Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Better an English Girl Than a Yankee

[caption id="attachment_2121" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This is the last (for a while anyway) of posts relating to the epic Civil War drama - Gone With the Wind. It all stemmed from a question asked by an anonymous emailer about Hattie McDaniel...then a few other people asked some questions and well, there you have it.

Michael from Oregon wanted to know: who else was considered for the part of Scarlett? It was certainly one of the most sought after parts in Hollywood...and some of the biggest names in show business populated the list of potential Scarletts. There were at least 128 actresses suggested for the part and 32 women tested including. Lucille Ball, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, and Mae West.

Some heavy hitters indeed. The favorite of course, was British actress Vivien Leigh - but producer David O. Selznick was concerned that she would not play well to southern audiences. He need not have worried - when the Georgia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy heard the news about Leigh's casting, they summed up the South's feelings: "Better an English girl than a Yankee."

So much for reconciliation. Oh sure, the response may have been issued in good-natured tongue in cheek fashion. But there is a lot of truth in every little joke...right ladies? I wonder if the film would have been such a success in the South had Selznick cast New Yorker Lucille Ball? Hmmm....makes you think.

So - Cosmic America will be back to focusing on topics directly related to the war (and not films about the war) tomorrow. But I have had fun with the Gone With the Wind stuff. Remember, if you have any questions you want answered here or on Office Hours - just fire at will!



  1. I guess no one complained that an Irish woman was being played by a Brit.

  2. I guess not...

  3. My point being that the Daughters position was seen as understandable, whereas the argument from Irish Americans would have been treated as tedious and bigoted.

    Any idea why Mitchell decided her central characters, Scarlett O'Hara and Tara, would be so openly identified as Irish, and not the Scots-Irish kind? She is the daughter of an immigrant, and he appears to be the only main character so identified. The other characters appear to come from nowhere other than where they are. Did Mitchell want to make Scarlett an outsider to allow her to transgress?

  4. It's a good question to be sure. It's been a while since I read the book but I am pretty sure that Scarlett also identifies with the French side of her family.

  5. To be fair, two other British actors had major roles in "Gone With The Wind." Leslie Howard played Ashley Wilkes in the movie, and very well too. Olivia de Haviland played Melanie Hamilton Wilkes.

    The following year, Canadian-born (but US citizen by then) actor Raymond Massey played Abraham Lincoln in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (and John Brown in the reprehensible "Santa Fe Trail."

  6. I nearly forgot: Two British-born Irish actors appear in Spielberg's Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis, is plays the lead, while Jared Harris plays Ulysses S. Grant. Harris is the son of Richard Harris, co-star of one of my favorite Civil War-themed movies, Major Dundee.

  7. How things have changed. No one today would think of objecting to Lewis in the role on grounds that he is not American. I tell my students that the biggest difference between the world they inhabit and the ghost world of their grandparents is not computers, it is assumptions.

  8. As a young boy of about 14 years of age I remember eying my hatfer’s bookshelf and the red book with a blue band of stars across the middle of the cover. It was the book cover that caught my eye, not the title “Bruce Catton’s Civil War.” When I opened the book and saw the title of the first work, “Mr. Lincoln’s Army”, my interest was piqued and I started to read. From that moment I could not put the book down. I can still say that now, many, many years later Catton’s description of the Antietam battle is the most vivid memory of anything I read during my adolescence. I was utterly captivated. Incredibly, almost 50 years later I have not visited that battlefield. Having lived in Southern California my entire life I simply haven’t made it there. I plan to rectify the situation this summer. Thank you Bruce Catton!