On January 26, 1939, Vivien Leigh reported to work, for her first day of filming, on the set of Gone With the Wind. Finally, Vivien’s dream of playing Scarlett O’Hara, a dream she’d been carrying with her since she first read the book, was about to come true.
The first scene scheduled, for shooting that day, was the front porch scene at Tara, with Scarlett and the Tarleton boys discussing the possibility of war. This is the scene in which the world would be introduced to Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. The Tarleton twins were played by Fred Crane (Brent) and George Reeves (Stuart). Over the course of the next nine and a half months, this opening scene would be filmed a total of five times. George Cukor directed it the first two times and Victor Fleming directed it the last three times.
After viewing the first attempt at this scene, producer David O. Selznick was not pleased. He didn’t like the twins’ hair color or style. In a memo dated January 30, 1939, David Selznick wrote the following to George Cukor: I feel very strongly that the hairdress we used on the twins makes them look grotesquely like a pair of Harpo Marx comics…because of the color of their hair. I would like Mr. Westmore to redress their hair and I would have him arrange with Mr. Plunkett for me to see them again in their next costumes and with their hair re-dressed before they work.
The first scene filmed on January 26, 1939.
Ray Klune, the production manager, recalled the following: Everybody was nervous and it showed in the next day’s rushes. George had Vivien on too high a key, way up there. David felt that she was playing it as though it were the first act of a dress rehearsal. The same thing with the boys… they were overdoing it.
There’s also a second memo dated January 30, in which Selznick thinks it would be better to use the white prayer dress for Scarlett’s opening scene. For whatever reason, that idea is abandoned and Vivien Leigh continues to wear the barbecue dress.
For the second filming of this scene, George Reeves and Fred Crane showed up with a slightly different shade of hair color and a new ‘do. Their curls were now gone. Scarlett still wore the barbecue dress, but now sported a black choker. However, Selznick wasn’t pleased with the lighting.
Fred Crane, Vivien Leigh & George Reeves try this scene for the 2nd time.
By now, George Cukor had left the production and Victor Fleming was at the helm. Selznick darts off another memo, this time to Ray Klune, which is dated February 20: We will start shooting again on Monday. Please get together with Mr. Fleming immediately in connection with the opening scene. We should start with the twins and then go to Gerald and Scarlett to permit you to change the condition of Tara. It would be my preference, if there is no reason against it, and if Fleming is agreeable, to then jump into retakes in the Bazaar, followed by Rhett and Scarlett on the McDonough Road.
The third time was not the charm. Scarlett and the Tarleton twins were moved from the side of the porch to the front of the porch.
The third time was not the charm!
Image from pinterest
…according to Fred [Crane], the film’s technical advisor, [Susan Myrick] who was a Daughter of the Confederacy, informed Selznick that ‘a young girl showing that much bosom wouldn’t be sitting out with two young men unchaperoned in the afternoon.’ (Source).
So, for the fourth time, the opening scene was filmed again. This time with Vivien Leigh in the white prayer dress, which was, by far, a more appropriate outfit for a young lady. Alas, Vivien looked too tired and Selznick sent her away for a break. Vivien had been working almost non-stop since January 26. She was exhausted and it showed.
Image from pinterest
Getting ready to film Scarlett’s opening scene for the fourth time.
In 1960, Vivien discussed filming the opening scene for the fourth time and the fifth time: On the last day of shooting, we had to film the first scene of the picture all over again. The scene where I sit as a girl of sixteen, on the porch of Tara, saying,’Everyone is talking of war, war, war.’ When we shot the scene again, David Selznick saw it and said to me, ‘You look too old and too ill for the scene. Better take a holiday.’ So I went off to France with Larry and came back [filmed it for the fifth time] and ‘Gone With the Wind’ was finished.
The final filming of the front porch scene.
On October 12th, Vivien went before the cameras one last time as Scarlett O’Hara. During her time away from Hollywood, Vivien traveled to New York City, where she reunited with Laurence Olivier and also found the time to screentest for Rebecca. Afterward, Vivien and Larry traveled to England, before finally returning to Hollywood. Vivien showed up fresh and relaxed on the set for the final time and created cinematic history.
Perfection at last! (image from blueray)
Gone With the Wind was released two months later to great acclaim. David O. Selznick’s attention to detail and strive toward perfection paid off in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine. Reviewers loved the movie:
In its length alone, Gone With the Wind is the most imposing spectacle ever to reach the screen. It is magnificent, too, in its superb color, in its scrupulous details, in its scope, in its technical virtuosity, in its sheer extravagance. The film is dominated by Vivien Leigh. One carries away from the picture a rich store of unforgettable images. (Cincinnati Post) No puny adjectives fit Gone With the Wind. It is the most lavish, probably the most magnificent, ever to come out of Hollywood. (Philadelphia Inquirer) The excitement of it will take your breath away…The spectator is convinced he is sitting in on history…The novel of the decade has been turned into the cinema of the century. (unk newspaper)
All memos are from Memo from David O. Selznick, edited by Rudy Behlmer.