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Scarlett O'Hara as portrayed by Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film adaptation of Gone with the Wind.
|First appearance||Gone with the Wind|
|Created by||Margaret Mitchell|
|Portrayed by||Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind)
Joanne Whalley (Scarlett)
|Aliases||Katie Scarlett O'Hara
|Family||Gerald O'Hara (father, deceased)
Ellen Robillard O'Hara (mother, deceased)
Susan Elinor "Suellen" O'Hara Benteen (sister)
Caroline Irene "Carreen" O'Hara (sister)
Gerald O'Hara Jr. (name of 3 brothers, all deceased)
|Children||Wade Hampton Hamilton
(son with Charles)
Ella Lorena Kennedy
(daughter with Frank)
Eugenie Victoria "Bonnie Blue" Butler
(daughter with Rhett; deceased)
Katie Colum "Cat" Butler
(daughter with Rhett in Scarlett)
Mr. Butler (stepson via Rhett)
|Relatives||Langston Butler (father-in-law named in Scarlett; deceased)
Eleanor Butler (mother-in-law in sequel Scarlett)
Ross Butler (brother-in-law named in Scarlett)
Rosemary Butler (sister-in-law)
Pauline Robillard (maternal aunt)
Eulalie Robillard (maternal aunt)
Philippe Robillard (cousin of her mother)
James O'Hara (paternal uncle)
Andrew O'Hara (paternal uncle)
Pierre Robillard (maternal grandfather)
Solange Prudhomme Robillard (maternal grandmother)
Katie Scarlett O'Hara (paternal grandmother)
Will Benteen (brother-in-law)
Unnamed Benteen (niece or nephew, via Sullen and Will)
Melanie Hamilton (sister-in-law)
Beau Wilkes (nephew)
Scarlett O'Hara (born Katie Scarlett O'Hara; credited as Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler) is the protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and in the later film of the same name. She also is the main character in the 1970 musical Scarlett and the 1991 book Scarlett, a sequel to Gone with the Wind that was written by Alexandra Ripley and adapted for a television mini-series in 1994. During early drafts of the original novel, Mitchell referred to her heroine as "Pansy", and did not decide on the name "Scarlett" until just before the novel went to print.
Katie Scarlett O'Hara is the oldest living child of Gerald and Ellen O'Hara. She was born on her family's plantation Tara in Georgia. Her given name Katie comes from her father's mother, but has been called Scarlett for most of her life. She is a descendant of both Irish and French ancestry. Scarlett has dark hair, green eyes, pale skin, and a slim frame. Her living siblings are her two younger sisters Susan Elinor ("Suellen") O'Hara and Caroline Irene ("Carreen") O'Hara. She also has three younger brothers who died while in infancy, and are buried on their family's property. Each child was named Gerald O'Hara, Jr.
She is an atypical protagonist, especially as a female romantic lead in fiction. When the novel opens, Scarlett is sixteen. She is vain, self-centered, and somewhat spoiled; she can be insecure; and she has an intelligent, bright mind. She stands out in that she is smarter than and very much unlike the typical party-going Southern belles around her. She can be a high-strung busybody, but for someone so smart, with men she loves, she can go into a mode where she is both babyish and overthinks little things. On the outside she seems charming, busy, good, and smart; but on the inside she is insecure and just wants the affection of her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes. She makes surface efforts to live up to the expectations her culture demands, but fears discovery by society of her true self. Scarlett has deep affection for Ashley, and wishes to marry him, despite a tradition in his family to marry cousins. Scarlett's motivation in the early part of the novel centers on her desire to win the affection of Ashley, despite the fact that both of them marry others. Rhett Butler, an older bachelor, overhears Scarlett expressing her true feelings to Ashley, during a barbecue at Ashley's home. Rhett admires and is interested in the willful Scarlett, and pursues her through a romantic friendship when she becomes widowed, helping her to ignore Southern conventions and become active in society again. The Civil War is ultimately blamed by disapproving society, and Scarlett finds friendship with Rhett liberating.
After the War, Scarlett's character hardens, when she is burdened by her family, servants, the Wilkes family, and the fear of homelessness and starvation. This causes her to become extremely money-conscious and materialistic. Her motivation is to assure that no one close to her faces the threat of starvation or being a burden to others outside the family. As such, she engages in controversial business practices and exploits convict labor in order to make her lumber business, bought and run in defiance of her second husband's wishes, have a higher profit margin. After she becomes widowed again, she marries Rhett Butler for "fun" and because he is very wealthy.
Unfortunately, Scarlett is too insecure and vain to realize her pursuit of Ashley was misdirected until the climax of the novel. With the death of Melanie Wilkes, she realizes her pursuit of Ashley was in vain and he did not return her affection. She realizes she never really loved Ashley and that she has loved Rhett Butler for some time. She pursues Rhett from Melanie's deathbed to their home in the neighborhood, only to discover he has given up on receiving a return of affection from Scarlett and is preparing to leave her. In a reminder of how important her homeland is to her, Scarlett decides to return to the family plantation, Tara, to rest and set her plans to attract Rhett anew.
Searching for Scarlett
While the studio and the public agreed that the part of Rhett Butler should go to Clark Gable (except for Clark Gable himself), casting for the role of Scarlett was a little harder. The search for an actress to play Scarlett in the film version of the novel famously drew the biggest names in the history of cinema, such as Bette Davis (whose had been cast as a Southern belle in Jezebel in 1938), and Katharine Hepburn, who went so far as demanding an appointment with producer David O. Selznick and saying, "I am Scarlett O'Hara! The role is practically written for me." David replied rather bluntly, "I can't imagine Rhett Butler chasing you for twelve years."Jean Arthur and Lucille Ball were also considered, as well as relatively unknown actress Doris Davenport. Susan Hayward was "discovered" when she tested for the part, and the career of Lana Turner developed quickly after her screen test. Tallulah Bankhead and Joan Bennett were widely considered to be the most likely choices until they were supplanted by Paulette Goddard.
The young English actress Vivien Leigh, virtually unknown in America, saw that several English actors, including Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard, were in consideration for the male leads in Gone with the Wind. Her agent happened to be the London representative of the Myron Selznick talent agency, headed by David Selznick's brother, Myron. Leigh asked Myron to put her name into consideration as Scarlett on the eve of the American release of her picture Fire Over England in February 1938. David Selznick watched both Fire Over England and her most recent picture, A Yank at Oxford, that month, and thought she was excellent but in no way a possible Scarlett, as she was "too British." But Myron Selznick arranged for David to first meet Leigh on the night in December 1938 when the burning of the Atlanta Depot was being filmed on the Forty Acres backlot that Selznick International and RKO shared. Leigh and her then lover Laurence Olivier (later to be her husband) were visiting as guests of Myron Selznick, who was also Olivier's agent, while Leigh was in Hollywood hoping for a part in Olivier's current movie, Wuthering Heights. In a letter to his wife two days later, David Selznick admitted that Leigh was "the Scarlett dark horse," and after a series of screen tests, her casting was announced on January 13, 1939. Just before the shooting of the film, Selznick informed Ed Sullivan: "Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish."
Other actresses considered for Scarlett
A great number of actresses were considered for the role of Scarlett. In fact, there were approximately 32 women who were considered and or tested for the role. The search for Scarlett began in 1936 (the year of the book's publication) and ended in December 1938.
Between 1936 and 1938, the following actresses were considered for the role, which required playing Scarlett from 16 years of age until her mid-30s (actress' age in 1939, the year of Gone With the Wind's release, when Leigh was 27):
- Lucille Ball (28)
- Constance Bennett (35)
- Clara Bow (34)
- Mary Brian (33)
- Ruth Chatterton (47)
- Claudette Colbert (36)
- Joan Crawford (35)
- Bette Davis (31)
- Frances Dee (30)
- Irene Dunne (41)
- Madge Evans (30)
- Glenda Farrell (35)
- Alice Faye (24)
- Joan Fontaine, sister of Olivia DeHaviland, who played Mellie (22)
- Kay Francis (34)
- Janet Gaynor (33)
- Paulette Goddard (29)
- Jean Harlow (28)
- Susan Hayward who was considered by Cukor to be too young to have the depth for the role (22)
- Katharine Hepburn (32)
- Miriam Hopkins (37)
- Rochelle Hudson (23)
- Dorothy Lamour (25)
- Andrea Leeds (25)
- Carole Lombard (31)
- Anita Louise (24)
- Myrna Loy (34)
- Pola Negri (42)
- Maureen O'Sullivan (28)
- Merle Oberon (28)
- Ginger Rogers (29)
- Norma Shearer (37)
- Ann Sheridan (24)
- Gale Sondergaard, who also was considered for but ultimately lost the role of the Wicked Witch of the West the same year (40)
- Barbara Stanwyck (32)
- Gloria Stuart (29)
- Margaret Sullavan (30)
- Gloria Swanson (40)
- Linda Watkins (31)
- Mae West (46)
- Jane Wyman (22)
- Loretta Young (26)
A 1966 musical stage adaptation was a major hit in Japan and London's West End, but failed to survive in America where it starred Lesley Ann Warren and Harve Presnell. It closed after engagements in Los Angeles and San Francisco, never opening on Broadway.
Historical sources for the character
While Margaret Mitchell used to say that her Gone with The Wind characters were not based on real people, modern researchers have found similarities to some of the people in Mitchell's own life as well as individuals she heard of. Rhett Butler is thought to be based on Mitchell's first husband, Red Upshaw. Scarlett's upbringing resembled that of Mitchell's maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens (1844–1934), who was raised on a plantation in Clayton County, Georgia (where the fictional Tara was placed), and whose father was an Irish immigrant. Another source for Scarlett might have been Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, the mother of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. Martha grew up in a beautiful Southern mansion, Bulloch Hall, in Roswell, just north of Atlanta, Georgia. Her physical appearance, beauty, grace and intelligence were well known to Mitchell and the personality similarities (the positive ones) between Martha, who was also called Mittie, and Scarlett were striking.
Comparisons to other characters
Troy Patterson of Entertainment Weekly argued that Ally McBeal, the main character of the television series with the same name, has similarities to O'Hara and that "Scarlett and Ally are fairy-tale princesses who bear about as much resemblance to real women as Barbie and Skipper." Patterson wrote that Ally is similar because she is also a child from a ruling class family, "pines hopelessly after an unavailable dreamboat", and has a "sassy black roommate" in place of a "mammy" to "comfort her".
- "Shrewd, Selfish Scarlett: A Complicated Heroine". NPR. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "Letter from David O. Selznick to Ed Sullivan". Harry Ransom Center - The University Of Texas At Austin. Jan 7, 1939.
- Thompson, David. "Hollywood", 1930s pgs. 178 - 182
- "The Making of Gone With The Wind" Part 2, Documentary circa 1990s.
- Patterson, Troy, Ty Burr, and Stephen Whitty. "Gone With the Wind." (video review) Entertainment Weekly. October 23, 1998. Retrieved on December 23, 2013. This document has three separate reviews of the film, one per author.
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