not the location.
I'm sure that whole streets are unchanged here. It is a most romantic spot and
the homes are magnificent.

I like this Rhett child. She has the sweetest manner. What a shame she's not
experienced enough for Melanie. She would be so lovely in that part.

Thanks so much for your letters. They've been lots of help.

Sincerely,
WALTER PLUNKETT



Margaret Mitchell's married name was Marsh. Her nickname was Peggy.

Wilbur Kurtz was later hired by Selznick at Mitchell's suggestion as historical advisor on GWTW.

The "Rhett child" is Alicia Rhett, who was found during the Scarlett casting search in Atlanta. She played the part of India Wilkes, Ashley's sister.

Walter Plunkett

Selznick was making a costume epic and he was making it in color, still a new process at that time. Plunkett's meticulous research and careful design process were fine for the smaller roles and for the hundreds of extras, but he was not producing the "sensational" costumes Selznick wanted for Scarlett. Throughout 1937 and 1938 Selznick looked at sketches from other costume designers. The short list of designers he considered included Gladys Calthrop, Mabel Downs, Helene Ponds, Czettel, and Adrian. At the top of the list was Muriel King whose sketches Mitchell saw during Cukor's research trip to Atlanta.

King gave one of her sketches to Mitchell: a sketch of Scarlett on Miss Pittypat's front porch. Mitchell responded enthusiastically, writing to King, "I have seen many sketches of Scarlett and of war scenes, and none have appealed to me as much as yours." Several months later, Selznick wrote to Kay Brown:


Miss Kathering Brown

COSTUME DESIGNERS -- "GONE WITH THE WIND"

February 17, 1938

No objections to getting sketches from Hambleton on spec. However, at the
moment the only reason we are considering changing from Plunkett is because
of Miss Mitchell's enthusiasm for Miss King's work. It will, nevertheless,
be interesting to see Hambleton's work because if we don't have Miss King
it is our feeling that we will need somebody to give us perhaps half a
dozen sensational costumes that will need to be original creations in
addition to the Plunkett job - if it is Plunkett - which will be based
largely on research.

DOS

dos/cl


King wanted screen credit and $750 a week and she would do only Scarlett's costumes. Other designers were asking for similar arrangements. Shooting had started with the "Burning of Atlanta" scene and Vivien Leigh had been cast as Scarlett. The production had shifted into high gear. Then Plunkett came through.


WESTERN
UNION

January 6, 1939

AAF TWS PAID TDS CULVER CITY CALIF

SELZNICK INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

WUX

NYK

TO KB FROM DOS

PLUNKETT HAS COME TO LIFE AND TURNED IN MAGNIFICENT SCARLETT COSTUMES
SO WE WON'T NEED ANYONE ELSE. WITH FURTHER REFERENCE TO FREDERICKS
COMMENCING TO WORRY ABOUT THE PRACTICABILITY OF THE IDEA. WOULD HE
SEND SKETCHES OR MUSLIN PATTERNS AND JUST HOW WOULD THIS WORK? WOULD
HE BE WILLING TO COME OUT FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS? THE WHOLE PRODUCTION
IS SO COMPLICATED THAT I AM TRYING TO SIMPLIFY THE STAFF AND THE WORK
SO AM ANXIOUS TO GET COMPLETE PICTURE OF THE FREDERICKS SITUATION IN
ORDER TO DECIDE WHETHER THE WHOLE IDEA IS WORTHWHILE. IF WE SHOULD
GO AHEAD WITH HIM IS THERE ANY OBLIGATION AS TO CREDIT AND IS THERE
ANY OBLIGATION AS TO USING ANY OR ALL OF HIS HATS?

SORRY TO SEEM SO CONFUSED BUT EVERYTHING IS PILING UP IN THESE LAST
WEEKS.

SELZNICK INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

Charge Selznick Int'l. Pic.
Culver City, Calif.


John Frederics
Plunkett and Olivia de Haviland

New York milliner John Frederics designed Scarlett's hats. He was not paid for his work, he did it solely for the publicity the film would bring his business.

There is no mention in the Selznick archive after this telegram of anyone else being considered for costume designer.

During the production Plunkett had to contend with the difficult Selznick, changes in directors and unreasonable Technicolor advisors. He created more than 5,000 separate items of clothing for more than 50 major characters and thousands of extras as well as monitoring crowd scenes for the proportion of men to women and the number of women in mourning to reflect the ravages of war.

Plunkett began with detailed sketches. His own wardrobe team then created patterns, made the garments, did fittings and alterations, and made changes as necessary after watching filmed tests and before carefully labeling and storing the costumes.


Walter Plunkett and assistants Walter Plunkett and an assistant


October 23, 1939

Mr. Walter Plunkett
537 Huntley Drive
West Hollywood
California

Dear Walter,

I should like at this time to congratulate and thank
you once again for your brilliant costuming job on
"Gone With The Wind." I think it is possibly the
most effective job of its kind that has ever been
done in pictures

Cordially yours,

dos:bb

In 1939, there was no costume design category at the Academy Awards. Selznick himself said that if there were, Plunkett would have won it for "Gone With The Wind."

Walter Plunkett would be nominated for the Academy Award ten times. In 1951, he was finally recognized by the Academy for "An American in Paris." He shared the award with Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff.

Shortly before his death, Walter Plunkett personally refurbished the original dresses in the David O. Selznick Archive. These dresses, however, were made to last for as long as it would take to shoot the film and are still extremely fragile. Reproductions of the dresses were made in 1987 and are also housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.



Plunkett Biography | Plunkett Filmography |
Reproductions of the Dresses | Selznick Memo of March 13,1939 |
Note to Accompany the Preliminary Wardrobe Breakdown


| Costumes and Makeup Table of Contents |

| "Gone With The Wind" Table of Contents |

| Film Collection |


Exhibit design by Steve L. Wilson

Learn how you can save the Green Curtain Dress and other costumes from Gone With The Wind.